In conjunction of World Environment Day which is happening on the 5th of June, we have Dr Renard Siew in the house to talk about his dedication towards creating a sustainable environment for our future. For starters, Dr Renard champions sustainable development and climate change here in Malaysia. On top of that, he plays one of the pivotal roles in the Global Shapers Community by representing Malaysia at the upcoming Sustainable Development Impact Summit in New York to put forth and discussing the most pressing issues in our home country. Read on to learn more about the man of the hour.
1. Hi Dr Renard! Please tell us more about yourself.
I’m Dr Renard Siew, Malaysia’s green warrior. I advocate for sustainable development and climate change. My mission in life is really to help engineer a more sustainable future for everyone.
2. What inspired you to take on an active role as an environmentalist and an advocate to sustainable development and climate change here in Malaysia?
My love for the environment was inculcated since young I would say- Captain Planet was definitely one of my all time favorite cartoons. Proud to say that I have never really missed an episode ! 🙂
Instead of reading fantasy storybooks like normal children would, I was exposed to real life stories through UNICEF and UNDP newsletters. We received these newsletters because my parents were very charitable they would donate faithfully to these organizations every month. I remembered reading about how people in different parts of the world were suffering from a wide range of issues- water scarcity, air pollution and I knew even then that I wanted to do something to help improve people’s quality of life
Back in the days, a career in sustainability didn’t really exist. Most Asian children were only asked to consider being either a doctor, engineer or lawyer. What I do recall however is watching Ban Ki-Moon live on TV. He had just been elected then as the Secretary General of the UN. I remembered thinking to myself how powerful this Asian figure was and what he represented was truly noble. I was really inspired by him to go into a similar field of work.
3. Congratulations for being one of the 15 people selected to represent the Global Shapers Community at the Sustainable Development Impact Summit in New York! We believed that you’ve been to countless talks as such. What are some of the preparations to be made prior to this particular Summit itself?
The Sustainable Development Impact Summit is an important one as it will gather some of the most powerful stakeholders in the world. Each of the 15 Shapers selected will be putting forth and discussing the most pressing issues in their home countries. Likewise, I feel blessed that I’d been given ‘a seat on the table’ to represent Malaysia. I intend to highlight the need to protect Malaysia’s biodiversity and our move towards a low carbon society. A lot of homework and research on our country’s policies and international commitments needed prior to this event.
4. Malaysia has reformed its government and is currently firefighting pressing issues like our nation’s financial woes. With your influence and connection, how do you ensure that beneficial environmental projects are not neglected by the leaders of our nation?
If you’ve been following the news, you can see that I have been quite vocal recently calling for the newly reformed government to have its own dedicated Ministry of Environment and make it part of the core cabinet portfolio. Environmental issues must be in our country’s top 10 priority. While we can vote for party A or party B, the reality is we only live in one planet and it’s up to us to look after it for our future generations. We definitely need a body that continues to look into supporting, educating and raising awareness among fellow Malaysians on the importance of preserving the environment. Alternatively, if this doesn’t work out, I also sit on the National Steering committee of the Global Environment Facility-Small Grants Programme which provides small grants to support local Malaysian projects that have proven environmental impact. Grants may be comparatively smaller bit it’s still something.
5. Many argued that global warming is a myth. How would you like to debunk this myth?
Extreme weather patterns are more prevalent than ever. Just last year, we recorded the hottest temperature in the world at 56.7 Celsius. You can’t argue against facts compiled by more than 1000 scientists worldwide claiming that global warming is real.
6. Cape Town is about to become the first city in the world to run out of water. With the ever changing climate, what are the few initiatives to be introduced in Malaysia and other major cities to prevent the same thing from happening?
Already, Selangor is facing serious water security issues as a result of climate change. Malaysians don’t see water as a form of commodity but rather an infinite supply so our usage is twice that of average consumption. We need to run a campaign to teach Malaysians how to conserve water and protect our rivers. Government should provide incentives for the installation of rainwater tanks and look into diversifying our source of water (for example groundwater or purifying wastewater just like what is done in Singapore) and perhaps reviewing our water tariffs.
7. What do you think is the best way to interest the younger generations to be more involved in creating a sustainable living in Malaysia?
We need to make environmental education compulsory in schools and make these subjects ‘sexy’. Get our kids involved in more hands on projects. (i. e. Get them to be forest rangers or eco-ambassadors) or support them if they have a startup idea that deals with resolving one of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
8. Is there anything that you’d like to educate about conserving the environment – especially among the younger generation?
In my environmental advocacy work, I always hold on to this saying “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” If you have an idea that could help preserve the environment and make it better, go for it and see it through the very end. Forget about the nay-sayers or climate denialists.
9. What are the highlights and lowlights you’ve encountered so far in your line of work?
I encountered a number of lows when I first started on this journey. I was young back then having just graduated with a PhD at 27 and many people were skeptical with my proposals for environmental change and threw a lot of nasty comments. I was once dismissed as a young Malaysian boy that was too ambitious (“boleh ke”?). They said I couldn’t do it, “it wont work out”. I laughed, smiled politely and did it anyway.
It took awhile to build credibility and earn people’s trust. But you know when you are genuine and passionate about your cause, eventually the whole world conspires to help you achieve it. Having the support from friends and family have been one of the greatest highlights of my journey. They are always my pillar of support and I know I can count on them.
10. With various roles to juggle during the day, what do you usually do to relax and unwind?
Being Malaysian, I find eating very therapeutic (no surprises there). I do enjoy exploring new cafès and taking time off to travel and explore new places.