Christine Milne AO
March 16th 2019

Good Morning. What hope for the future I see in the room in front of me with everyone from Federal Government Ministers, State Government authorities, NGOs and community leaders all meeting together. It’s why I have come here. Yesterday’s discussions and the Minister for Works, YB Tuan Baru Bian’s words this morning make me excited by the possibilities for Malaysia and for the world of this moment in Malaysia’s history.

NO Australian Minister would ever say what the Minister said and I loved his words so much, I am going to say them again:

‘Any project that destroys forests is not green. Any project that displaces indigenous people is not green. ‘

I wanted to thank you on behalf of Bob Brown and myself  for your campaigns over decades in support of people and the environment, not only here but in Tasmania as well where Ta Ann and Shin Yang continue to destroy our forests.

Having been arrested and jailed opposing Hydro Tasmania’s Franklin Dam in 1983, I was delighted in 2012 to meet you and call on Hydro Tasmania to withdraw from the appalling Baram dam and SCORE  plan.

Now seven years later, I have the privilege of joining you here to consider a different path forward for Malaysia. One that does not rely on cronyism, corruption, buying politicians and knocking down what is left of the magnificent tropical forests.

This moment could be Malaysia’s major breakthrough but it will not happen by itself, it is the people in this room who will make it happen.

As Victor Hugo said,  “You can resist an invading army; you cannot resist an idea whose time has come.

I am not being unrealistic about  this.. I am an environmental and social justice activist and have spent most of my working life in politics in Australia trying to persuade Governments that so called ‘development’ that destroys the Earth, drives extinctions and global warming and enriches only a few, at the expense of many, is not progress.

Much of it fell on deaf ears, political donations were made,  the price on carbon was abolished and fossil fuel corporations, namely coal mining , drilling for oil and gas, logging of forests were supported. As you will know from the news, the Great Barrier Reef is now dying from bleaching and acidification, there is a huge campaign against Indian Company Adani ‘s proposed coal mine in Queensland and there have been terrible bush fires which this summer destroyed 200,000 hectares in my home state of Tasmania. I know many of you feel the same sense of despair about your political leaders and your loss of tropical forests to logging, palm oil plantations, mega dams, displacement of people and destruction of culture, all enabled by corruption.

But, the good news is, that it is changing. So, you  might ask, why do I think that clean, appropriate scale, affordable renewable energy’s time has come in Malaysia? Why do I think that ending the destruction of forests and culture can end?

Because, three things have come together to make it different now from previous years when we have campaigned together. They are:

1. The Governments of the world have finally become serious about Global Warming

2. There is a new Government in Malaysia which says it is committed to addressing climate change and human rights and recognises corruption is a major problem. In other words, the politics makes it possible to drive change.   

3.  Technology enables the politicians of the new Government to make social, environmental and economic win-win decisions. The off the shelf technology now exists at a price that makes it financially attractive to decouple the generation of energy from fossil fuels and mega dams. You can now bring electricity to people wherever they live at an affordable price and without damage to the environment.

So we have the idea,  the technology to implement it and potentially the politics to make it happen. But it won’t happen without us. In each of these breakthrough points it will need the engagement of civil society, that means us, and that is why this collaboration is so important. As Peter Kallang said, this conference is a start, not an end.

Now let me expand on these three break through opportunities all coming together at once and how to move forward.

First Global Warming and how Malaysia is positioned.

In 1992 at the Earth Summit in Rio, PM Mahatir was adamant that developing countries like Malaysia should not be denied the right to exploit their forests and other natural resources for the sake of rich countries that had destroyed theirs. He did commit to keeping 50% of its total land area under forest cover. But largely the positioning of Malaysia domestically and in global climate negotiations was to use the banner of climate justice to argue  ‘let us develop’, let us appropriate, all natural resources of Malaysia, land and forests and convert it into capital.1

That has continued up until now with dire consequences for the forests and the people who live in them and the global climate.

Malaysia, far from being seen as a leader in climate change action, is part of the Like Minded Group of Developing Countries including Saudi Arabia and India, which continues to see climate action as a development impost.

This is in spite of the fact that the latest science from IPCC says that the real impost is on the people of SE Asia. As Deputy Minister YB Isnaraissah Munirah Majilis said, this is among the regions that will be hardest hit by climate change in the near future including changes in rain patterns, rising sea level, coastal flooding and more extreme weather events.

Nevertheless the world continued to move forward with the Paris Agreement in 2015 and the promise that all countries would increase their Nationally Determined Contributions to that effort in 2020. Years of talk and no action had transitioned to serious engagement. The idea that failure to act on climate, rather than actually acting on climate, undermines a nation’s global standing, its international competitiveness and trade, the health of its people and its future was firmly on the agenda. Countries like Malaysia (that had been heroes for the developing world undermining global action by refusing to give up so-called development opportunities like exploitation of forests and natural resources) were losing credibility.  

Then in 2018 there was a change of Government in Malaysia. How the world celebrated.

The election winning platform promised to lead a new Malaysia ending corruption. On the climate front, it promised to set up a Council for Climate Change mitigation and adaptation. Climate Change was formally incorporated into a Ministerial portfolio with Yeo Bee Yin as the new Minister. A solar leasing policy, feed in tariff, net metering, together with a promise to increase the Renewable Energy Target from 2% to 20% by 2025 followed. A public transport flat rate price was introduced. The Minister then promised to establish four advisory councils including one on renewable energy generation.    

The new Minister lamented that two years after Malaysia ratified the Paris Agreement nothing much has been done.

She also announced three important commitments for us to take very seriously and engage with now.

A Climate Change Centre, a National Climate Change Adaptation and Mitigation Plan to be completed by the end of 2019, and a Climate Change Act to be tabled in Parliament within 24-30 months including a focus on energy efficiency.

This is where we all come in.

All the Minister’s analysis for climate change risk is based on 2 degrees. Not 1.5 above industrial levels when we know from the IPCC report that risks to health, livelihoods, food security, water supply and human security as well as economic growth are much higher at 2 degrees. We need to have the Government refocus on 1.5 degrees and the extra effort that requires.

Secondly, Minister Yeo has said nothing about increasing Malaysia’s UNFCCC Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) in 2020. We need to make sure that the extra effort identified is expressed in the Climate Change Act. And then conveyed internationally through the UNFCCC.

This is important because a focus on 1.5 degrees and an increased NDC means forest protection. It is the only thing that can deliver it in the timeframe.

But, it is not just up to Minster Yeo Bee Yin with a small budget and a small department. It is a whole of Government responsibility with at least three Ministers and Ministries directly covering the climate field, not to mention Treasury and Foreign Affairs and Defence. Minister Yeo cannot do it alone.

The Ministry of Water, Land and Natural Resources, Ministry of Primary Industry and Rural Development as well as MESTECC all need to be involved in a consistent approach and goal of climate policy and it is clear that they are not. Two of those Ministries are still in the ‘business as usual’ approach to development at any cost.  

The main emissions from Malaysia are from Energy, Transport, Manufacturing, waste and Agriculture. The latter means logging forests and conversion to palm oil. Malaysia is the world’s second biggest palm oil producer at the same time as it talks about the importance of forests as carbon sinks and reiterates Malaysia’s 50% forest pledge from 1992. The hypocrisy in this is evident to the world and the European moves against palm oil are just the beginning and cannot be dismissed. This is deforestation, plain and simple.

Malaysia will have to choose its forward path carefully. These two Ministers are on the knife edge of Malaysia’s 50% commitment on forest cover. Figures suggest it is down to 54%.  They will be held to account if they fail on PM Mahatir’s decades old promise. This is it for them and that should be enough to get them focussed.

Forest protection is Malaysia’s ace card in climate terms especially since the IPCC has made it clear that the world cannot constrain global warming to  1.5 without forest protection and restoration. The UN has just announced the decade of Ecological Restoration. Standing forests are the key to what could be Malaysia’s new development model of protection, stewardship and Indigenous rights.

Furthermore, for the first time, failing to act on climate may well cost the country more in trade, (as with the proposed EU palm oil ban) and geopolitics than acting to address it would do. In pure geopolitical terms, appropriate scale, affordable renewable energy protects a nation’s sovereignty, as PM Mahatir recognised when cancelling two big Chinese Belt and Road projects, one a gas pipeline.

The financing required for major infrastructure projects can lead to unsustainable debt levels and carry substantial corruption risks. No country wants to experience colonialism all over again yet that is what is happening in Sri Lanka and Cambodia.

So, what to do?

This is where Australia’s experience may be helpful.

In 2010 the Australian Greens secured balance of power in both the House of Representatives and Senate in Australia. I was the Climate Change and Energy spokesperson. We decided to make it a condition of supporting the Labor Party to form a Government that they introduce a carbon price and have it legislated by July 2012. We suggested that a multi party climate change committee be formed to determine the details of the whole of government policy. Julia Gillard agreed and so she became the Prime Minister.

The Committee was established with the condition that any other party could join but has to agree with serious climate action. We also made it a condition that experts be appointed to assist and so I chose economist Professor Garnaut who had done extensive research on climate policy for Australia and Professor Will Steffan, a globally renowned climate scientist. The Government chose two other experts in the fields of business and social justice.

Because we had set a time limit, every Government agency was engaged in what they had to do to make it happen. The Prime Minister and the Treasurer as well as the Minister for Climate Change were both on the Committee.  

We set to work. Every Government department was focussed on the outcomes and bureaucracies were fully utilised.

Labor and the Greens disagreed on the level of ambition for an Emissions Trading Scheme. The Government wanted a 5% reduction and we wanted a 25-40% reduction on 2000 levels by 2020 so we set up a Climate Change Authority to determine what such a level should be consistent with global negotiations and what other countries were doing. Meanwhile we set an interim price of $23 a tonne as a compromise.

When the Government refused to set a high enough carbon price ($23 is consistent with 550 ppm), we insisted on a $10 billion fund: the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and a Renewable Energy Agency  to roll out renewable energy at scale in a fast timeframe.

It made grants for Research and Development up to pilot stage and progressed to debt and equity to facilitate commercial roll out. It excluded funding for carbon capture and storage and biomass from native forest residues.

That was to complement the Renewable Energy Target of 20% by 2020 which was driving renewable energy investment.

In the land sector, we established a Carbon Farming Initiative to assist landowners to reduce their emissions and to offer a way to protect forests from logging. We also utilised the knowledge and skills of indigenous people to burn savannah in traditional ways to reduce emissions.

Finally it was legislated and took effect on July 1 2012. It turned Australia’s emission profile around and emissions started to fall significantly. But the vested interests of the old order, the coal, oil and gas industries, the Business Council of Australia, the Farmers Federation, the Murdoch Press all railed again it and fed millions into political advertising which saw the Abbott Government elected and the carbon price abolished. Emissions have risen ever since.

But it had done its job. It had supported renewable energy long enough for it to win the energy race. It  had come down the cost curve so fast, it was not renewable energy that needed to be supported by Government, it was fossil fuels that needed to be propped up to keep pace with falling prices.  It was over for coal and gas fired power no matter how much the Government and its corrupt cronies loved it. This serves as a warning to Malaysia, not to prop up gas and last resort hydro. They are declining last century industries.

The Green bank was not abolished as business loved it. Financial institutions were given the confidence to lend to renewable projects because the risk was shared with the CEFC.

I relate this because Malaysia needs a similar whole of Government approach, it needs expert input, it needs all this for its Climate Act and for its ongoing engagement in UNFCCC but most importantly for its environment and its people. The Ministers themselves need it to provide a united front against the vested interests of the old order.

Electrifying rural Malaysia, providing for existing energy demand and growth can be done without the old 20th Century thinking that such a move will hinder ‘development’. In fact, decoupling it from greenhouse gas emissions,  is the only thing that will deliver it.

So why not set up a Malaysian version of the MPCCC? It would address fragmentation and the Government has already promised four new advisory Councils of experts so why not a whole of Govt approach through a Ministerial Climate Committee?

Such a Committee could set  up a Parliamentary Inquiry into impediments to achieving the 20% RET by 2025 for example or an inquiry into the Elecricity market.

It would secure support from global UNFCCC and associated entities including the GCF,World Bank, Sustainable Energy for All, and the International Solar Alliance. They all want the developing countries of the world to have a developing country leader to reinterpret climate justice to get beyond the old argument of ‘let us develop’ and instead argue for development that protects the environment as well as creating jobs and services like electrification. If Malaysia stepped up now, it would be a mega breakthrough. It would catapult Malaysia into a leadership position as the most talked about example of transformation and the go-to place for renewable energy business with its accompanying jobs and economic activity. It would take Malaysia from the back foot to the frontfoot.

This is why this conference is so timely and important with your community leaders, NGOs together with experts in decentralised off grid small scale hydro and solar, all ready to contribute what is appropriate development to the debate about Malaysia’s energy future. I don’t trust the World Bank to get this right.

This brings in my third point of opportunity: Technology

Renewable energy technology exists to drive 100% genuine renewable energy.

This does not include fossil fuels or mega dams. They should not be regarded as climate friendly as they emit carbon dioxide and methane and destroy biodiversity and culture .

But Government needs to hear what is appropriate and achievable. We need experts at the highest levels of Government who can be the conduit  to the Ministers for the lived experience of renewable energy businesses and communities. An MPCCC equivalent could do that.

Australia is now installing renewable energy 4-5 times faster per capita than the EU, Japan, China and the USA. This renewable energy pipeline is fast enough to reach 50% renewable electricity in 2024 and 100% in 2032.
The price of electricity from large-scale PV and windfarms in Australia is currently about $50 per Megawatt-hour (MWh), and steadily falling. This is below the cost of electricity from existing gas-fired power stations and is also below the cost of new-build gas and coal power stations. PV and wind comprise nearly 100% of new power stations.
If Australia keeps installing PV and wind at the current rate, then all fossil fuel use could be eliminated around 2050. This will be faster with the uptake of electric vehicles and elimination of gas.
Andrew Blakers from ANU has said, Countries like Malaysia have excellent solar capacity and hundreds of sites for off-river pumped hydro. They can follow the Australian path and transition rapidly to renewables with consequent large avoidance of future greenhouse emissions.  

But one of this will happen without the political will. It is time to bring pressure to bear on Sarawak from the Federal government and on the Federal Government from the international community using International Treaties and Agreements as well as the courts.

The window of opportunity is now. We can stop megadams, save and restore forests, move towards 100% renewable energy. Never has it been more possible, it is up to us to do it.

And as Margaret Mead said,

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”