Sustainable development: A case study of Miri City using the Low Carbon Cities Framework (LCCF)

By Dr. Pauline Ho, Dr. Lew Tek Yew, Dr. Goi Chai Lee, Dr. Minyu Wu, Dr. Tang Fu Ee, Dr. Tan Chong Keng, Foad Motalebi & Carrie Ho

Miri was proclaimed a city on 20 May, 2005 and since then, the Miri City Council has actively promoted Miri as a green city. Major initiatives have been proposed and implemented, including building bicycle tracks in the city, installing solar energy street lighting, as well as promoting a green culture among the public through campaigns such as ‘Say No to Plastic’ and tree planting activities. These are significant steps towards making Miri a green, sustainable city.

The concept of a ‘sustainable city’ embraces many dimensions (Peterson et al. 1999). Sustainable development of a city centre involves three interconnected dimensions – economy, environment and society (Giddins et al. 2002).

In the Malaysian context, studies have used Malaysian Urban Indicators (Murni Net) developed by the Federal Department of Town and Country Planning Peninsular Malaysia, Ministry of Housing and Local Government Malaysia as an approach to measure and evaluate the sustainability of Malaysian towns and cities (Choon et al. 2012; Marzukhi et al. 2011).

There are 55 Murni Net indicators grouped into 11 planning sectors as an overall indication of the sustainability of a city. They are (1) demography; (2) housing; (3) urban economics; (4) utilities and infrastructure; (5) public facilities and recreation; (6) environment; (7) sociology and social impact; (8) land use; (9) heritage and tourism; (10) transport and accessibility; and (11) management and finance. This approach is implemented by all local authorities in Malaysia.

The vision of greening Miri city is timely and relevant as there have been concerns that rapid economic development, population growth and environmental destruction as a result of industrialisation and social change have increased pressure on the environment.

Many negative effects have occurred, such as air and water pollution, as well as traffic congestion, and they could cause a collapse of the ecosystem just a few generations from now (The Borneo Post, June 8, 2012).

Since 2005, Miri city has experienced the phenomenon of rapid growth in population and urban development. Like many other Malaysian cities, this trend significantly contributes to the increase in green house gas emissions.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Energy, Green Technology and Water, Malaysia (KeTTHA) has launched several initiatives on sustainable development towards green solutions, a recent one being the Low Carbon Cities Framework and Assessment System (LCCF).

Under the LCCF, waste and water management remains important environmental issues to be tackled in order to achieve sustainable development. To this end, the treatment of municipal sludge is an important concern due to rapid population growth.

Malaysia produces over six million cubic meters of raw sewage and municipal sludge each year (AECOM International Development and Sandec/EAWAG 2010). Municipal sludge in Malaysia, including Miri, is mainly treated by conventional means, which incur high energy, carbon and financial costs, or otherwise, is disposed untreated into waterways.

As an alternative, natural ecosystem processes occurring in wetlands have been utilised in the form of engineered (man-made) wetlands to treat wastewater, and increasingly, municipal sludge. Engineered wetlands have been deployed successfully in many countries, including France (Molle et al. 2006), Czech Republic (Vymazal 2002) and Thailand (Koottatep et al. 2001), and this technology can potentially be applied in Malaysia.

A research proposal on ‘Sustainable Development: A case of Miri City using the Low Carbon Cities Framework (LCCF)’ has been prepared by a team of Curtin Sarawak academics. The team comprises Dr. Lew Tek Yew, Dr. Pauline Ho Po Ling, Dr. Goi Chai Lee and Dr. Minyu Wu from the School of Business; and Dr. Tang Fu Yee, Dr. Tan Chong Keng, Carrie Ho and Foad Motalebi from the School of Engineering and Science.

The main objective of the proposed study is to assist KeTTHA to implement and improve the LCCF in Miri City. The study will adopt the City Based Approach where all criteria within the LCCF framework – urban environment, urban infrastructure, building and urban transportation – will be considered.

Specifically, the study will consist of two stages. The first stage will involve studying the issues faced by local stakeholders, and their expectations and suggestions, in order to upgrade the level of environmental sustainability.

The second stage of the study will explore the challenges posed to, and the reactions of, employees working in the Miri City Council according the concept of environmental sustainability (in relation to realising the vision of Miri as a green resort city).

This 2-stage study will enable the gaps between the vision of greening Miri city and the expectations/perceptions of stakeholders to be identified.

In addition, the treatment of municipal sludge will be explored as an example of green solutions, utilising low-carbon and low-cost means to solve an environmental problem.

As this area is still under research, the approach of the study will be an exploratory, inductive one, and both qualitative and qualitative tools will be used. The methods will include collecting data through structured interviews, focus group discussions, and the facilitation of workshops such as strategic planning workshops.

Data will be collected from departmental heads and councillors of the various departments and committees at the Miri City Council, members of Residents’ Committee (RCs) and also the general public in Miri (residents, the business community, students, senior citizens, visitors).

The team believes such a comprehensive sample will be representative of the population of Miri City, which can provide useful information for future decision making.

A case study will be conducted for the treatment of municipal sludge where a small-scale engineered wetland will be built. Its treatment efficiency in removing pollutants from municipal sludge will be studied, in terms of retaining the solid part of the sludge, as well as removing pollutants (such as nitrogen and phosphorus) from the liquid part. The operational parameters of the engineered wetlands will be varied to investigate its efficiency. The results from the study will contribute towards design guidelines, which are currently lacking in Malaysia.

The academics from Curtin Sarawak hope to assist KeTTHA to implement and improve the LCCF in Miri City and thereby help the Miri City Council to realise its vision of turning Miri into a green resort city by 2015. The findings will allow the Miri City Council to manage gaps between its performance and the expectations of the various stakeholders in the future development of Miri City into a green resort city.

 Dr. Pauline Ho is an R&D Coordinator and senior lecturer of accounting; Dr. Lew Tek Yew is a senior lecturer of management; Dr. Goi Chai Lee and Dr. Minyu Wu are senior lecturers of marketing and management in Curtin Sarawak’s School of Business.

Dr. Tang Fu Ee is the Head of Department and senior lecturer of civil and construction engineering; Dr. Tan Chong Keng is a senior lecturer of physics; Foad Motalebi is a lecturer in information technology; and Carrie Ho is a lecturer in civil and construction engineering in Curtin Sarawak’s School of Engineering and Science.