Sunday, September 27, 2009

Conference Opening Address

The following is an excerpt from the Opening Address of Y.B. Pee Boon Poh, Penang State EXCO for Health, Welfare, Caring Society and the Environment

Good day and welcome to Penang!

On behalf of the Chief Minister MR. YAB TUAN LIM GUAN ENG, I would like to welcome and congratulate you for holding this timely and relevant conference.

We recognize that this gathering is being convened amidst pronounced global development challenges such as the food crisis and climate change. Concurrently, the world economy is afflicted with a chronic financial plague that wreaks havoc from financial markets to farms.

In 2008, the Sunday Herald characterized the global food crisis as “humanity’s biggest crisis in the 21st century.” Because it is fused with “an economic crisis of the enormity taking place today, the impact could be catastrophic,” a FAO official recently warned, while also noting the adverse effects of climate change on agriculture.

The manifold adverse implications of climate change are also being felt across the globe. Global temperatures rose twice as fast in the last 50 years as over the last century and are projected to increase even faster in the years to come. The resulting floods, fires and other climate catastrophes have inflicted damaging effects on the environment, agriculture, livelihoods and lives.

Far from being mere catchphrases for crises, these challenges impact on the environment and the resources, livelihood and health of vulnerable sectors in agriculture.

Various global responses are being made to address the crises. In December 2009, the UN climate conference in Copenhagen will take place with the aim of yielding a new global climate treaty.

Grassroots responses are also domestically pursued yet are often unheard in international fora that try to address the development challenges posed by the global crises.

As the crises escalate, poverty and hunger worsen. Loss of jobs and livelihoods increase. The exodus of workers from urban to rural areas stretches further.

The confluence of these global development issues has adversely affected vulnerable sectors: peasants, agricultural workers, fisherfolk, women, indigenous peoples and livestock keepers. These sectors bear the brunt of the chronic crises but they are relegated to the sidelines of so-called global and local efforts to addressing the crises.

In decision-making processes involving these challenges, the voices of affected sectors are neither considered let alone heard. However, they offer grounded perspectives on and sustainable solutions to the crises.

We hope that this conference will serve as a platform for tackling and sharpening analysis on pressing global issues as they impact on the said marginalized sectors.

There is indeed a pressing need to facilitate collective learning from the wide range of grassroots, national and regional experiences and responses with the end view of formulating viable strategies for confronting and addressing current threats and challenges.

We recognize the importance of building a stronger solidarity and a resilient resistance of movements and civil society organizations in our part of the world.

Indeed, even as the crises escalate, peoples' responses abound and their struggles reverberate. Concomitantly, it is an opportune moment to affirm, strengthen and reinvigorate sustainable ecological practices in agriculture as a sustainable response to the chronic global threats and crises.

We support proposed actions that build on people's resistance and alternatives that promote food sovereignty, ecological agriculture, environmental sustainability and gender justice.

Penang, being a coastal state, shares the same concern about the impacts of the climate and food crises. However, the people of Penang also believe that the global food and environmental challenges can also provide opportunities to tread a more sustainable path of development.

We intend to be a green manufacturing hub that will enable us to explore the opportunities of producing goods and services in an environmentally responsible way. We would take steps to go into the new fields of environmental technologies and sustainable development.

The Penang State government is committed to protect and promote the environment for our future generation. Over the last few months, we have been focusing on several programmes which we believe will contribute to reducing carbon emission.

We have initiated the following:

• “No Plastic Mondays” to reduce plastic bag consumption
• 1 million EM mudballs to clean rivers and drains
• Tree-planting
• Providing incentives for housing developers who adopted Green Building Index (GBI)
• Proposed an integrated transportation master plan towards becoming the first green state in Malaysia.

Apart from the government, we are also urging industries to also take the initiative to show their willingness and determination to pursue sustainable production and consumption in their own business strategies to achieve the highest standards of sustainability, with low and zero carbon technologies, state-of-the-art recycling, water management systems and good public transport.

In view of the foregoing, we agreed to develop and implement a project on the theme of “Development of an Eco-town in Penang, Malaysia”. The project looks at the formulation of an eco-town policy framework and an action plan for the development of Penang Cyber City as an eco-town, and develops strategies and plans for the purpose.

Penang is a highly urbanized and industrialized State and we see the need to integrate the concerns of environmental sustainability into local and global economic growth strategies. This means that we have to ensure that resources used today are still available to be used by our children in the future. Sustainable living refers to a lifestyle that attempts to reduce an individual's or society's use of the Earth's natural resource. Practitioners of sustainable living often attempt to reduce their carbon footprint by altering methods of transportation, energy consumption and diet.

The new concept of eco-towns offers us a key starting point for addressing these questions pertaining to industrial development and sustainable living that affects our quality of life.

Penang aspires to be Malaysia’s first Green Manufacturing Hub in the region. We will showcase environmentally friendly infrastructure and manufacturing processes which meet international environmental standards.

If we are to make eco-town a successful project, there are three important issues that we need to address: energy and water consumption, effective public transportation and affordable housing. We hope that all the stakeholders in Penang will fully cooperate in the eco-town projects. We hope that Penang will become a very important green manufacturing player regionally and internationally with the implementation of the eco-town project.

In closing, the State Government of Penang looks forward to working with you in realizing your valuable recommendations.

I wish you all a very meaningful and productive discourse and strategy conference. Enjoy your stay in our beautiful and serene island.

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