MALAYSIA faces an inconvenient truth: our renewable energy (RE) efforts aren't enough to help us become a net zero nation by 2050. What should be a run to net zero is turning out to be a slow amble. This isn't a harsh judgment.
By the government's own admission, RE became a fifth fuel for power generation in 1999. A vintage of the 8th Malaysia Plan, just to place the age of our government policy in context. Since the good dozen years we have had a couple of laws, one of which – the Sustainable Energy Development Authority (SEDA) Act 2011 — gave birth to SEDA, the promoter and implementer of RE.
To give it a further boost of power, there is the Renewal Energy Act 2011. Why it took a dozen years to set up the authority is a question waiting to be answered. Like answers to many questions about climate change in Malaysia, this one, too, is at a snail's pace to us.
Perhaps we in Malaysia think climate change isn't a clear and present danger. But it is. According to the Reuters news agency, flooding in 2021 caused nearly US$1.5 billion in losses. This is money Malaysia can't afford.
So efforts to tackle climate change through ambitious RE targets are welcome, but these must be backed by relentless efforts to get there. Take Malaysia's emissions cutting pledge. To transit to net zero by 2050, Malaysia aims to harvest RE to provide 31 per cent of the power capacity by 2025, and a further nine per cent more by 2035.
But this, at best, is a national aspiration, though an ambitious one at that. Aspiration without perspiration never took any nation forward. Aspirations must be backed by robust policies, which in turn must be put into action. Here, we are ambling. Sure, net zero by 2050 is laudable and so is our RE target, but we must not forget that Malaysia is very much a fossil fuels-fired nation.
A good 93 per cent, with oil and gas alone contributing to 71 per cent of the power mix, according to a British publication. Lest we forget, Malaysia's RE target of 31 per cent matures in two years, yet we have just managed nine per cent, if GlobalData, a data company, as quoted by Reuters, is right.
From nine per cent to 31 per cent in two years is a leap too far. We can't go searching for gigawatts like this. We need a RE rush.
BCG, a management consultancy, which has explored Malaysia's net zero 2050 pathway, says in a paper that only a whole-of-nation approach will get us there, though not in those words. Put differently, strong government leadership with collaboration from the private sector and civil society is needed.
This is at best patchy. We are puzzled at the fitful efforts given the benefits to the nation the RE rush will bring. In BCG's calculation, the net zero pathway has the potential to contribute an incremental RM50 billion to RM60 billion in gross domestic product (GDP) a year and 200,000 to 300,000 jobs over and above what have been plugged into current plans.
The investment cost, too, is estimated to be less than one per cent of GDP. Granted, transitioning from a fossil fuel-driven economy to a RE-steered one is not an easy change. But staying put there for long may mean a 3°C Malaysia. No warm welcome there.