Research Projects in Jeffrey Sachs Center on Sustainable Development


Project Leader: Andrew Fan Chiah Howe

The Jeffrey Sachs Center is developing a dashboard to report the national and ASEAN-level SDG Index, using available and nationally appropriate data that is consistent with those reported in the Global SDG Index by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network and Bertelsmann Stiftung. The instrument will present the standing of individual countries in the ASEAN region, allowing comparison to each other as well as to the best performing countries in the world. The dashboard will particularly highlight and delve deep into areas of critical concern, i.e. those that appear as red flags in each individual country, or as a region wherever applicable. For these areas, a research team will be mobilised to conduct in-depth analysis and put forward practical recommendations, in the aim that countries will pursue all the three pillars sustainable development, namely prosperity, inclusiveness and environmental sustainability.

Project Leader: Prof Woo Wing Thye

The 8th Sustainable Development Goal is to “promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all.” While the strategy of export-oriented growth in East Asia has produced rapid rates of economic progress for ASEAN countries, lifting millions out of poverty in the last few decades, imbalances in economic development are beginning to become serious. Specifically, income inequality between income groups within countries is growing rapidly and social mobility is slowing down in the more developed East Asian economies.

Social exclusion and excessive inequality tend to stoke socio-political tensions and generate instability that lower economic growth rates and make growth less sustainable over time. Furthermore, the technological trend of replacing low-skill with machines (e.g. robots) is exacerbating the downward pressure on the income share of the poorest groups. Social programs must respond innovatively to new disruptive technologies that could shatter social harmony even as they prevent stagnation in economic productivity.

This project aims to uncover how to leverage technological innovation to create circuits of economic activity and work opportunities that would raise the welfare of lower-income and marginalised groups. This project also aims to come up with institutional innovations that would mitigate the negative social impact of disruptive technologies. It is crucial that governments have the knowledge to induce the emergence of technologies that will not only elevate economies up the technological ladder but also to enable the emergence of small players alongside large incumbents, thus, widening the pool of innovators to include those that did not previously participate in the innovation process.

Project Leader: Dr Clarissa Ai Ling Lee

The project uses the measure of air quality to decide on the baseline of atmospheric pollution, by tracking criteria air pollutants such as COx, NOx, SOx, PM2.5, and PM10 for the purpose of understanding the sources and conditions that precipitate increase in pollution, while taking account of local meteorological conditions that influence the durability, spread and containment of these pollutants.

The proposed project is inspired by the US-based Hestia and Vulcan, as well as the Array of Things Project. The former aims to galvanize national data made readily available by various US agencies, from the national to the local level, to quantify the production of carbon across a span of different emission sources. The latter intends to create predictive analytics and marshal rehabilitative actions based on the interpretation of primary environmental data collected by sensors placed at selected locations in a delineated grid.

A combination of robust data collection methodology and big data analytics can provide interpretation to available and unavailable data. This project will build a robust yet low-maintenance system that will be able to pull in data through various primary data sources, and to realize a system of open climate-relevant data that is fine-grained to the smallest possible geographical unit. The work will produce evidence-based policy recommendations on climate that is firmly grounded on localized realities. The outcome of this will contribute towards the realization of SDG, SDG 3, SDG 11, SDG 13 and SDG 15.

Project Leader: Dr Clarissa Ai Ling Lee

This project considers the transnational and comparative contexts for understanding the emergence of nuclear science and technology (S&T) within the developmental context of Malaysia and the rest of ASEAN, in consideration of lessons learned from other Asian countries in South and East Asia. Although the focus is on nuclear S&T, a deep study of this area of multidisciplinary science and technological development, both for science in the pure and applied contexts, could help us develop national indicators for S&T development because the development of nuclear technology is also dependent on an assortment of development in other areas of scientific knowledge beyond the immediate obvious boundary of nuclear science.

The project will also look into circumstances pertaining to knowledge ethics in public science communication, science and technology transfer, nuclear energy potential, as well as radiation risks and standards, all of which are in line with the 2030 Agenda intent at developing transdisciplinary solutions-oriented research while engaging more multifaceted expertise and stakeholders – it also connects with SDG 3 on good health and well-being, SDG 11 on sustainable cities and communities and SDG 17 in partnerships for the goals. This project is done in conjunction with the Centre for Radiation Sciences at Sunway University.

Project Leader: Dr Fun Woh Peng

This project focuses on the deployment of sustainable energy technology in various application settings. Deployment of a solar-battery combination will be done in a number of locations in Sunway City and possibly in other Sunway properties in Malaysia. These will have the express purpose of reducing carbon consumption of these properties as a result of the usage of energy.

A smaller scale solar-battery system will be designed for deployment in rural communities to bring electricity to areas that have lack of access to energy. The deployment of these modules will facilitate a study to compare the cost associated with bringing electricity to rural areas via traditional infrastructure and the use of these smaller systems. Future extensions to this project would look into other energy technologies such as the use reformed natural gas for hydrogen fuel cells. This project would look to address SDG 7 (Affordable and Clean Energy) and SDG 11 (Sustainable Cities and Communities) in the course of its work.

Project Leader: Prof Koh Hock Lye

Lakes provide essential services to ecosystems, wildlife and human. The ecosystem service value of a given lake is contingent on its water quality. The current water quality status of Sunway Lagoon (SL) is Class III and is rated as eutrophicated.  Given the projected increase in urban population and intensive land-use surrounding SL and given the unabated accumulation of nutrients in the lake sediments, a prognosis is that SL is gradually heading towards severe eutrophication within a decade or so. This scenario of severe eutrophication is not in line with the aspiration of the Smart Sustainable Sunway City (SSSC) Initiative. This project aims to rehabilitate SL and its adjacent South Quay Lake (SQL). Research collaborators include the Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM), Forest Research Institute Malaysia (FRIM), Miami University, USGS, Global Institute on Large Lakes (GILL) of Yunnan University and Nanjing Forestry University. The primary goal is to maximize ecosystem-social-economic value of SL, SQL and the Sunway City. Without proper water quality management, SL and SQL water would soon approach an irreversible and costly hyper-eutrophication threshold. The abrupt shift (bifurcation tipping) from a eutrophic to a hyper-eutrophic condition can be rapid once the critical threshold is exceeded.

This project will develop methodology and simulation models (Figure 1) for the analysis, synthesis, prognosis and management of lake ecosystems appropriate for promoting long-term sustainability of SL as a tourist attraction and SQL as a reliable water resource within the context of SSSC Initiative.  The methodology and technology developed in this research project can be applied to large lakes, namely the Plateau Lakes of Yunnan in China and the Great Lakes of Canada. This research will address SDG 6 (Clean Water and Sanitation), SDG 11 (Sustainable Cities and Communities), SDG 13 (Climate Action) and SDG 14 (Life Below Water).

Figure 1. Water Quality Model for Catchment, Water Column and Sediment Interaction

Figure 1. Water Quality Model for Catchment, Water Column and Sediment Interaction

Project Leader: Prof Koh Hock Lye

While providing invaluable services and protections to many ecosystems, wildlife and human, mangroves are vulnerable to climate change, to anthropogenic activities and to catastrophic coastal disturbances. Amongst the various climate change scenarios, relative sea-level rise poses the greatest threat to mangroves. Coastal reclamation and development may alter the local coastal habitats to the extents to render them unsuitable to mangroves. Large disturbances such as tsunamis and other extreme storm surges can instantly destroy mangroves at a large scale.

This project will use model-based simulations to improve the state of knowledge of mangrove vulnerability and its responses to predicted climate change and propose possible adaptation strategy. Adaptation strategy includes integrated coastal zone management best practices that provide adequate provision to facilitate mangrove protection, survival and landward migration with sea-level rise. Numerical simulations are produced for analysing the interaction between mangroves and functionally linked ecosystems such as the hardwood hammocks (Figure 1) and its impact on coastal groundwater resources. The resilience of mangrove forests is analysed in relation to large, infrequent disturbances such as tsunamis, hurricanes and cyclones. The role of mangroves in coastal protection against large infrequent disturbances (tsunamis, extreme storm surges), or against moderate but frequent erosion from tides, is examined. Research collaborators include the Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM), Forest Research Institute Malaysia (FRIM), Miami University, USGS, and Nanjing Forestry University. This research addresses SDG 6 (Clean Water and Sanitation), SDG 13 (Climate Action), and SDG 17 (Partnerships for the Goals).

Figure 1. Climate Impact on Groundwater and Coastal vegetation

Figure 1. Climate Impact on Groundwater and Coastal vegetation

Project Leader: Dr Leong Choon Heng

Rivers flowing through cities and towns are essential water systems and critical to maintaining the hydrologic cycle that sustains life, biodiversity and soil condition in urban habitat. Polluted rivers will destroy the urban environment and life. This project aims to showcase approaches to rehabilitating and rejuvenating urban rivers by using Sungai Penaga which flows through Bandar Sunway as a model. The research will involve undertaking a diagnosis of the condition of the river and the flow of waste from its immediate basin. This will lead to recommending practical and easily deployable solutions to clean up the river and drainage system. Solutions will include preventing inflow of waste and pollutants and removing pollution in the water.

Other activities include deploying river cleaning devices, exploring possible uses of the clean urban river water, deployment of smart technology, sensors and IOT to capture images of the sources of pollution and gather data, 3D rendition of findings, community monitoring of water quality and waste generation and implanting introduce recreational facilities. This project seeks to attain SDGs 6 and 11.

Project Leader: Professor Leong Choon Heng

Sunway City has embarked on a smart city initiative at the behest of its founder, Tan Sri Jeffrey Cheah. A small team was put together to drive the Sunway Smart Sustainable City initiative (SSSC), with JSC as an advisor. The initiative is consolidated under the main themes of: sustainability in operations; sustainability in planning; sustainability for social community; governance and reporting; and a digital platform for data integration.

JSC’s initial study aims to support this initiative by auditing user behaviour and patterns pertaining to

  1. current usage of electrical equipment and consumption and generation of electricity on campus;
  2. current usage of plastic; and
  3. current food waste patterns.

The study aims to establish baseline data devise a programme that supports a longer term view of adopting more sustainable practices in:

  • energy generation and use
  • eliminating plastic waste from ending up in landfills and drainage systems
  • converting food waste on campus into fertile compost for urban community farming

This project will be undertaken on Sunway University campus as a part of campus sustainability and will involve measuring the energy consumption profile; quantifying opportunities for energy savings; waste separation, plastic waste reduction initiatives, recycling and upcycling; and food waste composting.

Project Leader: Dr Leong Choon Heng and Prof Glenda Crosling

Research undertaken in 119 countries globally in 2009 revealed that the level of education tends to be the single strongest predictor of a person’s awareness of climate change, which is the first step in changing behaviour. Thus, increasing the level of education on climate change and sustainability in Malaysia is crucial. The project will investigate in a representative sample of higher education institutions in Malaysia the pedagogical approaches that are being utilised in teaching sustainability in the curricula through face to face, online and blended learning techniques. The study will explore the advantages, challenges, and, of key importance, the impact on the learning of students of differing pedagogical approaches. It will work with HEIs who are at different points of development in their teaching of sustainability. It will take a systems analysis perspective on the development of sustainability pedagogy. The project will draw upon research from the higher education studies field looking at taking forward system wide development to inform the methodology. It will also draw upon the work that is being developed in the UK in the teaching of sustainability.

The research aims to produce an Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) Toolkit for Malaysia, which contains guides for classroom teaching; examples of leading practices drawn from across different disciplines; and outlines of the institutional structures needed to take sustainability pedagogy forward. 

Project Leader: Collaborative

This is a collaborative project between the JSC, other academic departments at Sunway University and Lancaster University, in partnership with UNU-IIGH. The objective of the project is to explore how might speculative design enable citizens and governments in developing countries engage in policy agenda-setting on ageing well in the city.

Like other developed and developing countries globally, Malaysia faces the challenges of supporting an ageing population. The World Health Organization (2015) has been critical of the approaches adopted internationally thus far and has argued that “more of the same will not be enough” and “with the right policies and services in place, population ageing can be viewed as a rich new opportunity for both individuals and societies”.

This project was showcased at the 2018 World Urban Forum for enabling more efficient, effective, transparent and evidence based policy making for governments. This project contributes toward achieving SDG 10 and SDG 11



Sunway University, Malaysia

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