Gaining traction – 2000 to 2005

If the 20th century was the time the world’s nations began to recognise and articulate green concerns while continuing to generate a host of environmental problems, the 21st century would bear the burden of answering the question “How?”

How would developed and developing countries solve this mess? How could they prevent the emergence of more problems? By the time Malaysia was rolling into the 21st century, environmental issues were being better discussed publicly, and CETDEM was 15 going on 16.

The organisation had a stronger presence and an influential voice by 2000, and with global environmental awareness on the rise, the organisation had more work on its hands too.

Despite its many activities and goals, CETDEM only had 17 official members. Could the organisation undertake the tasks it had set for itself, especially when it came to its mission to look at technology in the quest towards sustainable development?


With more Malaysians becoming concerned about environmental issues, CETDEM continued to play a role to educate the public further. It held, among others, events like the “Clean Energy, Clean Food” public forum in 2000, as well as published guides and translations on issues like climate change.

On its list of “To Do” projects, CETDEM advocated and proposed a “Solar Smart House Project” in 2000. However, when the Ministry of Energy, Communications & Multimedia decided to adopt this agenda into its larger energy programme, CETDEM discontinued pursuing it due to resource considerations.

On the international front CETDEM continued to reach out in 2000, attending the South Climate Change consultation meeting in Jakarta, speaking at the Electricity Conference in Montreal, and participating in the International Conference on Sustainable Energy in Ubon Ratchathani, Thailand.

The organisation continued to be a respected voice in the environmental spheres, with its members participating in dialogues, meetings and workshops with bodies like the Academy of Sciences and Forest Research Institute Malaysia, as well as the Ministry of Housing and Local Government and the Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment.

Engagements with the ministries would be crucial as ministries in charge of green and brown issues had been split up into different or new ones, in line with political changes and cabinet reshuffling in Malaysia during this period.

CETDEM therefore played an important role as an organisation that had seen and dealt with the relevant policymakers and leaders from the very start. With Gurmit’s experience on developments at the global level, CETDEM was therefore a storehouse of information and memory, the chief student and teacher, as well as the keeper and reporter of Malaysia’s environmental narrative.

Working with the government

Perspective: LOH LEAN KANG

Loh Lean Kang had just returned as a young engineer and had been involved with what were called “alternative technology” or “appropriate technology”.

As I was based in Penang, most of the work and efforts really were by Gurmit and the rest in Kuala Lumpur. I was one of the few early environmental engineers, while Gurmit was an electrical engineer and the rest were experts in their own fields.

CETDEM was attractive to me in the sense that they were not your typical “greenie beanies” or eco-warriors. They were serious people, with technical backgrounds, who wanted to provide solutions rather than protest only. Malaysia was developing so fast, and most engineers had been trained in school to do things like put in more air-conditioning or add more glass in their structures.

We were also like other developing countries, cutting down forests and filling up swamps, all without any Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). CETDEM trained those from the government on EIA. There were people in the Department of Environment who were trained overseas and did have some feelings for the environment. At the time many would say EIAs would add cost and delay to projects, but we said in the long term it would make more sense, economically and ecologically.

CETDEM helped mould, shape and reinforce my belief that to move environmental issues you need a whole complex strata of people — the government, policymakers, enforcers, the industries, the stewards with money, NGOs, and of course, people’s support.

There is space for everybody. However, I think the space that was harder to fill was the technical side of things. I hope in the future CETDEM will be a space for our country’s scientists and engineers to be green. We have always been ahead of the curve, as we were on leading edge of EIAs. We were also at the leading edge of climate change and organic farming in the country, when no one even knew what they were.

Our farm coordinator, Siew, just kept getting her hands and feet soiled, literally, and did so much with organic farming in this country through sheer perseverance.

The big difference about CETDEM is its name. The key is that we are for development while most green activists are ambivalent about it. We embrace it, and we think development is good for people and the quality of their lives and for their families, while enhancing or preserving what we got. It is not a compromise, it is a statement of truth.

Given the more encouraging position for green issues today, can CETDEM do more? I believe so. If not, who else?

Sinking World Developments, Rising CETDEM

In the earlier years of the 21st century, global developments involving the environment were being discussed fervently. Malaysia’s civil society was represented in these 2001 discussions with the Malaysian Climate Change Group (CETDEM, EPSM and MNS) attending the COP6 (Part II) meetings in Bonn.

This time, a political deal was reached, setting the stage for the ratification of the Kyoto Protocol by 2002. There would be a commitment by industrialised countries to reduce their generation of green house gases. CETDEM noted in its reports that “some parties have described the political deal at Bonn as the most significant achievement in international environmental law”.

The organisation also said the MCCG would host a discussion with their members and the public to share information about these developments and the implications for Malaysia. Sadly in 2001, the United States rejected the Kyoto Protocol, a serious undermining of the global discussion-taking place. A year after that the World Summit on Sustainable Development 2002 took place in Johannesburg. By this time it was hardly a secret that progress in implementing sustainable development had been most disappointing since the Earth Summit in 1992.

The United Nations General Assembly has said what was needed was neither new philosophical nor political debate, but rather, a summit of actions and results. At every COP meeting at the international level, CETDEM continued to attend and tried to influence the decisions and developments.

But CETDEM also marched forth with its own efforts within Malaysia, whether at the level of policy discussions or with the public on the ground. Gurmit Singh continued to attend important national meetings such as the National Economic Advisory Council’s Advisory Committee on Globalisation, or the Bar Council’s Environmental Law Committee. But even as it was dealing with higher level authorities, CETDEM always made plenty of time to attend to grassroots work and public outreach, attending press conferences, launches of recycling centres and other local environmental events. And on the Organic Farming front, its other spin-off projects would continue buzzing. There was the Organic/Natural Food Carnival in Petaling Jaya, one-day seminars on Organic Farming Certification and the SS2 Cares programme. CETDEM would also be invited by the government to sit on the Steering Committee of the Certification scheme in 2004.

To enter the IT age and better interact with members of the public, CETDEM also launched its new website in April 2002 –

Climate Change Awareness & Sustainable Energy

The years from 2001 would be abuzz with activity for CETDEM. After years of working on the ground and hoping to do more research work, CETDEM would hold their ‘Mobilising Malaysians on Climate Change Project’ from 2001 to 2004, which would result in the first Malaysian video on climate change being produced.

The project saw many activities taking place in Sabah and Sarawak, as well as other Malaysian states. It was a major project that brought the harsh realities of climate change to the people, making them understand that time was of the essence.

But CETDEM was not just content to make Malaysians aware that there was a serious problem and to change their lifestyle habits. Wanting more discussions on long-term solutions, CETDEM also began a two-year project to increase urban Malaysians’ awareness on sustainable energy options. With funding from the UNDP and GEF, the organisation held a workshop and produced pamphlets and posters on the subject. It was also known as ‘Creating Awareness & Building Capacity Among Malaysian Urban Households on Sustainable Energy Usage’ or ‘The ABC Project’ for short.

The project would allow Malaysians to be exposed to the potential for sustainable energy usage, guiding them to act to reduce their energy consumption. Five towns across Malaysia were involved, namely Petaling Jaya, Kuching, Kuantan, Ipoh and Kota Kinabalu. A citizen’s manual was developed to help urban households reduce their energy consumption, providing information and options on how to reduce energy consumption and adopt better practices.

There were also ideas of setting up a Caring Consumer Group under the Organic Farming Project, and the board discussed getting Pusat Tenaga Malaysia (now known as Malaysia Green Technology Corporation or GreenTech Malaysia) to accept a CETDEM proposal to run climate change and global environment issues modules for the training of their staff.

The organisation also wanted to initiate an Urban Transport Study, but due to funding concerns this did not materialise. Taking transportation issues very seriously, however, CETDEM would hold a public forum on sustainable transport.

There would also be important and encouraging developments for the organisation during this period. In 2002, the Royal Danish Embassy told CETDEM that its proposed Demonstration and Documentation Centre on Sustainable Energy was in the process of being approved.

Having represented the Climate Action Network South East Asia (CANSEA) for so long, CETDEM also began running the CANSEA Secretariat since 2002 for the second time. (With Gurmit as its new Regional Coordinator)

Approaching the 20th Year Mark

In its 19th year, CETDEM would continue its more significant projects on climate change and sustainable energy usage awareness as well as start new plans. Its Demonstration and Documentation Centre (DDC) project, an exciting project revolving around a model house and office for CETDEM, would begin in March.

Funded by Danish International Development Assistance (Danida), the house in SS2 was chosen as the DCC site. Modifications to the house would be in the process of being finalised.

It was clear that CETDEM was on a steady and running wheel of activities, some centred on its success on organic farming, while others focused on maintaining regional and international ties and collaborations.

The organisation would, for example, run the secretariat of Forum 21, and serve as a member of the National Steering Committee of the GEF Industrial Efficiency Improvement Project. CETDEM also attended the COP10 meetings in Buenos Aires this year, continuing its monitoring of developments in the COP series.

On the local front, CETDEM would also press on with its participation in the national Environment Quality Council meetings, the DOE’s Sustainable Urban Transport for Malaysian Cities project and meetings on energy modelling at the Ministry of Energy, Communications & Multimedia.

With more and more invitations to events such as sustainable township workshops and farm inspection visits, to climate change conferences and water privatisation forums, CETDEM would continue to be busy.