THEY say green is the new black. The buzzword of all buzzwords. The new philanthropy favoured by supermodels, Hollywood actors, politicians and that irritating friend living down your road.
I’ve heard that it’s “in” to label anything green these days, and that the tendency to join the bandwagon is but a disingenuous public relations-centred exercise. Some would say the mere mention of the colour makes them turn the sickly shade.
But against the landscape of a world that will soon go gaga over a Robocop improved-sounding acronym called COP15 (the acronym for the 15th United Nations Climate Change Conference), let us examine the overall green situation in Malaysia.
The latest kid on the block in the Malaysian administration that is addressing green issues is the Energy, Green Technology and Water Ministry. We may have a new ministry but the truth is, we have perhaps too many ministries that handle environmental and green issues in the country.
Apart from the new ministry that was announced in April 2009 under Datuk Seri Najib Razak‘s cabinet, there is also the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry, the Science, Technology and Innovation Ministry, and the Agriculture Ministry.
Too many ministries dealing with green issues?
But don’t all these ministries result in a complicated and overlapping web of duties and powers? Couldn’t all things related to the environment have been placed under the same roof? For example, wouldn’t it make more sense for green technology to be placed under the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry’s portfolio, instead of lumped together with energy and water?
Even Centre for Environment, Technology and Development, Malaysia (Cetdem) chairperson Gurmit Singh does not get it. To him and other environmentalists, placing green technology under the Energy, Green Technology and Water Ministry was not thought through carefully.
“Actually any concept is green technology. It need not necessarily be high technology,” Gurmit says in an interview.
I share his views that due to this separation of duties and powers, the overall issue of sustainable development is not going to be addressed in a cohesive matter.
Additionally, the government launched a National Green Technology Policy in July 2009, and announced the formation of the Green Technology Council. So far however, other than these general mission statements, there has been little else to cheer about.
Is there an upside?
It is not all discouraging news. The ministry is new after all, with a still fledgling team for its green technology division which leads these policy efforts. And yet it has already garnered some praise for its efforts to promote low energy buildings in Malaysia. In 2009, we also saw the introduction of our own Green Building Index (GBI).
When I spoke to Dr Tan Loke Mun, who is the Malaysian Institute of Architects’ past president and a member of the GBI Accreditation Panel, he said the new ministry seemed very serious about looking at energy-efficient buildings and other technologies.
Others may argue that architects would favour the ministry now because these government initiatives will bring in business. But Tan is adamant that such efforts would benefit all parties.
“The business element will always be there, of course. But we do need a government body that sets the direction and parameters as to how we use energy and how we look at building construction. That is important. Attitudes are changing,” he says.
But what else is the new ministry doing? Poking around the ministry’s website and (somewhat) cyber-stalking its minister leaves me with the impression that efforts are being made, even if they seem disconnected from the larger environmental movement in the country. Minister Peter Chin Fah Kui seems to blog quite a fair bit, and unlike some other politicians, seems to be handling the site himself.
Chin offers some of his own musings about “greening the country” or energy concerns, and seems to enjoy replying to comments when he can. As commendable as that is, a minister who blogs shouldn’t be the only measure of how well a ministry is doing in fulfilling its function.
To be fair, if we are not hearing much about the ministry, other than to expect the Energy Efficiency Masterplan, perhaps it is because the power and water sectors are incredibly difficult areas to deal with.
Still, when a new ministry is formed and taxpayers’ money is used to fund it, what matters is whether the government’s plan to have an Energy, Green Technology and Water Ministry was well thought out. Not just for tax payers but for the environment.
Koh Lay Chin wonders whether more ministries covering green issues means less energy efficiency.