Environment 101: Understanding Malaysia’s 2016 Positive Greenhouse Gas Emission Edge

Greenhouse Gas Deforestation Forest Malaysia

Global Forest Watch reported that from 2002 to 2020, Malaysia had lost about 2.70Mha (around 27,000 square kilometres) of humid primary forest which in turn impacts the greenhouse gases emission.

This amounts to 34% of the total tree cover loss in the same 20 years. Interestingly this also amounted to a loss of 8.39Mha (around 84,000 square kilometres) of tree cover, equivalent to a 29% decrease in tree cover since 2000 and 4.82Gt of CO₂e emissions. Chart & information source: Global Forest Watch

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Greenhouse Gas Environment

The positive thing about damaging greenhouse gases is that the type that causes the most damage is in the smallest portion. However, the amount of greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere has been on the increase over the years due to increased industrialisation, urbanisation and deforestation. Image source: NRDC

Some Basic Definitions


Earth’s greenhouse gases trap heat in the atmosphere and warm the planet.

The main gases responsible for the greenhouse effect include carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and water vapor (which all occur naturally), and fluorinated gases (which are synthetic).

Greenhouse gases have different chemical properties and are removed from the atmosphere, over time, by different processes.

Carbon dioxide, for example, is absorbed by so-called carbon sinks such as plants, soil, and the ocean. Fluorinated gases are destroyed only by sunlight in the far upper atmosphere.

(Source: NRDC)


Carbon dioxide (CO2) is an odorless gas that is highly important to life on Earth. CO2 is also known as a greenhouse gas; an excessive concentration can disrupt the natural regulation of temperature in the atmosphere and lead to global warming.

The concentration of CO2 has especially increased as a result of the industrial revolution and exponential growth in manufacturing activities around the world. Deforestation, agriculture, and fossil fuel use are the primary sources of CO2.

According to the most recent data from the Global Carbon Project, the top five countries that produced the most CO2 are China, the United States, India, Russia, and Japan.

(Source: Investopedia)

Greenhouse Gas Global Warming

Temperature changes for Malaysia over the years based on the 2016 submission to UNFCC. There is no denying that the temperature has been rising steadily over the years due to the greenhouse gases attributed to the activities of mankind. For Malaysia, it is increased from 0.23’C to 0.27’C in the last 10 years. On average, it is said that the planet had experienced an increase of 0.18’C per decade since 1981.

Malaysia’s Report to UNFCC

In the report to UNFCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) in December 2020, the statistics submitted was from 1990 to 2016. There were no updates for the years 2017 to 2019 or 2020.

46 Years Temperature Data

In the past 46 years, there has been a positive trend in temperature increase. The surface mean temperature increased by 0.13 ⁰C to 0.24 ⁰C per decade. The surface maximum temperature increased by 0.17 ⁰C to 0.23 ⁰C per decade while the minimum temperature increased by 0.19 ⁰C to 0.30 ⁰C per decade.

Key Sources of Greenhouse Gases

In 2016, CO2 emissions accounted for a total of 263,577 Gg CO2 eq. CO2 emission from electricity and heat production was the highest contributor at 103,047 Gg CO2 (39%), followed by emissions from road transportation at 55,188 Gg CO2 (21%). Manufacturing industries and construction was the third-largest contributor of CO2 emissions at 23,856 Gg CO2 (9%)

A total of 57,211 Gg CO2 eq of CH4 were emitted in 2016 (Figure 2.3). The highest emission was from fugitive emissions from the oil and gas industries which accounted for 25,308 Gg CO2 eq (44%) of the CH4 emissions, followed by emissions from industrial wastewater treatment and discharge amounting to 13,928 Gg CO2 eq (24%) and solid waste disposal sites at 11,214 Gg CO2 eq (20%).

About 99% of the emissions from industrial wastewater treatment and discharge were from palm oil mill effluent (POME).

In 2016, a total of 7,715 Gg CO2 eq of N2O were emitted. This estimate excluded the cross-sectoral indirect N2O emissions from the atmospheric deposition of nitrogen in NOx and NH3 which were not estimated. The emissions were primarily from the agriculture sector and energy sector (road transport and energy industries).

The agriculture sector (emissions from direct and indirect N2O from managed soil) contributed about 5,209 Gg CO2 eq or 68% of the total N2O emissions. This is followed by road transport in the energy sector which contributed 794 Gg CO2 eq (10% of the total N2O emissions), and emissions from direct and indirect N2O from manure management in the agriculture sector contributed 735 Gg CO2 eq (10% of the total N2O emissions).

Malaysia Forest Greenhouse Gas

The total forested area over the years is actually inconsistent with the total areas increasing and decreasing in some years. However, if compared between 1990 and 2016, there is a general decrease in the total forested area in Peninsular and Sarawak. Be mindful that this is the status as of 2016 and is not the latest.

Status Of Forest Area

Malaysia has consistently maintained more than 50% of its landmass as forest. This includes permanent reserved forests (PRFs), state land forests (SLF) and totally protected areas (TPA/PA). In 2016, 18.24 million ha, or approximately 55.2% of the total land area of Malaysia, was under forest cover. The remaining land area comprises of agricultural and commodity crops, settlements, wetlands and grasslands.

For sustainable harvesting of timber, a forest certification scheme began in 2001 with the adoption of the Malaysian Criteria and Indicators for forest management certification. The annual allowable cut in the PRF is capped at 85 m3/ha for each of the Malaysia Plan period and the overall national harvest level has been on the decline since 2001

Malaysia’s Protected Area (PA) network, which forms the backbone for the maintenance of biodiversity and of ecosystem services, is an impressive result of decades of work. Hence, a target is set to increase the Protected Area to at least 20% by 2025. Between 2014 and 2016, the Protected Area increased from 2.757 to 3.171 million ha.

On-going forest enrichment programmes not only aims to improve degraded forests sequestration capacity but also to enhance connectivity between forests through two distinct initiatives, the Central Forest Spine (CFS) programme in Peninsular Malaysia and the Heart of Borneo (HoB) programme in Sabah and Sarawak.

Through these efforts, a total of 20,307.50 Gg CO2 eq emissions reduction was achieved in 2016

Note source: Malaysian submission to UNFCC

Map Greenhouse Gas Asia

The worst offender of greenhouse gases in the Asia region is undoubtedly China due to the heavy industrialisation. In the ASEAN region, it will be Indonesia due to the deforestation and clearance of forest land for palm oil plantation by means of slash & burn and creating a huge degree of haze covering the region. Map source: Our World In Data

Comment By Washington Post

The data should be consistent based on historical data and should be on par with the trend in the region. However, it is found that despite all other countries in the region showing the same increasing trend, there was something different about Malaysia’s reporting for 2016.

Malaysia’s latest catalogue of its greenhouse gas emissions to the United Nations reads like a report from a parallel universe. The 285-page document suggests that Malaysia’s trees are absorbing carbon four times faster than similar forests in neighboring Indonesia.

The surprising claim has allowed the country to subtract over 243 million tons of carbon dioxide from its 2016 inventory — slashing 73 percent of emissions from its bottom line. The plan to save the world from the worst of climate change is built on data. But the data the world is relying on is inaccurate.

“If we don’t know the state of emissions today, we don’t know whether we’re cutting emissions meaningfully and substantially,” said Rob Jackson, a professor at Stanford University and chair of the Global Carbon Project, a collaboration of hundreds of researchers.

“The atmosphere ultimately is the truth. The atmosphere is what we care about. The concentration of methane and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is what’s affecting climate.”

Malaysia, for example, released 422 million tons of greenhouse gases in 2016, placing it among the world’s top 25 emitters that year, according to data compiled by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

But because Malaysia claims its trees are consuming vast amounts of CO2, its reported emissions to the United Nations are just 81 million tons, less than those of the small European nation of Belgium.

(Source: Washington Post)

The allegation of misreporting should be verified and investigated.

Some Comparison with ASEAN countries

If one tries to understand the greenhouse gas statistics from the various countries to UNFCC, it is not easy to identify the actual amount of greenhouse gases emitted as it is submitted on different years and also broken down by different sectors:-

Malaysia: The total GHG emissions for 2016 were 316,833 Gg CO2 eq for emissions without LULUCF (Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry) and 75,488 Gg CO2 eq with LULUCF

Indonesia: In 2014, the total GHG emissions from three main gases (CO2 , CH4 and N2 O) without LULUCF and peat fire was 864,907 Gg CO2 e, while with LULUCF and peat fire the emission level was 1,844,329 Gg CO2 e.

Thailand: Therefore, the net GHG emissions increased from 214,091 GgCO2 eq in 2000 to 232,560 GgCO2eq in 2013, with an annual increase of 0.64%. With the inclusion of the Land Use, Land-use Change and Forestry (LULUCF) sector, the net emissions in 2013 increased by 8.63% when compared with the net emissions in 2000.

Vietnam: The total GHG emissions in the base year 2014 were 284.0 million tonnes of CO2eq. Although the base year of 2014 is used, it should be noted that in the period 2010-2014, Viet Nam reduced emissions by 10.5 million tonnes of CO2eq

Singapore: In the same period (2000 to 2010), Singapore’s greenhouse gas emissions grew at a slower rate with a CAGR of 2.0%, and an increase of 21% (8,042Gg CO2 -equivalent) from 2000 to 2010.

The data of the greenhouse gases emission over Our World In Data shows a clearer comparison.

greenhouse gas ASEAN Malaysia Environment

The data for the Carbon dioxide (CO₂) emissions from the burning of fossil fuels for energy and cement production including land use for the year 2000 are as follows:-

  • Indonesia – 1.41 billion tonnes
  • Thailand – 267.95 million tonnes
  • Malaysia – 279.73 million tonnes
  • Vietnam – 86.21 million tonnes
  • Philippines – 139.74 million tonnes
  • Singapore – 55.26 million tonnes
  • Cambodia – 49.70 million tonnes

The data for the Carbon dioxide (CO₂) emissions from the burning of fossil fuels for energy and cement production including land use for the year 2016 are as follows:-

  • Indonesia – 2.23 billion tonnes
  • Thailand – 417.24 million tonnes
  • Malaysia – 161.04 million tonnes
  • Vietnam – 314.27 million tonnes
  • Philippines – 149.41 million tonnes
  • Singapore – 63.25 million tonnes
  • Cambodia – 65.25 million tonnes

From these data, it does look fishy when all other countries in the region had continued to increase their CO2 emissions in the last 16 years (some doubled or tripled) except Malaysia which saw its greenhouse gases emissions cut down by almost 40%. That is indeed something that needs to be probed further.

Either we are indeed doing a fantastic job in controlling the greenhouse gases and we have managed to reduce quite a lot in 16 years OR the greenhouse gases emission data is not incomplete and incorrect as was pointed out by Washington Post.

Final Say

The recent floods in Pahang did highlight the scale of devastation that is caused by deforestation and it is not hearsay. There do exist photographic and hard data to show the reduction of forests on yearly basis. Thus one can deduce that the forested area in the country is reducing due to the conversion of land to urbanisation, plantation and also logging.

The big data on the greenhouse gases emission that was submitted to UNFCC by Malaysia at end of 2020 only covers the statistics as of 2016 and even this was raised some queries on the correctness of the data submitted.

Whilst, it is true that it showed a reversed trend compared to other countries in the region, one should not forget that Malaysia has also been actively looking at new methods to reduce its carbon footprint in the global arena.

Under Para 3.3 of the document, Malaysia highlights the details of the greenhouse gases emission mitigation actions that have been taken to date. These include the following:-

  • Renewable Energy Plan covering greater implementation of solar energy usage in industrial and residential areas (reduction of 7,262.59 Gg CO2 eq).
  • National Energy Efficiency Action Plan covering energy efficiency implementation in residential, commercial and industrial sectors (such as 5-star rated appliances & energy-efficient building design) (reduction of 458.02 Gg CO2 eq).
  • Green Building Rating Scheme covering implementation of green building ratings that rates the efficient use of energy and water that will reduce greenhouse gases emission (reduction of 143.47 Gg CO2 eq).
  • Urban Rail-based Public Transport covering implementation of public transport initiatives to reduce the use of private vehicles on roads (reduction of 212.93 Gg CO2 eq).
  • Energy Efficient Vehicles (EEVs) covering the greater sale of hybrid and electric vehicles through reduction of taxes (reduction of 90.65 Gg CO2 eq).
  • Palm oil-based fatty acid methyl ester (Biodiesel) which mandates higher use of palm-based biodiesel with petroleum diesel (reduction of 1,127.34 Gg CO2 eq).
  • Natural Gas Vehicles (NGVs) covering the promotion of natural gas-vehicles in the public transport sector, in particular for taxis and buses (reduction of 114.77 Gg CO2 eq).
  • Oil and Gas Operations covering emissions reduction measures in oil and gas operations.
  • Waste Paper Recycling covering measures to improve a higher percentage of recycling of waste from 17% in 2015 to 22% by 2020 (reduction of 3,937.76 Gg CO2 eq).
  • Biogas Recovery from Palm Oil Mill Effluent covering palm oil mills to be equipped with biogas entrapment facilities which then can be used to generate electricity (reduction of 2,377.84 Gg CO2 eq).

5 years that had elapsed since then and thus one needs to reevaluate the latest data for us to know where the country stands in the light of the major reduction in greenhouse gases back in 2016.

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