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S2E06 Balancing Act: Can Oil & Gas Giants Go Green? Exploring Malaysia’s Energy Transition with Dr Renard Siew



How does an energy infrastructure company balance green investments with FPSO services for oil and gas? What are the challenges of Malaysia’s energy transition towards a low carbon economy? How does COP28 affect ASEAN’s progress in advancing sustainability? In this episode, we were fortunate to speak to Dr Renard Siew, the Head of Corporate Sustainability at Yinson Holdings Berhad and the Board Advisor for Climate Change & Sustainability at the Centre For Governance and Political Studies, Malaysia. Discover Dr Renard’s valuable insights on ESG frameworks and Malaysia’s future of sustainability now! Follow us on Instagram @lsesugreenfinance for updates on our podcast and for further enquiries, please contact us at greenfinance@lsesu.org


Listen to the episode here and see the transcript below!




Chloe: 

Hello, everyone, and welcome back to another episode of The Greenhouse. We are Chloe and Xiao Wei, and we will be your host for today's episode.


Xiao Wei: 

Today, we've brought on a guest from Yinson Holdings, a global energy infrastructure and technology company. He is currently the Head of Corporate Sustainability, in charge of developing ESG strategies and roadmap for the firm. He also serves as the board of adviser for climate change and sustainability at the Centre for Governance and Political Studies, Malaysia's interdisciplinary research center.


Besides that, he's also part of the World Economic Forum, Expert Network Group, specifically the Global Future Council on SDG Investment. Welcome, Dr Renard. Can you introduce yourself, including your background, and walk us through your career journey to your current role.


Dr Renard Siew: 

Yeah, sure. I mean, thanks for having me. I'm Dr Renard. I am currently the Head of Corporate Sustainability at Yinson Holdings. As you know, it's an energy infrastructure and services company. I started my journey really, you know, since my undergraduate days where I actually pursued civil and environmental engineering.


And even back then, there was already a lot of conversations, discussions on what does it really mean to embed sustainability in the built environment. So really looking at sustainability from the buildings and infrastructure perspective. And I suppose at that point in time, it really piqued my interest because perhaps, you know, 20 years ago, I think sustainability wasn't really, you know, a big mega trend as what it is today. A lot of the conversations were primarily, you know, around health and safety, and especially for the built environment sector. So it really piqued my interest.


Um, and when I came back to Malaysia, I started my career at this company called Sime Darby, which was a multinational conglomerate. And the company was really interesting because it had dabbled into multiple industry sectors. The plantation, palm oil sector, property, it had motors, it had energy and utilities, and, basically, you know, like, a light product services, which includes every other thing on consumer products. And the vision of the company back then was really about developing sustainable futures. But, really, if you look at how the different industry sectors we're in, right, specifically, if you talk about palm oil, it was very much associated with things like deforestation.


And you would very famously remember the advertisement of the orangutan with a finger and someone biting into it and and it starts bleeding. So there was a lot of this pushbacks, right, from civil society organizations. And then if you also look at the property sector at that time, construction basically contributes to about 40 percent, right, of the world's global emissions from the operations of of heavy equipments among many other things. But so how do you actually translate, right, the vision of wanting to develop sustainable futures into something that was really tangible. So that was really my my journey.


And then to sort of fast track that, I also went into the banking sector, for a fairly short period, helping a local bank to basically develop a sustainable financing policy before I landed in this current role as the head of corporate sustainability, where I'm basically trying to set the sustainability strategy for the company in the next 5 years and also trying to build up capacity of my team around this area so that they know what is material, like, for our industry sector and what are some of the things to look out for. So that's where I really am at this juncture. 


Of course, as you rightly pointed out, I also hold multiple hats. Like, you know, in the side, I also carried out a bit of research with the Center for Governance and Political Studies, specifically leading the climate pillar. That is an area that I'm very interested in. As you know, in sustainability, one of the key things that I have, you know, always find fascinating is there is just so much to learn in this space, and we have to be constant learners. So I sort of like really researching on the site to sort of encapsulate and see what what's really happening in this industry and how can we feasibly operationalize, right, sustainability and and make the impact that we create, right, more tangible. 


Chloe: 

Wow. Thank you so much for sharing that. It's really amazing to hear kind of the journey that you've been, you know, from your career. So more on your role at Yinson Holdings, to preface for some of our listeners, Yinson Holdings champions a substantial amount of renewable assets like onshore wind and solar projects, and also actively invest in green technologies such as EV charging. This aligns well with Yinson's 30 by 30 sustainability driven initiative to achieve its 3 most impactful ESG targets by 2030. As the head of corporate sustainability, what was your kind of vision or strategy when developing this road map? 


Dr Renard Siew: 

Yeah. That's actually a really good question. For me, it was basically with a lot of the engagements I was having, right, with financiers, investor relations team, I think one of the key things that we have been observing is this increasing level of transparency on environmental and social and governance issues or as they would like to call it, ESG in short. So they have actually really moved away so so sort of I wouldn't say move away, but really evolved, right, from just looking at pure disclosures, meaning to say that, you know, in the past, companies could just get away with saying that, oh, you know, we have run a corporate social responsibility program or initiative to actually wanting to track performance. So that has really shifted the landscape because right now, when you think about what is a company's contribution to climate change, you have to make sure that a company is keeping track of its 3 years performance rate in terms of cutting down on carbon emissions. How much energy consumption have you actually reduced as a result of this and also to look at how much waste, how much water has been reduced, like what sort of programmes have you put in to help, you know, achieve those sort of targets in terms of reduction?


And also, needless to say, you know diversity, equity, and inclusion, DEI has come up to the 4. Right? So it's not just as simple as saying that, oh, you know, I've got women on our board and senior management. People don't want to know quantitatively. So what percentage of women are actually represented, right, within your company?


So 30 by 30 for instance, it's really about encapsulating some of the most material, 30, you know, like, ESG targets that we intend to achieve by the year 2030. So in many ways, it shows, you know, our stakeholders that we are serious. We are committed about sustainability, and more importantly, we actually have a plan moving forward with very specific targets that we want to achieve. So really that was the thinking behind it. 


Of course, you know, I have to add that in order to get that, it wasn't really an easy journey. There's a lot of internal and external sort of engagements that needed to be done. So even internally, we have to make sure that we continue to engage with various departments: human resources, procurement, and then, you know, looking engaging with our business units. Right? Offshore, renewables, green tech to make sure that everyone is on the same page, that they are clear about how they are actually contributing towards this 30 by 30 agenda that we have set or, you know, the Yinson agreement?


Xiao Wei: 

I think it's really fascinating to see how much Yinson has transitioned to achieve its ESG target by making sure it consistently shows tangible results by all stakeholders.


So besides the great businesses, Kingston also provides FPSO services, which essentially means developing and producing offshore oil and gas. Considering these services' environmental impacts, like carbon emission, excessive water usage, and impacts on marine life, how does Yinson evolve to tackle these risks? 


Dr Renard Siew: Yeah. We always say that Yinson is a company that is at the heart of the energy transition. So what that means is that perhaps one of the most critical problems that we are trying to solve is what we call the energy trilemma.


So what the energy trilemma means is that, you know, we have to ensure that there's energy security, for marginalized communities that is affordable and accessible for various communities and that the energy is also sustainable. Now, what's been really tricky is that in many parts of the world, we're still very much relying on fossil fuels, right, oil and gas. But the reality is that we need to be able to transition, right, in an orderly and inclusive manner. So for instance, specifically, even though, you know, the biggest chunk of our business currently is in offshore production, but we have made investments, huge investments, really, you know, really moving into the renewables business, as you've rightly pointed out, into onshore, solar and wind. And we have also developed a whole new business segment that is called Yinson Green Tech.


So Yinson Green Tech really focus on trying to electrify mobility systems. We have, for example, invested a lot into, you know, expanding on our charge EV stations, looking at leasing of e-mobility services, 2 billers, 4 billers, and also trying to make it more accessible and affordable to, marginalized communities. So these are some of the initiatives that we're really taking, right, in sort of transforming because we see that these 2 segments of the business is really what we consider as the future. Right?


Where things will become greener, even customer expectations as well as for us to move towards that direction. So these are some of the tangible steps that we're taking. Also, if you look into the 30 by 30, you'll notice that one of our targets is basically to have at least 30 percent equity in green businesses. So these are some of the small tangible steps that we're taking. 


Chloe: 

Thank you so much for that. It's really great to hear the initiative Yinson is taking to help out marginalized communities. Because as we know sometimes being sustainable can be really expensive for some families. So kind of shifting to more on your experience as the board advisor for climate change and sustainability at the Center for Governance and Political Studies. For some of our listeners who don't know, um, the Malaysian economy is heavily reliant on traditionally carbon intensive industries such as oil and gas development, as well as energy production and agriculture. So, you know, based on your experience, how do you think Malaysia can strike a balance between its economic and environmental goals?


Dr Renard Siew:

Yeah. So one of the things that Malaysia has done last year, in fact, was we have actually launched what we call a National Energy Transition Roadmap, so or NETR in short. And it encompasses some of the key areas where we will have an opportunity, specifically for Malaysia, to make a difference on. Among other things, it includes trying to improve on things like energy efficiency, trying to explore different carbon capture technologies that are feasible that we can pilot. And if it works out, the whole idea is to see how we can actually expand or scale, you know, that up, to explore opportunities within what we call a hydrogen economy, and, of course, to expand quite rapidly, right, on our, you know, renewable energy sources.


As you know, one of the things I have pointed out is that, you know, we're still a country that's very much oil and gas dependent. So the whole idea is that if you can expand on renewable energy sources, hopefully, this would help improve our energy mix within the country. But I suppose one of the key things here, it's really about how do we do this in an inclusive, just, and orderly manner. Right? And what I mean by that is a large chunk of our population, right, is integrated in one form or another along the oil and gas value chain upstream or downstream.


So this are their day to day jobs. Right? And the idea is that if you really want to ensure that transition happens in an orderly manner, I know we have to look into upscaling this group of people because at the end of the day, it affects their livelihoods. It's their main source of income. So what this means also is that, you know, we need to work hand in hand.


You know, it requires a whole of government, whole of society approach. You have to work and partner with universities to let them know that, hey, you know, perhaps there is an opportunity here to really promote a new set of competencies, new set of courses, that would help people upgrade themselves or to acquaint themselves, right, to the new green sectors that are evolving. Because, obviously, one of the things that that's lacking here is just the opportunities to tap, right, into into green jobs. So and in order to do that, we also need to make sure that there is a pipeline that that is ready. So so these are some of the considerations I I believe that Malaysia as a country can actually look at.


Um, and and also while while we're on that subject, I would probably add by saying that, you you know, for for instance, as I've mentioned earlier, we have a green tech segment. Right? So we are leasing out e-mobility services. But then the reality is that, you know, our current grid infrastructure actually ready to cater for the needs, right, of this new segment, assuming that everyone, you know, decides to transition, you know, immediately, you know, away from, Internet combustion engine vehicles to electric vehicles, assuming that everyone did that, is our current grid infrastructure ready to cater for that? So the short and simple answer is at this point in time, no.


So these are also some of the things that as a country we we need to look at. Right? Sort of upgrading, , progressively and and successively as we go down, the road of really wanting to champion the green economy. 


Xiao Wei: 

Yeah. I definitely agree that there's so many factors to think about when we talk about achieving a green economy. Like how you say, like, upscaling people so that they're ready to work in the green sector and also make sure there's the balance between supply and demand for, like, people to pick up, like, electric vehicles. So I'm also looking forward to see how different stakeholders collaborate to push Malaysia to expand in the green sector. 


Moving on from that, there's another plan called 12th Malaysia Plan. And one of the themes in the plan is advancing sustainability, which focuses on balancing economic growth with environmental protection. In your opinion, do you think there are any areas of improvement for the plan to achieve the sustainable development goals?


Dr Renard Siew: 

Sure. The simple answer to that is yes. I've always been a believer that, you know, there's always room for continuous improvement. That's what, you know, people tend to call the the growth mindset. Right?


So for me, I I think some of the areas where we can really hone in and look into this a little bit more is perhaps around incentivization. So, you know, for example, in the adoption of green technology, one of the key things that we can really look into doing is to provide some sort of green incentives from a taxation perspective. Right? And I know there are key mechanisms as such, but, really, I think the sort of quota that we have or investments really really can be expanded a little bit more. 


Another area where I have, , specific interest in is the development of carbon markets. So for those who don't know, last year, Malaysia actually launched for the very first time in history, the Bursa Carbon Exchange. And the whole idea behind this is to really facilitate the trading of carbon credits as a form of offset mechanisms. So even though the market or landscape is there, but we haven't actually had real credits that are being created or projects, right, from Malaysia as of yet. So this is an area where I feel has a lot of potential, especially in Malaysia where biodiversity is so rich. Right?


So there's a lot of opportunities to leverage on payment for ecosystem services. So the generation of high quality credits is definitely one of them. And, you know, the monetization of that would obviously go back into supporting restoration, afforestation type initiatives, which is really needed in our country. So for me, it's really trying to figure out, you know, incentivization, monetization. But also more importantly, I think transparency in terms of trying to capture progress.


So, you know, as I alluded to earlier, you know, for instance, specifically, we have 30 by 30 targets where we're very clear about what we want to achieve. Right? By the year 2030, we are quantitatively measuring our progress. And I think the sustainability portion within the population plan, right, also needs that level of transparency so that people know where are we in terms of progress? How do we compare, right, against other more developed or or developing countries? And also in the process, right, to learn from them. Right? What are some of the things that they're doing well? What are some of the things that we're lagging behind and to come up with a continuous improvement plan along the way?


Chloe: 

Yeah. It's really great to hear that you have this continual growth mindset, you know, especially in sustainability. I feel like that's really important as we can always do better. Um, so, you know, when looking through some of your work online, um, I saw that you wrote an article titled the stock take on ASEAN's progress leading up to COP 28. In it, you've mentioned that one of the key challenges facing COP 28 is this ongoing north south divide regarding climate responsibilities.


And, you know, you elaborated further saying, you know, how developed nations should fulfill their commitments to the lost damage fund. As you had the privilege to, you know, attend the conference, can you please share with us the kind of conversations you had on this topic? 


Dr Renard Siew: 

Yeah. Sure. There is this concept called 'common but differentiated'.


So it's this whole idea that collectively, as nations, we all agree upon that, you know, we do wanna achieve one common goal or target, right, to cap temperatures from increasing by 1.5ºC. But how we go about it could be different because, you know, in the past, the developed countries as we see it today, right, has been one of the largest at amethyst and and continue to to be. So Malaysia's contribution to the global emissions in total is only less than one percent. So then, of course, you know, there's this contention or argument around, what about small island developing nations or, you know, like other countries, marginalized countries that are actually facing the brunt of the impacts of climate change. They actually, you know, are really caught in between because number one, we're telling them that they cannot, you know, be involved in further exploration around oil and gas or any natural resources that they have because it destroys the environment.


Number 2, the islands are already sinking, so sea levels are rising. So they actually need a lot of adaptation funds, right, in order to rebuild resilience, like, so to speak. Right? So this is basically the sounding board that a lot of countries are basically making at COP 28. So at the same time, what has happened at COP 28 was even though discussions have already taken place, right, on the loss and damage fund, there's been commitments that are being made.


What we really need to see is we need to keep track of how these funds are actually flowing, right, to places that need it the most. So we are at a stage where it's no longer enough, right, to just talk about how yeah, you have 700, 800 hundred million that is being committed to loss and damage. But what we really wanna see is that where is the flow of this funds? Like, is it really getting to people who really need it?


So these were the type of conversations that were, you know, like, really evolving around this area. And, of course, you know, when I wrote that article, the stock take on ASEAN's progress, I think the whole idea was that typically we don't have, you know, a much of a loud voice, I would say, at COP 28. It's usually typically dominated by, you know, like, more more developed countries. And in this sense, you know, I felt that perhaps there's opportunities, right, for asking countries to put our heads, you know, our minds together to think about what are some of the collaborative efforts that we can do, right, in order to facilitate the energy translation. So one idea that that came up was, you know, can we perhaps explore, right, the development of an ASEAN carbon credit market instead of it being piecemeal currently, like, where you have Malaysia focusing on on the Bursa Carbon Exchange


In Singapore, they have their own climate, you know, investment acts. And then in Thailand, there is something else that has come up. Um, can we have cross border facilitations in terms of such carbon credits? So these are some of the initial thinking that has obviously sprouted from COP 28. Of course, having said so, um, I think the the sort of consensus that have that has come out out of what we call the article 6 agreement, was that it was a failure because different countries couldn't come to an agreement on, you know, how countries or even corporates, the private sector, right, should be trading carbon credits. So that I hope, you know, moving into the next year's COP, this is something that, you know, we would have a little bit more, I guess, tangible results or outcomes that are coming out of this. So there's still a lot more that needs to be done, you know, in this frame. 


Xiao Wei: 

Thank you for sharing your valuable insights from your experience at COP 28. I think it's really important to know that actions really speak louder than words. So I really hope that all of these initiatives can actually be carried out to help both the North and the South. So you have been a really influential person in the sustainability landscape since you have been awarded many procedures as well, such as with the Wiki Impact 100 Changemakers, Asia's Most Influential in Sustainability, Asia's Top 30 Green Warriors, and many more due to your extensive commitments to sustainability and climate awareness. Based on your experience, what advice will you give to the students interested in a career in sustainability? 


Dr Renard Siew: 

Yeah. For myself, I would probably say just from my own experience, I think being a lifelong learner goes a really long way. In the field of sustainability, one of the things that you will notice is there are always emerging concepts, legislations, frameworks that have been coming up to the fore. , you know, just to give you an idea, just in the past, you know, like, year or so, right, we have heard about so many new abbreviations and acronyms. Right? From the carbon border adjustment mechanism, the carbon tax, the carbon credits, and, you know, CSRD. It's almost a whole alphabet soup of things that you have to learn to really keep yourself abreast with this. I I think you need to have passion as well. A passion goes a long way because I think it spurs. It helps you become, you know, someone who is curious, intrigued, and then you will set up on your path to actually try to seek answers.


One of the things that I find very interesting about sustainability is the fact that you have to be collaborative. So to achieve a lot of the tangible impacts that that we spoke about, we really need a whole of government, whole of society approach. So if you're really keen, if you really wanna excel in this area, you have to be empathetic enough to put yourself in the shoes, right, of different people. Sometimes you have to put on the lens of a policymaker or researcher, you know, someone working in the corporate sector. And and it's not easy because it forces you to adopt what we call systems thinking, right? So thinking about how things are interconnected with one another, and it can be quite complex. So the whole whole idea is really just to get out there, learn, be passionate. And if you, you know, you know, maybe maybe another advice is perhaps get a mentor, someone who has been there, done that, who can actually share their experiences with you. I think that's also a great way of learning.


Chloe: 

Yeah. That's really great. Um, I think a lot of us, like, since a lot of our listeners are students, I think a lot of us have kind of the passion and curiosity. But, again, you know, the whole systems thinking is something we obviously have to learn to develop if, I mean, if you would like to pursue this as a career. So thank you, Dr Renard, for sharing your immense passion for sustainability.


We really appreciate your time and sharing. Unfortunately, we have come to the end of the episode, but I hope everyone has learned a lot from the wonderful experiences you have shared. This has been Chloe and Xiao Wei from the greenhouse, and we hope you visit again.


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