Seberang Perai’s significant strides in the fight against climate change

Around 19% emissions reduction from over 7,400 KtCO2e to over 5,900 KtCO2e emissions in 6 years—ICLEI and Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate & Energy (GCoM) Member Seberang Perai’s environmental efforts are paying off and the city is making strides towards its climate change mitigation targets.

Having implemented initiatives focused on energy production and consumption, building urban green spaces, and the circular economy, significant carbon dioxide avoidance and sequestration have been recorded. These actions have also resulted in equally important co-benefits impacting the quality of life of the local community.  

The negative effects of climate change are only exacerbating over the years on a global scale, with the Paris Agreement still far from reaching its below 2°C target. Seberang Perai, Penang, Malaysia is no exception to climate change and its negative effects. Understanding the severity of the situation, the Seberang Perai City Council (MBSP) has done numerous green initiatives including those that involve renewable energy, energy efficiency, creating urban green spaces, and the circular economy. These initiatives have resulted in the reduction of GHG emissions from 7,429.42 KtCO2e in 2016 to 5,985.89 KtCO2e in 2021. Useful lessons abound from MBSP’s significant efforts in tackling climate change, including the need to focus on both people and the environment, forming public-private partnerships, and building public trust to foster community participation in the fight against climate change.

Importance of GHG Emission Reductions in Combatting Climate Change

With the steady rise of global temperatures, a landmark agreement was made to combat climate change and to accelerate and intensify the actions and investments needed for a sustainable, low-carbon future—the Paris Agreement. This legally binding international treaty currently involves 196 nation–states who have pledged to limit global warming to well below 2°C, preferably to 1.5°C, compared to pre-industrial levels, through the reduction of GHG emissions.

Yet, 400 Metric tonnes of CO2—which comprises 66% of the greenhouse gasses responsible for the warming of our planet—was emitted globally just last year in 2021. Worse, this figure is only expected to increase in the coming years.

Numerous methods have been and are being taken globally towards reducing future carbon emissions. These include utilizing renewable energy, energy-saving initiatives, carbon sequestration, and waste management. 

Shifting towards renewable energy as well as energy efficiency initiatives helps reduce the reliance on fossil fuels and other non-renewable energy sources that are the main sources of CO2. Carbon sequestration—the process of capturing and storing atmospheric carbon dioxide—in the form of planting trees is another effective means of climate change mitigation, with trees acting as a natural absorber of CO2. 

Waste management also presents itself as a critical climate crisis solution. Mismanagement of food wastes produces 10% of all global GHG emissions and mismanagement of plastic wastes causes plastic leakage into oceans, harming the aquatic life needed for carbon sequestration and productivity of fisheries.  In this sector, the transition to a circular economy is one of the most holistic means of combating the waste problem associated with traditional, linear modes of production and consumption.

The Seberang Perai Context

Such climate actions are being undertaken locally by ICLEI member Seberang Perai City Council (MBSP). Its current Mayor, Dato’ Azhar Bin Haji Arshad, serves as an Advisor to the ICLEI Climate Action and Low Emission Development portfolio.

Seberang Perai is the mainland counterpart of Penang state, located towards the northern part of Peninsular Malaysia. With a growing population of over 1.1-million  residents as of 2020, Seberang Perai’s economy focuses on the agriculture, manufacturing, and services (especially eco-tourism) industries.

Like other urban cities in the world, Seberang Perai faces both the short- and long-term effects of climate change.

Current predictions have the west coast of Peninsular Malaysia experiencing an average sea level rise of  0.07–0.14 meters by 2040. This puts major areas of Seberang Perai at high risk of being inundated by seawater by 2050. Coastal flooding threatens the city’s agricultural lands, affecting not only its crop output but the region’s overall food security as well.

Besides rising sea levels, the city is susceptible to droughts, floods, storms, heatwaves, landslides, and wildfires, giving rise to resource, public health, and socioeconomic issues.

In the years leading up to 2016, Seberang Perai saw rising GHG emissions. 7,429.42 KtCO2e was emitted in 2016, equating to over 8 tCO2e per capita. Stationary energy consumption—or emissions coming from fuels used for electricity generation—made up the bulk of this figure with 3,234.07 KtCO2e emissions.

Acknowledging that more needs to be done to adapt to and mitigate the effects of climate change, Seberang Perai declared a climate emergency in 2016. Since the declaration, Seberang Perai has made climate actions that collectively achieved a per-person reduction of carbon emissions from 8.37 tCO2e  to 5.39 tCO2e from 2016 to 2021, equivalent to a 33% reduction in five years. 

Seberang Perai’s Green Efforts

MBSP’s climate achievements thus far feed into its goal of being a Low Carbon City by 2022, a Carbon Neutral City by 2030, and a Zero Carbon City by 2050. 

The city’s sustainable development efforts are outlined in its 2021 report titled Seberang Perai Achievement in Low Carbon City & Smart City. These include a range of successfully implemented and upcoming initiatives categorized into five domains— Smart Environment, Smart Community, Smart Mobility, Smart Government, and Smart Economy. The first three of these domains are anchored on the concepts of renewable energy, energy efficiency, carbon sequestration, and circular economy.

  • Smart Environment – Sustainable Energy Consumption via LED Street Lighting

MBSP has made huge efforts to replace HPSV street lights with LED units, with the aim of using LEDs for 100% of all street lights in the near future. LED lights allow Seberang Perai to save on operational costs as they are more energy efficient than traditional lighting methods. Because they use less energy, LED lights also reduce the city’s reliance on fossil fuels, thus reducing its carbon emissions. 

Specifically, Seberang Perai has already replaced over 27,000 units of HPSV street lights as of August 2021. MBSP’s Lighting Guidelines also require housing developers to install LED streetlights for all types of new developments in the city.

  • Smart Environment – Solar Energy Consumption 

Solar panels on the MBSP Branch Office, Jalan Betek, Bukit Mertajam, Central District of Seberang Perai. Source: The Star

MBSP has partnered with various private companies to facilitate its transition to renewable energy. In 2020 alone, the city finished the installation of a 100 kWp solar photovoltaic system on government building rooftops as well as 55.4 kWp and 88.4 kWp solar power systems in two separate sports complexes.

MBSP also has a policy that makes it compulsory for commercial complexes with floor space exceeding 5,000 square meters and commercial developments with a permitted plot ratio exceeding 1:3 to obtain 15% of their energy use from renewable energy sources. On a wider scale, MBSP is aiming to achieve 15% of energy consumption on mainland Penang to come from RE by the year 2030.

In addition to cost savings, the city council can sell excess generated power and get energy credit on a “one-to-one offset basis” to further reduce its electricity bill and augment the city’s energy security. 

Additionally, MBSP also completed its independent 58.3 kWp solar panel installation project on the rooftop of one of its motorcycle parking garages in December 2020. 

Lastly, MBSP has undertaken other public-private partnership projects to install a 20MW solar farm in a sanitary landfill and a 1,300.5 kWp solar installation on the rooftop of a commercial store.

  • Smart Environment – Recycling—Smart Consumption Model 8R 

An Economical Food Waste Composter (EFWC) machine. Source: The Star

Established in 2018, MBSP expanded on the usual 3R Model—Reduce, Reuse, Recycle—to create a more comprehensive framework with their Smart Consumption Model 8R that aims to reduce 50% of waste from going to the city’s landfill and increase the recycling rate to 70% by 2022.

According to MBSP, 8Rs stand for:

  • Rethink—Be mindful of your consumption, your relationship with things, and your relationship with the Earth.
  • Recycle—Close the loop and remake.
  • Refuse—Don’t consume what you don’t need to.
  • Recovery—Energy and materials recovery, and upcycling.
  • Reduce—Reduce consumption of energy and material.
  • Regift—Share, and be a part of the gift economy.
  • Reuse—Share with others. Find new users for old objects.
  • Repair—Fix or upgrade your objects rather than throwing them away. 

The 8R Model forms the foundation for the various waste-related programs and activities by MBSP, including community engagement and recycling activities; gotong-royong or community cleanups; waste to protein, waste to compost, and waste to energy initiatives; as well as forming strategic alliances with higher education institutions, NGOs, and private companies. 

For example, in 2020, a joint beach cleanup project between MBSP and a CSO saw 80 volunteers composed of students, teachers, and CSO members collected nearly 100kg of rubbish along Pantai Robina in Butterworth, Penang.

In terms of “waste to compost”, MBSP has stationed two units of the Economical Food Waste Composter (EFWC) machines at a local residence and provided the necessary training to workers manning the machines. The machines are capable of composting 50kg of organic waste—including food and kitchen waste—to produce beneficial compost fertilizer in just five days.

Another food composting initiative was launched by MBSP in 2020 engaging 22 food stall operators and members of the Bagan Ajam Village Community Management Council (MPKK). The former’s daily food wastes are put into 18-liter bins for the latter to collect and compost.

The Upcycle Park features waste recycled into decorative and functional park fixtures. Source: The Star

An Upcycle Park was also initiated by MBSP and built by MBSP’s general workers—called the Orange Warriors— to turn disposable waste into decorative items. The park’s main objectives include (1) providing community facilities for recreational activities and picnicking; (2) creating more public awareness on the importance of recycling and exposing the public to creative upcycling; (3) reducing environmental pollution as well as maintaining the ecological balance of the ecosystem; and (4) reducing solid waste management costs by reducing wastes going to the disposal site and expanding the lifespan of the Pulau Burung Disposal Site.

Wastes such as used tyres, broken dustbins, containers, cracked flower pots, old bicycles, and construction waste were turned into benches, tables, toy bikes, playground attractions, art, and even the floors of plazas. 

 The Upcycle Park is part of the Seberang Perai Green Corridor–an area dedicated to pedestrians, joggers, and cyclists. 

MBSP has won several awards and certificates as a result of this initiative, with the park making its way into the Malaysia Book of Records in 2018. This initiative ultimately aims to cultivate a culture that sees the importance of recycling practices to keep Seberang Perai waste-free. Additionally, the Upcycle Park has also become the stage for a small food park under the local economic development program, attracting Seberang Perai residents in the area and boosting small businesses.

Activities by MBSP guided by the 8R model has made Seberang Perai the city with one of the highest recycling rates in the country, standing at 55.91% in 2020.

Motivated to decarbonize and further improve the waste sector towards being more sustainable, MBSP has curated the Seberang Perai Circular Economy Roadmap with action plans including the introduction of EPR policies, development of waste-to-energy plants, and the elimination of single-use plastics between the years 2020 to 2030.

A communal shift towards the adoption of a green lifestyle is also among the positive impacts of the 8R model. Other than the high recycling rate, this shift can be seen in recent news, where a second recycling station has successfully been built by the local village community of Sungai Puyu located at Butterworth, Seberang Perai, establishing the village’s viability as a recycling hub with the help of MBSP.

  • Smart Community – Tree Planting 

The One Baby One Tree initiative. Source: The Star

MBSP is also committed to tree planting, with an aim to plant 100,000 more trees by the end of 2022. As a carbon sequestration attempt, MBSP planned and executed this initiative to turn various locations and open spaces in Seberang Perai into forest parks. The forest parks then become “tree banks” which will supply saplings to planting activities. MBSP has also encouraged community-led and backyard tree planting, as well as the planting of fruit trees to foster food security. To date, Seberang Perai has planted 97,981 trees. 

One Baby One Tree is a unique sub-activity born from the wider tree planting initiative, empowering children to learn more about, properly utilize, protect, and appreciate the environment. 208 MBSP staff and their children participated in this activity along the monsoon drain at Bandar Perda Barat, Central Seberang Perai, planting fruit trees such as the chiku tree (Manilkara zapota) and guava tree or water guava (Syzygium aqueum).  

  • Smart Mobility – Penang 1st Smart Bus Stop Pilot Project 

A smart bus stop in Penang. Source: Penang2030

With the intention to encourage more people to use public transport, MBSP has collaborated with an integrated telecommunications infrastructure services company to run a sustainable smart bus stop pilot project in Seberang Perai at Lengkok Tenggiri, Seberang Jaya.

This bus stop is equipped with smart features such as CCTV coverage, panic button which is connected directly to the PDRM control center, wifi, mobile network, charging pod and digital advertising panel—all powered by solar panels located on its roof. This initiative would benefit 18,685 residents who live within a 500m radius by providing timely information, safety, and better digital connectivity.

Translating the Results 

Speaking at a panel in the 2021-2022 ICLEI World Congress at Malmö, Sweden, Mayor Arshad said “Actions are needed as soon as possible from everyone in the city to fight global warming.” 

The various climate actions made by MBSP have gained positive results and significant impacts on  both GHG reduction and the community—proof that multi-level, multi-stakeholder action works.

Seberang Perai’s GHG emissions have been gradually reduced over the years from 7,429.42 KtCO2e in 2016 to 5,985.89 KtCO2e in 2021, with most of the reductions coming from the Stationary Energy and Mobile Energy sectors.

Carbon emissions for Seberang Perai in 2019 shrunk to about 31.28% compared to a business-as-usual (BAU) scenario that same year.This reduction was made possible due to implemented policies favoring the usage of renewable energy. Additionally, efforts were carried out to create awareness on and increase energy efficiency.

Although the end-of-year 6.03 tCO2e emission per capita of 2021 did not meet the intended target of 5.00 tCO2e, progress towards achieving carbon neutrality in the future is observed with the city’s carbon sequestration efforts capturing  3,102.86 ktCO2e in the same year.

Lessons Learned

It can be seen that multi-level, multi-sectoral initiatives touching various sustainability aspects such as renewable energy, energy saving, carbon sequestration, and the circular economy, are needed for local governments to reduce their GHG emissions.  MBSP has done numerous initiatives in a span of over half a decade. These initiatives have been made sustainable and long-term by ensuring proper allocation of time and resources as well as branching out into collaborations and partnerships.

Successful green initiatives are the ones that center around both people and the environment. MBSP’s initiatives incorporate the creation of meaningful connections between people and the environment by highlighting the latter’s importance. This connection has resulted in awakening a sense of duty in Seberang Perai’s citizens, producing a ripple effect which can lead to increased public participation in the battle against climate change.

Smart Public-Private and Public-Public partnerships are essential to being a green city. MBSP follows a Smart Partnership strategy called the 7Ps—People, Public, Private, Philanthropy, Philosopher, Planet and Partnership—seeing the importance of bringing all stakeholders together in driving innovation and coordinating a systematic transition to sustainable production and consumption.

Building public trust in governmental actions is critical to making a larger impact. MBSP leads by example by running green initiatives for its operations, such as the solar panel projects involving city-owned buildings, as well as the involvement of MBSP staff in tree planting activities. In talking the talk and walking the walk, Seberang Perai showcases that it is serious in undertaking relevant climate action, in turn fostering greater public cooperation in sustainability initiatives and encouraging public-private sector cooperation for climate action. 

Proper impact documentation of green initiatives is a must to better understand progress over the years and reveal points for improvement. The results and impacts section has highlighted important data on Seberang Perai’s annual carbon emissions, recycling rates, and waste generation. This also serves as a motivation for the city in striving to top their annual targets as well as objectively knowing areas where further actions are needed. 

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