Malaysian cities – a powerful vehicle in reducing emissions

April 28, 2021

Cities are a powerful driver for solutions that simultaneously address climate change and advance development. Such has been witnessed by the GTALCC project, who has worked with crucial government and private sector partners in nine localities (cities/ municipalities) in Malaysia to drive the low carbon cities agenda. As of 2020, the suite of solutions has achieved 331,714.17 tCO2eq emissions reduction. 

Today, more than 70% of the Malaysian population live in cities or urban areas. People go about their daily lives, travelling from their homes to work or school, cooling their homes and offices, eating, and more.

These daily activities use energy and contribute to the carbon footprint of cities. Data shows that cities consume 78% of the world’s primary energy and generate more than two-thirds of all carbon emissions. By these numbers, cities are no doubt the biggest contributors to climate change. Yet, they are also our best bet for tackling climate change. 

The Green Technology Application for the Development of Low Carbon Cities (GTALCC) project is funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and implemented by the Ministry of Environment and Water together with UNDP and the Sustainable Energy Development Authority. The project started in 2016, with the aim of addressing climate change through cities. It champions climate action at the city level by demonstrating mitigation options with systemic impacts, and mainstreaming climate change concerns into sustainable development strategies.  

Currently in its penultimate year, the suite of solutions implemented by the project together with its partners at the national government, its nine partner local authorities and private sector partners have reduced carbon emissions by 331,714.17 tCO2eq1, within reach of its end of project target of 346,442 tCO2eq. 

Among other interventions, three main areas of focus by the GTALCC project have contributed to reducing emissions both directly and indirectly, within selected cities in Malaysia: mobility, sustainable energy & waste management, and national policy support.


Moving people, not cars

Cars have occupied the bulk of road space in Malaysian cities, causing congestion, air and noise pollution, and accidents. Given the percentage of time that cars are left idle (95%) and the high cost of car ownership, private vehicles as a mode of transport are often a waste of resources.

GTALCC is changing the narrative of transportation by advocating for transportation infrastructure that moves people instead of vehicles. A centerpiece in this approach is the focus on public transport to reduce the carbon footprint of cities.

Rail transportation is among the most efficient mode of transportation – transporting 8% of the world’s passengers and 7% of cargo transportation but using only 2% of energy from the entire transportation sector. GTALCC has collaborated with MRT Corporation on a Greenhouse Gas (GHG) study to calculate carbon emission reductions based on mode share estimates and average distance travelled by passengers using the MRT Kajang Line. The study provided a reference for establishing GHG inventories and mode share surveys on other public transportation modes in Malaysia such as the Iskandar Malaysia Bus Rapid Transit (IMBRT). An estimated 54,605 ktCO2eq carbon emissions were reduced for the year 2019 from MRT Kajang Line’s operations, which is based on an average ridership of 175,205 passengers per day.

In cities where rail networks are not financially viable, Bus Rapid Transits (BRT) offers the same services of light rapid transit services – the only difference is that they share the same stretch of road as other vehicles. GTALCC has supported the Iskandar Regional Development Authority (IRDA) to conduct an independent review of the planned major new Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system, the Iskandar Malaysia BRT or IMBRT in Johor Bahru. The peer review was conducted based on the internationally accepted BRT Standard evaluation tool, lessons learnt and best practices. It provided important system-wide design recommendations for BRT stations and policy proposals on key related urban transport policy areas for the IMBRT including on zoning, parking, service planning, and non-motorized transport improvements to be carried out within the BRT corridor. Recommendations on design enhancements have been adopted for incorporation within the IMBRT. GTALCC is also supporting IRDA and IMBRT in an awareness programme to promote IMBRT to the public through a design competition that will be held in 2021 in conjunction with IMBRT Bus Technologies Pilot that has launched in April 2021.

The launch of the IMBRT Bus Technologies Pilot (April 2021). The pilot phase will test electric and biodiesel buses to determine the buses capabilities and demonstrate the use of green technology.

GTALCC is also working with private sector partners to embark on a pilot programme for low carbon public transport buses involving ten buses under MRT Corporation operated by Prasarana’s Rapid Bus. The pilot will explore the feasibility of a clean and renewable substitute for diesel in public buses in the form of 100% biodiesel blend (B100) and analyze the carbon emissions reduction from the trial period.

While public transit remains the most efficient means of moving large numbers of people, very often the challenge is to get people to and from transit. In Putrajaya, GTALCC is addressing this through a design study for a dedicated bike lane in Putrajaya which will assist to solve first-mile/ last-mile challenges between Putrajaya Sentral, the housing areas and Precinct 4 by identifying the best route for a dedicated bike lane. In support of cycling as a zero-carbon mode of transport, GTALCC has also installed bike access ramps at the stairways of two bridges in Putrajaya, which is currently being used to provide easy access for cyclists and their bikes up and down the stairways, ensuring connectivity between the promenade and housing areas along the lake to Precinct 4, Putrajaya.

A cyclist utilizing the bike access ramp to make her way up stairway of the Putrajaya bridge.

Revolutions in transportation such as shared mobility and electrification are already fundamentally changing the future of transportation around the world, while decarbonizing travel and making it more efficient. GTALCC is guiding decision making by the government and industry to better understand the impacts and action points of the electrification of buses in Malaysia, through the formation of a National Electric Bus Roadmap for the National Transport Policy 2019-2030.

Sustainable energy and waste management

The potential for renewable energy in Malaysian cities is abundant, especially when the number of buildings within cities with solar rooftop potential is taken into consideration. GTALCC has conducted feasibility studies for three solar photovoltaic (PV) proof-of-concepts, to test out innovative approaches to utilize urban spaces such as public car parks and walkways for the installation of PV systems to generate power for self-consumption or supply to neighboring buildings, while providing shade and shelter.

The GTALCC project also supported the development of the Putrajaya Waste Management and Minimization Study together with the local authority in Putrajaya, which proposed suitable solutions and actions to help Putrajaya for the next two decades from 2020 to 2040 to reduce 50% of the solid waste sent to landfill.

National policy support

Fully unlocking the benefits of low carbon urban development requires coherent policy-making and governance at multiple levels. National policy support plays an important role in complementing the low carbon initiatives by cities, in support of climate goals.

Together with the Ministry of Environment and Water, GTALCC has worked with the relevant government ministries and authorities, in consultation with stakeholders, to develop a National Low Carbon Cities Masterplan which will be launched in 2021. The Masterplan puts in place and overarching strategy and plans for the transition towards low carbon cities in Malaysia, while coordinating implementation actions required by the Federal, State and Local Governments to promote low carbon cities agenda. Importantly, the Masterplan outlines targets for selected cities to meet a net-zero emissions target by 2050, in line with the global call for emission to reach net-zero by mid-century to keep global temperature increases to 1.5 degrees Celsius or below.

Initiatives under GTALCC hold great promise but cannot deliver the necessary change alone. Rather, GTALCC acts as a catalyst for a holistic approach towards low carbon development and planning in cities.

Cities are our secret weapons to meet our climate goals. We must rethink and transform the physical places where we live and work, with people’s experience, the planet’s health and sustainability objectives at their core.

Related article:

Low Carbon Cities - Malaysia’s Response to Global Climate Emergency


1. Project’s estimates- the figure will undergo a process of validation by an external specialist.