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Malaysia–Sweden Relations in an Era of Climate Change

Updated: Nov 11, 2020

Leong Yuen Yoong

Diplomatic relations between Malaysia and Sweden started in 1958, one year after Malaysia’s independence. Trade and commercial exchanges have been a strong focus in the relations between our two countries. How is the relation evolving in an era of climate change and environmental degradation?

I visited Sweden four times during my university years in the UK, including spending two weeks in the countryside of Gothenburg attending Deep Entrepreneurship: Manufacturing Europe's Future, a summer academy led by Jim Platts who delved into the philosophical foundations and spirituality of sustainability. The traditional Swedish forest cottage, forest walking, mushroom hunting and forest sauna were part of my fond memories of this forest country.

In Malaysia, Swedish forestry appears in the form of IKEA and its Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified home furnishing, which are beautiful and affordable. IKEA’s global partnership with FSC and WWF to fight deforestation and promote responsible forest management beyond IKEA’s own supply chain has been observed by Malaysians with keen interest.

Swedish forestry has been sustainable for 200 years, but it was not always like that. During the 18th and 19th centuries, the Swedish temperate forests suffered a similar fate to Southeast Asia’s tropical rainforests in recent decades. Swedish forestry supported the country’s profitable mining industry (iron, copper, silver) via charcoaling, which gave Sweden a dominant position in the European market. Felling for charcoal was done without silviculture in mind, i.e. purely exploitative. In the same manner, trees were cut down for farming, housing, timber and pulping. That changed after decades of political debate.

Today, the Swedish Forestry Act balances economic, ecological and social interests. Significant restoration efforts successfully transformed an over-exploited Swedish forest into a well-managed production forest, and a pillar of economic growth for the nation, within a century. The Swedish forest transformation gives hope to countries currently plagued by deforestation.

Like their terrestrial counterpart, the mangrove forests are also being lost at an alarming rate in ASEAN countries due to illegal harvesting for mangrove barks and competing land use with other crops like rice. Without mangroves, mankind will be in serious trouble.

Not only do mangrove forests absorb four times more carbon than rainforests, they are also one of the most cost-effective coastal disaster risk management solution. These ‘blue forests’ protect tropical and subtropical coastlines from the full impact of powerful storms, coastal flooding and erosion.

In 2017, Swedish telecom giant Ericsson deployed volunteers and an IoT solution to revive mangrove forests in Malaysia and the Philippines. Not only were thousands of mangrove trees planted, Ericsson also leveraged on connected solar-powered sensors and real-time camera footage to collect data relevant to the mangroves’ survival.

The data also enabled the local community to see beyond the trees, i.e. they can now check on water, soil and humidity conditions, and remotely monitor on-site intrusion via a digital dashboard. Today, this piece of ecological-social-economic resilience building work by Ericsson continues to provide food and protection for endangered creatures, restore and improve coastal livelihoods, in addition to mitigating climate change.

Whilst working hard to protect the forests and plant more carbon sequestering trees, cutting carbon emission is the other tool in the same toolbox. In 2019, major Swedish manufacturer of heavy lorries and buses Scania launched a tailor-made partnership with Malaysian customers that helps to reduce fuel consumption and CO2 emissions. This is achieved and maintained long-term through ongoing driver training, digital coaching, vehicle and fleet optimisation, and agreed fuel and CO2 emissions reduction targets.

Swedish businesses are recognised for their sustainability achievements and leadership globally. To be ranked as the world’s most sustainable country, continuous improvement must be in the DNA of the Swedes.

In the spirit of making the best better, Malaysians’ clarion call to Swedish businesses and the Swedish Embassy in Malaysia is to expand your stricter environmental requirements to indirect procurement activities, which can be a powerful lever for change, especially in a region where deforestation is rampant and forest products have various claims to green credentials on their packaging. Green certifications and green labels abound, but not all are equal, some are even greenwashing. Aspire for the gold standard. Beyond that, reading up public domain information about manufacturers/suppliers is also a practical due diligence step in this information age.

This will help procurement steer clear of manufacturers/suppliers embroiled in controversies and lawsuits, and safeguard your brand and reputation.

If you missed our webinar on Sustainability Best Practices in Sweden, you can watch the recording here.

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