Increase investment in earth observation technology

THE government has just launched the 12th Malaysia Plan (12MP) and it is now being debated in Parliament. Initial response to the Plan has been mixed, with some lauding it for its alignment to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) while others view its targets and assumptions as unrealistic.

The success of the 12MP would depend very much on the commitment of all the stakeholders, such as businesses, the community, and civil society. Some of the failings in the past plans can be attributed to lack of understanding and buy-in by industry and the community.

For a start, there must be an aggressive communication programme to get all the stakeholders on board. This must be followed up with robust monitoring and evaluation of the actions. Feedback from the monitoring exercise should be used to further improve the implementation process.

All five-year plans have one thing in common. They are all about how the country’s assets can be managed efficiently to deliver returns sustainably. In this age when sustainable development is a common agenda, some key assets including natural resources, people, talent, and the built-up physical infrastructure must be managed efficiently.

Natural assets have emerged as one of the most critical aspects in development planning. Managing natural assets like water requires close monitoring and supervision.

Due to advances in the imaging technology, monitoring of natural assets can be done remotely and at reasonable cost. We are talking about using satellite technology to generate images and deploying AI algorithms to decipher them for decision-making.

Take biodiversity as an example. It is one of our prized assets because it has implications on many resources that we depend on. Water is one resource which an economy and society cannot do without.

There is no doubt that as the population grows, increased social and economic demands will create threats to the country’s land and marine biodiversity.

In response to these threats, the government created the National Policy on Biological Diversity 2016-2025, which deepens the country’s commitment to the SDGs. This is where effective monitoring is key.

Many companies offer services on deploying earth observation data for effective monitoring. The government can partner with one of these companies to leverage near-daily, high-resolution imagery to make strategic and bold decisions towards achieving the goals identified in the National Policy on Biological Diversity, and drive the country towards a healthier and more diverse ecosystem.

Earth observation technology can also support other SDG agendas, including building smart cities, border surveillance and early warning on climate disasters.

Investing in earth observation technologies will pay as we strive to achieve a better and more sustainable future for the nation.

The deployment of earth observation imaging in Malaysia is still at a low level. There have been initiatives on remote sensing in some surveillance projects, but most do not use current images. The effectiveness is therefore questionable.

It is time we invest in infrastructure to support earth observation technology. Failing to do so will put many of our natural assets, including biodiversity, in peril.

PROFESSOR DATUK DR AHMAD IBRAHIM , Tan Sri Omar Centre for STI Policy UCSI University

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