Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad appointed Malaysia’s new environment and climate change minister

Under new Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, the energy and natural resources ministry has been combined with the environment and water ministry.

Malaysia environment minister
Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad checks in on his first day of work as minister of natural resources, environment and climate change at Putrajaya, Malaysia. Image: Nik Nazmi/Facebook

Following Malaysia’s tumultuous 15th general election and the swearing in of Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim as the country’s new prime minister, the ministries of energy and water have been combined and a new minister has been appointed to oversee the combined portfolio.

Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad, 40, was appointed earlier this month as the minister of natural resources, environment and climate change. This is the first cabinet post for the former youth leader of Anwar’s People’s Justice Party (PKR), who is currently serving as a member of parliament for Setiawangsa, a suburb of the capital, Kuala Lumpur.

On his first day in office, Nik Nazmi, told local media that he would focus on “balancing between development and environmental conservation”.

“This portfolio requires me to focus on climate change, the environment, energy and so on. People are really concerned about these matters,” Nik Nazmi told reporters on 5 December. He also asked for time to look into what needs to take priority before any announcements are made.

The former ministries — of environment and water, and of energy and natural resources — were helmed by Tuan Ibrahim Tuan Man and Takiyuddin Hassan, respectively. Both are from the Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS), a leading political party in the National Alliance (PN) coalition that is now in the opposition. 

Nik Nazmi and 27 other Malaysian cabinet members were sworn in on 3 December, against a backdrop of Anwar’s commitment to a smaller cabinet and slashing ministerial pay by 20 per cent. 

The merger of the two ministries was welcomed by former minister of energy, science, technology, environment and climate change Yeo Bee Yin, who said that the current environment ministry “finally has the right structure to ensure holistic environmental governance in Malaysia.”

Under the previous two-ministry structure, the natural resources sector was separated from the environment sector, so that green issues (forestry and wildlife conservation) were not managed in alignment with brown issues (pollution control), she explained in a published column.

Demands are already being made of the new minister by public groups and individuals. The Green Party of Malaysia, an online environmental movement, has called for Nik Nazmi to address the issue of 27 quarries being opened in the Bukit Lagong Forest Reserve in Gombak, Selangor. Meanwhile, the Climate Collective, a youth-led movement in Malaysia, has demanded “institutional strengthening” of climate action and biodiversity protection. In response, the new minister tweeted, “Noted. Let’s talk.”   

Within Nik Nazmi’s own constituency of Setiawangsa, where he is serving his second term as member of parliament, residents are calling for the conservation of the popular hiking spot Bukit Dinding, a large chunk of which has been earmarked for the development of high-rise buildings.

Nik Nazmi, who has a bachelor’s degree in law from King’s College London, started his political career as a private secretary to Anwar. In 2008 he was elected as a state legislator in the Selangor State Legislative Assembly, becoming the youngest candidate to win in those elections.

In addition to being a youth leader in PKR, he was also youth leader for the Alliance of Hope (PH) coalition that won Malaysia’s 2018 general elections. He was chairperson of the board of the Selangor Public Library Corporation.

Nik Nazmi published his memoir, Malaysian Son: A progressive’s political journey in the heart of Southeast Asia, in October this year.

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