May/June 2021 | Page 20


@ green | May-June , 2021

Is Malaysia an oil & gas nation ?

There were efforts by the government under its Economic Transformation Programme ( ETP ) to reduce reliance on petroleum-related income
Fig 1 : Author conducting street survey

WE CONDUCTED a street survey with 20 Malaysians , asking them about economic and environmental issues relating to the Malaysian energy sector .

The survey revealed significant misconceptions about the economic importance of the oil and gas sector , the impact of fossil fuels on human health , and the land required for a 100 per cent transition to renewable energy .
This article reports on our exciting findings from this March 2021 street survey conducted at three different locations in Kuala Lumpur .
Q1 : Do you think of Malaysia as an oil & gas nation ? Eighty-four per cent of the street survey respondents answered “ yes ”. But we were in for a big surprise when asked how many per cent of the Malaysian economy ( GDP ) that the oil & gas sector accounts for . Forty-two per cent was the average answer , but the actual figure is just six per cent , or
Fig 2 : Historical contribution of oil and gas industry to Malaysia ’ s economy (% of GDP )
Fig 3 : Petroleumrelated and non-petroleum related revenue for the Malaysian economy
nine per cent when including downstream refined petroleum products . Interestingly , none of the 20 respondents came close to getting this answer right . The nearest answer was 20 per cent .
In 2014 , the Finance Minister ’ s Economic Report 2014 / 15 mentioned that the Malaysian government planned to rely less on oil-related revenue . This was due to the highly volatile global crude oil prices and exchange rates that had a clear impact on Malaysia ’ s revenue .
There were efforts by the government under its Economic Transformation Programme ( ETP ) to reduce reliance on petroleum-related income . This programme reduced government reliance on petroleum-related income from 41 per cent in 2009 down to just 16 per cent in 2021 .
Once presented with the above figures , 75 per cent of the street survey respondents still thought Malaysia should expand its oil & gas industry , almost as a knee-jerk reaction to the commonly held belief that Malaysia is an oil & gas nation .
Q2 : Do you think that climate change is a global emergency ? Ninety-five per cent of the respondents answered “ yes ”, despite most having just expressed a wish for Malaysia to expand its oil & gas industry . With fossil fuels being the major contributor to climate change , the street survey respondents seem to want to have it both ways .
Two-thirds ( 64 per cent ) answered “ yes ” to the same question in a 2021 global poll conducted by the UN with 1.2 million respondents from across 50 countries , which excluded Malaysia . Interestingly , our Malaysian street survey answers align well with this UN global poll on what to do about climate change .
Sixty-eight per cent believe in the climate emergency and want “ urgent action ”. With most of the global population also wanting urgent action to tackle the climate emergency , it is time to ask governments worldwide whether their climate change policies commensurate with the people ’ s will .
On May 5 this year , the Minister in the Prime Minister ’ s Department announced that “ Malaysia aspires to be a carbonneutral nation ”. And that “ the country views climate change and sustainability as an issue of high significance ”.
However , not unlike the respondents in the street survey , the Malaysian government seems to want to have it both ways , too . The government recently introduced a blueprint to revive the oil and gas industry in Malaysia to increase its contribution to the nation ’ s GDP by 2030 .
If Malaysia is planning on going carbon neutral , why revive the oil and gas industry in the first place ? Since the contribution of the oil and gas industry towards the national economy is relatively low , it should be easy to transition entirely away from fossil fuels . And venture into cleaner and cheaper energy options . Right ?
Q3 : How many people die per year in Malaysia due to air pollution caused by fossil fuels ( petrol , diesel , gas , coal )? The average answer was 33,700 deaths . According to The Solutions Project ( 2021 ), the figure is 9,353 . The street survey answers varied greatly for this question , namely from zero deaths per year to 300,000 deaths per year . Notably , most of the respondents underestimated the annual death toll , but a few resulted in a high average number .
Most Malaysians associated air pollution to the annual haze season . This is when farmers burn their fields , causing a blanket of smoke (“ the haze ”) to engulf much of the country . While air pollution is severely felt in Malaysia , it is the “ regular ” air pollution from the daily burning of fossil fuels that causes the most adverse health effects and deaths .
Harvard University research ( 2018 ) found that more than eight million people die globally due to the air pollution from the burning of fossil fuels , corresponding to a staggering one in five deaths . The high death rate from air pollution is higher than previous estimates and surprised even the study ’ s researchers .
George Thurston is an expert in air pollution and health at the NYU School of Medicine . He said the air pollution death toll outlined in the study may underestimate the accurate picture .
“ When we talk about the human cost of air pollution or climate change , the major causes are one and the same – fossil fuel combustion ,” Thurston said .
“ This study reinforces the message we must no longer ignore . We are paying to use fossil fuels with our lives and our health , and our most vulnerable populations are suffering at higher rates .”
According to the World Health Organisation , air pollution in Malaysia is responsible for one out of every nine deaths . For many of the participants in our street survey , this came as a complete
Fig 4 : Street survey aligns well with UN global polling results on response to climate change
Fig 5 : Deaths from fossil fuel air pollution