Responding to Climate Change: Metropolitan Subang Jaya Securing Urban Green Spaces Moving Forward

This month as temperatures record between 34°C to 36°C, scorching heat is all city dwellers think, talk and trudge about. We are experiencing the consequences of a global mean temperature of 0.8°C above pre-industrial levels caused by persistent increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentration. Scientists warn of extreme weather events in Southeast Asian cities where increased intensities and frequencies of heat waves and rainstorms (which often lead to flash floods) will be felt in the coming years. City populations will be exposed to a wide range of risks such as health, productivity, economic and ecological losses, and social degeneration.

As a response to climate change, the Greater Kuala Lumpur metropolitan region embarked on regeneration and establishment of urban green spaces such as community forests, parks and fields, schools and campuses, as well as streets. The Malaysia Second National Communication to the UNFCCC reported that as of 2009, a total of 10 million trees have been planted in urban centres, already achieving half of the targeted 20 million trees by 2020. At local levels, many small scale initiatives are led by communities and businesses, signalling a heightened awareness of the benefits of green spaces. Besides regulating city and suburban temperatures, they provide clean air and recreational benefits, as well as facilitate water run-offs.

In tandem with addressing temperature vulnerability issues, the city must also face up to its energy consumption surge. According to the World Bank, Malaysia emits one of the highest levels of CO2 per capita. In 2010, emissions were at 7.7 metric tons per capita, as compared to Thailand at 4.4 and Indonesia at 1.8 respectively. The OECD found that cities account for roughly 60 to 80% of national carbon emissions. Therefore, urban greening is a key element in climate change adaptation strategy.

Subang Jaya: Growing a Forest in the City

Located within the Greater Kuala Lumpur region, Subang Jaya takes pride in the many recreational parks and canopy covered streets. Tree planting remains popular in this premier educational hub and cosmopolitan neighbourhood. But the most notable efforts come from resident’s participation in public policy to gazette and regenerate a 3.2 hectare community forest along Persiaran Setia, USJ3C in 2011, planting 1,111 indigenous forest trees. Also, the community is keen to reclaim and conserve a 30 hectare green landmark called Subang Ria Park, where the private landowner plans commercial redevelopment.

[View map of USJ3C Community Forest and Subang Ria Park here]

New trees planted at the USJ3C Community Forest

New trees planted at the USJ3C Community Forest

Subang Ria Park

Subang Ria Park


Moving Forward: Putting Big Data in the Hands of the Community

The level of public awareness, participation and passion demonstrates that Subang Jaya is ready to move urban greening forward.  Therefore it makes sense to look at how other major cities are advancing. Leading green cities tend to tap into the urban community to help achieve mitigation targets effectively by putting big data into their hands.

The city of Melbourne provide an interactive map detailing each tree and green spaces thus enabling joint management between community and the municipality in tracking, maintaining and optimising carbon storage.

Under the Greening London programme and England’s Community Forest, resident volunteers are recruited to participate in urban forestry surveys, educational and community-based activities, building bicycle lanes and treks.

Glasgow’s Project Urban Forest features carbon offsetting opportunities in the form of donations from individuals and businesses. The money raised is used to secure land and plant more trees. The website also provides a map that plots community gardens, sustainable buildings and future green infrastructure services.

Full Potential: Growing a City in the Forest

Clearly, what is keeping Subang Jaya from achieving its full green potential is access to information. Information such as:

  • the amount of carbon the city emits per year,
  • how much carbon is absorbed by the green spaces in totality,
  • what is the canopy coverage and how many percentage more to achieve ideal coverage of, for example, 1000 residents per hectare,
  • how many more trees need to be planted to achieve net reduction of emissions; and
  • the economic value of environmental benefits as a means to strengthen citizen’s campaigns in presenting costs and benefit against a commercial development option.

It also needs an online community platform that provides a variety of green maps that can empower residents to participate in joint stocktaking, monitoring and maintenance efforts of single, street, park and forest trees. Residents will also be able to identify more greening opportunities such as vertical and rooftop greening.

A greener, cooler and sustainable Subang Jaya will serve to achieve not only resilience in the face of climate change but stands to gain economic benefits from reduced energy and medical bills, increase in property value, community solidarity and security.

[Note: This article is the final project paper as partial fulfilment of the course “Turn Down the Heat: Why a 4°C Warmer World Must be Avoided” offered by The World Bank Institute on Coursera platform. The writer is enrolled in Class of January, 2014] 

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