Towards A Green And Smart Penang

Firstly, on behalf of the Government of Penang, I would like to welcome all of you to our beautiful island. We are most delighted that Penang has been chosen to host the prestigious 7th Asia Pacific Urban Forum from 15-17 October 2019.

I would like to take this opportunity to express my appreciations to UN ESCAP as the chair of the APUF Steering Committee as well as co-chairs Urbanice Malaysia and UN-Habitat, along with rest of the Steering Committee for providing this avenue for the Centre for Indonesia-Malaysia-Thailand Growth Triangle Subregional Cooperation (CIMT) to have a discussion on the Sustainable Urban Development Framework (SUDF) and the acceleration of its implementation.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The SUDF was developed by IMT-GT in 2018 with the assistance of ICLEI (formerly known as the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives and now known as Local Governments for Sustainability), a global network of cities, towns and regions committed to building a sustainable future.

Earlier in the year during the 12th IMT-GT Summit in Bangkok, Thailand, the SUDF received a strong endorsement from ASEAN leaders. The first stage of the implementation will consist of 14 provinces and 28 cities of various sizes and characteristics.

Besides the Bangkok Summit, the implementation plan of the SUDF was also presented during the recent 4th IMT-GT Green Council meeting that was held on 9 August 2019 here in Penang. I am happy to say that with the trust and support of the council members, Penang has been selected to be the chairman of the Green Council from 2019 to 2020.

During the Green Council meeting, it was agreed that much more work needs to be done and cities should be encouraged to remain committed to implementing their green agendas. However, some projects may benefit from additional support and this forum could well provide such an opportunity. Therefore, I hope all of you will fully utilise this session to engage, discuss and seek advice from each other.

For your information the Penang State Government has recently launched the Penang 2030 Vision of a Family-Focused Green and Smart State to Inspire the Nation. This vision takes the form of four main themes, namely liveability, economy, social empowerment and balanced development.

Ladies and gentlemen,

In the last 10 years, Penang has gone from being one of the dirtiest state in Malaysia to one of the cleanest and greenest. Believe it or not, Penang used to be called “Pulau Pinang Darul Sampah” which translates to “the rubbish state of Penang”.

Today, we are often praised and listed as one of the cleanest states. On top of that, we have also notched up a few “green” credentials. We are the first state to institute no free plastic bags every day and since July this year, we became the first to introduce zero plastic bag day every Monday.

On top of that, Penang also led the way in banning polystyrene containers and implementing waste segregation at source. In government offices, we now have a no single-use plastic policy. Penang currently tops the national recycling rate at 42.69 per cent, far ahead of everyone else and double the national average.

Furthermore, we have also in the last few years incentivised Green Building Index certification. Through the state’s efforts, Penang now has the third-highest number of GBI-certified buildings in the country, totalling 14.9 million square feet. For the second smallest state in Malaysia, this is not a small feat.

These may be small steps, but they symbolise an awareness about the need for sustainability and environmental protection in light of rapid urbanisation and climate change.

Besides environmental policies, the mission to become a green city also entails a shift from private vehicles to more sustainable modes of transport such as buses. To achieve this, since 2008 we have spent around RM17 million in providing free bus services such as the Central Area Transit in George Town, the Bridge Express Shuttle Transit service from the mainland to the island and the Congestion Alleviation Transit consisting of 12 routes, all completely free for the public.

Penang is also promoting cycling with 350km of bicycle lanes being planned along with the Link Bike bike-sharing programme that is now available.

Taking a more holistic view, the State Government also commissioned the Penang Transport Master Plan, a total solution consisting not only of road and highway networks, but also light rail systems, buses, aerial and even water transport.

For the first phase of the project, we plan to construct the Bayan Lepas LRT line from the airport and industrial free trade zone to George Town, totalling 30km in length with 28 stations. And as new rail technology emerges, we are also now looking at the possibility of implementing a rail line crossing the channel between the mainland and the island at an earlier phase than originally planned.

For the information of everyone here, Penang has also recently collaborated with the Asian Development Bank to produce the Penang Green Transport Plan, which seeks to set out a framework towards a greener urban transport system on Penang island, with particular focus on the heritage area of George Town. The plan, which has recently been finalised and is now pending endorsement by the State Executive Council, has identified 30 potential green transportation projects in 5 categories:

  • Walking, cycling and urban street design
  • Public transport
  • Parking
  • Traffic Management
  • Electric mobility (E-vehicles)

Out of the 30 projects, 10 have been selected as “low hanging fruits”. This includes the improvement of pedestrian connections in critical areas such as Love Lane, Swettenham Pier to the Heritage Zone and the Heritage Zone to KOMTAR. The report also proposes the optimisation of existing bus services and infrastructure, changes to current parking policies, a pilot project for traffic management involving a pedestrian crossing and, looking to the future, planning for electric mobility.

With the rapid onset of ride-sharing, electric vehicles and autonomous vehicles, it is important that we start incorporating them into our planning policies. For example, we should begin to make provisions for charging stations and different kinds of parking infrastructure as ride-sharing and autonomous vehicles become more popular. The adoption of big data and IoT is also extremely important and should begin to influence urban policymaking.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Besides being “green” we also aspire to become “smart”. Technology is developing at such a rapid pace that we can no longer escape its influence. From the way we communicate to the way we travel, the digital revolution has completely changed our lives.s

Hence, in order to ensure Penang is not left behind, we have embarked on an aggressive plan to provide adequate digital infrastructure. This year, the Penang State Government formed a tripartite collaboration together with the seven leading telecommunications providers (telcos) as well as the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission to produce the Penang Connectivity Master Plan.

This plan will detail strategies to fulfil the demands of the public and industry, address the challenges to infrastructure rollout and seek to optimise and improve state policies and governance procedures. More importantly, all these strategies are being produced via a three-tier bottom-up approach beginning with focus-group discussions to a steering committee and finally to an executive committee made up of the Chief Minister, the heads of the seven telcos and the national regulator.

As various sectors both private and public intensifies its efforts to become more digital and smart, Penang has realised the need to encapsulate all these strategies under one central agency in order to ensure coordination and to avoid redundancies. This super agency will be called Digital Penang and it will be made up of the highest decision-makers of the state and include all key stakeholders as digital initiatives cut across many portfolios and departments.

Digital Penang will not be an implementation arm but more of a coordinating and monitoring agency for all digital projects in the four key domains of digital government, digital community, digital infrastructure and digital economy. More importantly, it will also be guided by a Strategic Advisory Panel consisting of industry leaders from within and outside of Penang. This is to ensure that we get the best advice from people who know best when we design our digital strategies moving forward.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I would like to end by thanking CIMT for their continuous support in facilitating and coordinating the Green Council, as well as their efforts in guiding the states and provinces in implementing our respective green agendas.

I wish everyone a fruitful exchange of ideas in the quest for holistic, pragmatic and innovative strategies for the accelerated implementation of the priority projects listed in the SUDF.

Thank you.

NB: Keynote address at the 7th Asia Pacific Urban Forum (APUF) session on the Implementation of the Sustainable Development Framework (SUDF) in the Indonesia-Malaysia-Thailand Growth Triangle (IMT-GT) on 17 October 2019.

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