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The Asian Challenge of Sustainable Development

Opening Speech By Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng for Penang Institute Conference On: The Asian Challenge of Sustainable Development At G Hotel On 18.3.2013.

Sustainable Development Is A Primary Responsibility Of Good Governance To Prepare The Future For The Young.

Let me begin by congratulating the Penang Institute for organising the 5th Penang in Asia lecture, featuring yet another prominent individual – scientist and environmentalist Dr Rajendra Pachauri. On behalf of Penang, may I bid a warm welcome to Dr Pachauri.

Thanks to Dr Pachauri’s work with the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which was awarded the Noble Peace Prize in 2007 with former US Vice-President Al Gore, environmental issues have become a high priority in the world today. It is beholden on all humanity to ensure that we do not squander away the wealth of our earth, especially for the sake of our future generations. As I always like to say, we do not inherit the earth but merely borrow it from our children. It is our sacred duty to return it to our children better than when we were first entrusted to it.

All over the world, sustainable development is beginning to become something of a mantra. Here in Penang, sustainable development has not only been our commitment but also our guiding principle. Penang’s vision of the future is a “Cleaner, Greener, Safer and Healthier Penang”, as only then can we be No.1 in Malaysia.

Penang is the first state in Malaysia to join global cities around the world to ban free plastic bags every day. It was a controversial risk which the state government took, not only against the plastic industry but also against a deeply entrenched local affinity for plastic bags. Though resisted at the beginning, it has now become a source of pride for Penangites as they tow their environmentally friendly shopping bags everywhere.

After the success of our “No Free Plastic Bag” campaign, we have taken the movement a step further by also banning the usage of polystyrene containers and packaging last year. Besides that, we have also introduced no-smoking zones, No Car Day on Sundays, introduced a conservation surcharge to limit water waste and managed to achieve the highest recycling rate in the country at 24% by 2012, far surpassing the country’s recycling rate target of 20% 7 years from now by 2020.

To encourage healthy lifestyles, we have hosted numerous events from trialthlons to the unique 4-stage “Penang Run”, over hills and flatlands that will take place over four separate occasions with a total distance of 77km around the Penang island. At the same time, Penang also aims to be a first cycling state in Malaysia with the construction of a round-the-island bicycle lane as well as over 200 kilometres of cycling tracks across SeberangPerai.  

In our drive to ensure a Cleaner, Greener, Healthier and Safer Penang, we have also made decisions against big business such as closing down the Lee Rubber factory in Paya Terubong, once the largest rubber processing facility in Malaysia, that emitted a foul smell complained by residents over 25 years.

Our efforts have of course bore some fruit. For the first time ever, Penang has now been recognised by ECA International as the most liveable city in Malaysia and the 8th most liveable city in Asia. Besides that, Penang was recently selected as the No. 4 top place for retirement in the world, becoming the only Asian city in the top 8.

In order to further promote our green policies and facilitate all the green initiatives in Penang, we established the Penang Green Council (PGC) in 2011. PGC seeks to enable, empower and enrich all stakeholders to practice sustainable development that protects the environment and quality of life. In Malaysia, only Penang have a set of government driven incentive schemes that provides a platform for schools, business or private sectors that are genuinely promoting sustainable living to showcase their green products, services and technologies, and house-to-house education for the communities.

In creating low carbon sustainable environment, the state government has the state also provided free CAT bus services around the George Town heritage enclave. We have also provided a Park & Ride service through Bridge Express Shuttle Transit (Best) buses which are free shuttle services to and fro between Seberang Perai, the Bayan Lepas Free Industrial Area and Balik Pulau.

Unfortunately public transport is the sole prerogative of the federal government. Traffic congestion is a direct result of the under-investment by the Federal government in public transport and basic infrastructure as well as mind-boggling situation of having more vehicles(2.3 million) than people(1.6 million) in Penang. This has resulted in a public transport modal share of 3% state-wide and 8% in George Town.

We are thinking outside the box by offering Rapid Penang RM10 million every year to provide free bus services throughout Penang during peak hours but was rejected by the federal government. We have no choice but to build highway roads much as we like to move people and not vehicles.

On 11 Dec 2011, Penang municipal council has launched Car Free day in George Town. The state government is also working on making Penang the first bicycle state in Malaysia with a total of 200km of bicycle lanes for both the island and the mainland, out of which, 120km is on the island.

For these green efforts, in 2012, Penang has been nominated as the first small city to join The Climate and Clean Air Coalition to Reduce Short-Lived Climate Pollutants (CCAC), an environmental initiative aligned to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). These are still baby steps as many aspects of environmental policies are the prerogative of the Federal government such as renewable energy.

Therefore, we hope that we will able to formulate and implement more policies, rules and regulations that will bring greater benefit to our environment and people in Putrajaya. But of course, green environmental policies are only one side of the coin.

Sustainable development must also come along with a sustainable economy. In this, we have adopted a 3-pronged strategy by firstly encouraging the setting up of clean, high-tech, high-skilled, knowledge-based industries by MNCs and secondly, by helping to transform and develop SMEs and thirdly by setting up an SME Village to let them purchase land or rent ready-built factory buildings.

The effort to transform our SMEs have been driven through the state government’s initiatives such as the Penang SMART Centre, set up in 2009 to provide consultancy and services to SMEs in order to help them to develop their businesses, as well as the RM40 million Penang SME Centre in Bayan Lepas, which is designed to be an incubator for new SMEs as well as to move existing SMEs up the value chain. As a result, I am proud to inform you that 4 out of the 6 National SME Innovation Awards in 2012 were won by Penang SMEs.

At the same time, we also recognise that sustainable development is inextricably linked to the question of energy. Thus, as part of our effort to ensure efficient and sustainable energy use, our recently launched developed nation road map 2013-23 Penang Paradigm blueprint has proposed that all future medium and high-cost developments should seek to be GBI-certified. GBI, or the Green Building Index, is the Malaysian industry-wide rating standard for sustainability in the construction sector which focuses not only on the impact of construction against the environment, but also on the management of energy and other resourcesof the building.

Today, governments as well as the private sector must not see environmental care as an additional cost to development. Rather, it should be seen as an investment. The competition to be the best must not be at the expense of Mother Earth because if the environment is damaged, there will be no winner in the end.

Hence, Penang is firmly committed towards the global effort to conserve the environment that is best exemplified by the work of those such as Dr Pachauri and the IPCC. Penang has in recent years participated in, among others, the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association Climate Change Networking Committee (Sept/Oct 2009), COP 16 in Cancún, Mexico (Dec 2010), the Gwangju Initiative at the International Solid Waste Association (ISWA) World Congress in 2011 in Korea and the Gwangju Cities Declaration 2011. These international initiatives help to motivate and sustain our own efforts to build a Cleaner, Greener, Safer and Healthier Penang.

Sustainable development is a primary responsibility of good governance to prepare the future for the young.

Today, we are proud to forge an invaluable bond of friendship with Dr Pachauri and the IPCC. I am confident that his lecture today will further inspire us towards the greater mission to preserve our environment. I also hope that this lecture will mark the start of a new partnership between Dr Pachauri and the IPCC with the state of Penang.

Thank you.


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