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NYRE Written Article Competition 2023

1st place- Article

14-17 years old

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“Confessions of Palm Oil” by Shaq Koyok, 2013

The Threats Climate Change have on the Orang Asal

Kuala Lumpur  -  September 19, 2023
(Sri KDU International School Kota Damansara)

What is climate change, and its effect on the Orang Asal?

Climate change is defined by a gradual change in global temperature and weather patterns over the course of years or decades. Just as modern society continues to suffer at the hands of this phenomenon, Malaysia’s indigenous people (known collectively as the “Orang Asal”, or “Orang Asli” in Peninsular Malaysia), too, have been facing their fair share of challenges. Following the 2020 census, the indigenous population makes up 11% of Malaysia’s 32.4 million population, 206,777 in number. With such a significant population, the indigenous people have all the more reason to not be overlooked.


A prominent cause of global climate change is an increase of greenhouse gasses trapped in our atmosphere which is exacerbated by deforestation. The side effects of the thinning of the ozone layer caused by this include heat waves and flooding. Not only do these pose a major threat to the economy, it also affects our country’s indigenous communities, who live in and rely on the forests as a part of their culture. 


Forests are the indigenous community’s natural habitat and the effects of climate change threaten this and their way of life. Extreme heat is a product of climate change, and can result in the spreading of wildfires. Wildfires have been getting worse with each passing year, and as of June 1st 2023, 511,000 acres of land have been affected by roughly 18,300 wildfires⁷. Once the forest is burnt down or removed through other means, the indigenous people are rendered homeless. As a result of this, they will then be forced to migrate to the city and lose their traditional way of life. Future generations of Orang Asal will lose their indigenous languages, practices and inevitably, their whole culture.

“On average on land, heat extremes that would have happened once every 10 years without human influence on the climate are now three times more frequent⁶”

Sonia Seneviratne, ETH Zurich climate scientist

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The homes of the Temuan people in Karak, Pahang completely destroyed as a result of a flood.  (Photo provided by Mukhriz Hazim at

Due to the increasing water levels as a result of climate change, the Orang Asal groups have seen their villages and crops destroyed by floods. According to the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs on flood management and climate change adaptation in Malaysia, we are expected to have a 14% to 25% increase in precipitation, increasing the frequency of floods⁵. Hence, they may face a lack of food and shelter, having no choice but to once again move to the city for work. 


For example, a Temuan tribe village in Karak, Pahang was devastated due to floods that destroyed all eight of the village’s houses in 2021⁴. They are a tribe of Orang Asli found in different parts of Peninsular Malaysia. Shaq Koyok is a Temuan artist and an indigenous rights activist who, along with other members of his community, campaigned against the degazettement of the Kuala Langat nature reserve, a forest and habitat of the Orang Asli. “For generations, indigenous peoples have had to fight for our forests on our own. But we are not alone anymore. The authorities tried to fight us from many angles, but the campaign brought us together as a community,” says Shaq¹. Such stories on fights for ancestral rights by indigenous groups are becoming more widespread as the Orang Asli communities become more aware of their rights, and perhaps more crucially, understand the power of community actions.

The Mission to Reduce Carbon Emissions, and its Effects on the Orang Asal:

For many years, humans have been coming up with ways to reduce carbon emission in our atmosphere. For example, carbon markets are a carbon trading system defined by credits being purchased and sold. They were implemented as a cost-effective way to reduce greenhouse gasses², but have seen criticism for not including the indigenous people.

Shaq Koyok
“The deal would mean that Indigenous people cannot access the forest. And for Indigenous people, without a connection to the forest, we lose our way of life, our livelihood and our culture. And that would have a huge impact in Sabah, because many Indigenous people live there¹.” 

The Efforts Taken by Malaysians to Include The Voices of Indigenous People, and What We Can Do To Help:

Programmes such as the Weaving Hopes for the Future have been established in order for its members to participate in the UNFCCC Climate Negotiations COP26 held in Glasgow, and for the indigenous youth to offer their own point of view on the matter. 

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“It was one of the biggest achievements that we had at that point last year. Of course, we brought in the Indigenous peoples' perspective to the ground to COP, and that was the first time we had an Orang Asli from Peninsular Malaysia to be there to participate meaningfully³.”
Ili Nadiah Dzulfakar,
Chairperson of Klima Action Malaysia

The recent COP27 held in Sharm el-Sheikh also includes discussions on how the carbon markets can benefit the indigenous people rather than harm them.


This is one of the many programmes that advocate for indigenous people to participate in decision-making of our current climate situations as well as the preservation of their own traditions. But what else can we do?


I interviewed 5 of my fellow classmates, and found that all 5 of them did not possess awareness of the threats that climate change has towards the Orang Asal. As such, I believe schools should educate students on this issue through the school newspaper and regularly encourage students to support local charities combating climate change financially or have students participate in organizing in-school charities. Lessons for subjects such as science should promote awareness on the issue and incorporate ways that students can contribute to reducing the effects of the phenomenon.



The Orang Asal are essential to the management of our forests due to the extensive knowledge on sustainable practices they possess. Once they have left, no one will be there to take care of the lands. And by leaving behind their traditions, their way of life will be all but lost to us. I believe that if everyone starts making an effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions right now, our climate will gradually see improvement over the years and the burden of protecting their culture from the effects of climate change will also be reduced.


  • Congressional Research Service (1 June 2023). “Wildfire Statistics”. httpsc://

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