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No Green Without Digital in Malaysia

Written By: Datuk Mohd Rauf Nasir, Managing Director for Malaysia, Sri Lanka and Maldives, Nokia


The road towards sustainability cannot be achieved if we do not harness digital transformation to its fullest.

Indeed, digital technologies can potentially cut global emissions by some 20% by 2050; however, this must be brought to scale while digitalisation needs to take place in high-emitting sectors to improve resource efficiency, circularity, and sustainability.

As such, the steps for countries to realise a more sustainable future depend on their economies embedding digitalisation across their spheres of industry and society. This is what Malaysia is focusing on doing via the New Industrial Master Plan 2030; to reinforce its position as a Southeast Asia leader in digitalization, while also establishing itself as an exemplar of sustainability.

Before much of this can happen, the digital divide must be narrowed to ensure that everyone across Malaysia can take part in the country’s digital revolution and then harness digital tools to help them play their own part in sustainability. This rests upon the continuation of Malaysia’s JENDELA Plan—to ensure quality broadband network connectivity nationwide—and government agencies such as the Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC) to help businesses and communities tap into the country’s digital infrastructure for economic growth.

While Malaysia is focused on accelerating its socioeconomic growth, it is no longer a story of achieving growth at all costs, but to also ensure that a more sustainable future is secured for the next generations of Malaysians. Here, both purpose and profit can be achieved.

Malaysia’s Journey Towards Sustainability

Malaysia is asserting its commitment towards sustainability, particularly regarding climate change and more efficient resource management.

The country is already in its eighth year of implementing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and is committed to stepping up efforts to achieve the 17 SDGs to make Malaysia a sustainable nation by 2030. In addition to the launch of the National Energy Transition Roadmap, which contains Malaysia’s commitment to achieve net-zero GHG emissions by 2050, there also exists the National Energy Policy 2022-2040 (DTN), which lays the foundation for an equitable energy transition that is fair and inclusive for everyone. Furthermore, the recently launched New Industrial Masterplan (NIMP) 2030 takes on a mission-based approach to sustainable industrial development by focusing on manufacturing as a key engine of growth for Malaysia.

These are commendable goals, but how can Malaysia balance them while also stimulating the economy and safeguarding the welfare of Malaysians? The answer lies in accelerating socioeconomic transformation in tandem with environmentally sustainable practices with Industry 4.0 technologies.

While Malaysia is still growing its capacities within the tertiary economic sector (including digital-first sectors such as e-commerce), primary sectors (i.e., agriculture and mining) and secondary sectors (i.e., manufacturing) remain key economic contributors that cannot be ignored but must be made smarter and more sustainable.

Due to the use of physically intensive tools and infrastructure, these sectors must evolve by making operational technologies smarter and more efficient, especially when powered by more sophisticated information technologies—the potential of which is set to be unlocked as more digital divides across Malaysia are overcome and the advent of 5G, which can bring industries to greater operational heights with technologies such as predictive analytics, digital twins, and autonomous vehicles, just to name a few.

ESG as a Value-Add Powered by Digital Transformation

With the environment already entering a critical period, nations can no longer view Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) principles solely as areas they must align with, but as competitive advantages in the current and future economies. This is where Malaysia’s sustainability focal areas such as energy efficiency, circular practices, and digital inclusivity can be the country’s selling points and encourage national investments from both domestic and foreign players.

“Before much of this can happen, the digital divide must be narrowed to ensure that everyone across Malaysia can take part in the country’s digital revolution and then harness digital tools to help them play their own part in sustainability.” 

At the national level, the government is working with global and regional partners to roll out the required direction-setting pledges, initiatives, and frameworks. The next step is to secure the buy-in from broader economic stakeholders to carry out the direction.

Already, digitalisation is being touted to play a central role in enabling companies in Malaysia to enhance their ESG practices—particularly in areas such as environmental impact reduction, social inclusion, and ethical governance. More small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are also already doing their part, providing a positive signal for change (given that SMEs make up the majority of businesses in Malaysia). Malaysia is already showing its merits when rationalizing growth with sustainability, but the country is still in its early days.

Beyond generating more value to boost business, digitalisation has a critical role to play in improving societal welfare. This is in line with the government’s nearer-term push to stimulate broad-based, post-pandemic socioeconomic recovery.

This is why we are now seeing more concerted efforts being made across the dimensions of healthcare access, education, and public services, especially outside of urban centres. Indeed, many of the digital tools introduced during the pandemic are now becoming mainstays, as we are now seeing in healthcare, education, and government. These can serve as platforms to apply more digital innovations to make these sectors, and others, even more sustainable.

Moving Malaysia Forward to a Better Future

As the world enters a critical juncture for both economic and environmental recovery, there can be no green without digital. This is both in terms of harnessing digital technologies to improve resource efficiency and address climate change challenges, as well as providing the incentive for businesses and societies to adopt more sustainable practices.

Ultimately, accelerating digitalisation today can no longer be just about closing the competitiveness gaps with other economies, but also stimulating and safeguarding stakeholders in Malaysia itself (be they communities, businesses or the government), so that everyone has a fair shot at reaping the benefits from Malaysia’s transformation.

The first critical step is to get everyone across the country connected, but the government cannot achieve this alone. It will also need the support of stakeholders within the technology sector and communication services providers (CSPs) to accelerate the country’s digitalisation ambitions. Only then can a greener, more prosperous, and inclusive Malaysia be realised.