How Kota Kinabalu Plans to Become a Nature Resort City

Kota Kinabalu is pressing ahead with plans to transform itself into a green city and is prioritizing eight projects, including an integrated public transport system and a major revamp of its port, among the biggest.

The capital of Sabah in Malaysia, Kota Kinabalu is striving to be a “nature resort city” that is clean, green, and livable through integrated and comprehensive development approaches, set out under its Green City Action Plan (GCAP). The plan details specific and localized plans for green development and investment, and covers urban management and institutional aspects, capacity development, and financing, as well as performance-monitoring indicators.

The project is part of BIMP-EAGA’s Green Cities Initiative (GCI) which seeks to enhance city management’s capacity in integrated planning and management of urban infrastructure. It provides a framework for preparing a city-specific plan—the GCAP. The plan was developed with support from the Asian Development Bank. Kendari in Indonesia has also developed its own GCAP.

“We direct our relevant agencies at the national and local levels to provide support in the implementation of key actions laid out in the GCAPs in Kendari, Indonesia, and Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia and look forward to the expansion of cities participating in the GCI,” BIMP-EAGA leaders said during their Summit in October.

Kota Kinabalu’s GCAP was completed and launched in 2019, but implementation faced some setbacks due to the pandemic.

Home to major commercial and industrial activities, Kota Kinabalu is a popular national and international tourist destination, with its natural landscape and mythological, historical, social, and cultural treasures.

Priority Infrastructure Projects

Eight projects under Kota Kinabalu’s GCAP have been included in the BIMP-EAGA Priority Infrastructure Projects, a rolling pipeline of projects worth more than $24.23 billion to improve air, land, power, and ICT connectivity in the subregion through 2025. The eight projects are:

• Energy-Efficient Street-Lighting Project, $237,000;

• Integrated Public Transport System, $75 million;

• Integrated Solid Waste Management Project,$1.07 million;

• Energy-Efficient Buildings Project, $25 million;

• Education for Sustainable Development in Kota Kinabalu, $2.62 million;

• Reduction of Non-Revenue Water, $1.5 million;

• Sustainability Initiatives in Pulau Gaya, $3.47 million; and

• Jesselton Waterfront City Project, $91.3 million.

Totaling $200.244 million, the projects are expected to be completed between 2022 and 2025.

Energy-Efficient Street-Lighting Project. 

This project is expected reduce Kota Kinabalu’s energy consumption for street lighting by 60% to 70%. It entails replacing the existing street-lighting infrastructure with more energy-efficient LED-based street lamps. Street lighting is one of the major sources of energy consumption in Kota Kinabalu, with the existing system consisting of approximately 27,000 streetlights, ranging from 400 watts to 70 watts. Although LED streetlights are more expensive than conventional lamps, they use significantly less energy and have a lifespan of 10 plus years, making them more financially viable. Funding has so far been sourced from the Twelfth Malaysia Plan (RMK12), the country’s development roadmap through 2025.

Integrated Public Transport System. 

The project aims to develop an efficient, accessible, safe, and environmentally friendly transport system to encourage citizens to use public transport instead of private modes of transport. Since buses do not follow a fixed schedule or routes, citizens opt to use their cars to move around, leading to traffic. The project entails procuring electric buses and the construction of pedestrian and cycling lanes. The project will also assess the feasibility of implementing a bus rapid transit system, which is significantly faster, safer, cleaner, and more affordable than other transport options. The project will also be funded from RMK12.

Integrated Solid Waste Management Project.

 This project aims to reduce the volume of waste that ends up in Kota Kinabalu’s landfill through waste segregation and recycling. The project is to be implemented in two phases and aims to extend the life of the landfill. The first phase involves developing a mechanical biological treatment-based compost plant or a waste-to-energy plant, a plastic recycling plant, and an e-waste recovery plant, while the second phase involves developing a construction and demolition waste processing plant and a used rubber tire processing plant. About 600–900 metric tons of waste ends up at Kota Kinabalu’s landfill per day. Since waste segregation is not practiced by the citizens of Kota Kinabalu City, and its four neighboring districts, the waste that goes to the landfill has significant quantities of recyclables, with a recovery potential of 70%.

Energy-Efficient Buildings Project. 

Under Kota Kinabalu’s GCAP, the energy-efficient buildings project aims to reduce energy consumption in government offices, residential buildings, and commercial institutions, and to demonstrate the benefits of energy-efficient strategies and technologies. The proposed project includes the preparation of an energy-efficiency action plan, replacement of inefficient electrical appliances, and a community awareness program. Buildings and facilities account for 28% of all energy consumed in Kota Kinabalu.

Education for Sustainable Development in Kota Kinabalu. 

This $2.62-million project supports environmental education, skill-based training, and certification in schools and colleges or institutions of higher education. The project aims to empower schools and higher education institutions to act as champions for sustainability. It will be implemented in five higher education institutions and 20 schools through 2023.

Reduction of Non-Revenue Water. 

The project aims to improve the operational efficiency of the city’s water distribution system. According to estimates of the Sabah Water Department, the current level of non-revenue water stands at approximately 30% due to leakages, unregistered water connections, and faulty bulk and service connection meters. These lead to increased operational costs and loss of revenue for the agency. The project entails the conduct of a water audit to identify where the losses are occurring.

Sustainability Initiatives in Pulau Gaya.

The project aims to improve basic service delivery on Pulau Gaya island by implementing climate-resilient and sustainable interventions. Pulau Gaya is the largest island in the Tunku Abdul Rahman Park near the coast of Kota Kinabalu and is being targeted as a future tourist hub. However, the island has been identified as a vulnerable area, particularly due to the lack of waste management systems and absence of sanitation facilities, among others. The project entails setting up five decentralized wastewater treatment systems and four organic waste converters in selected villages and installing a 15-kilowatt solar photovoltaic system in the Pulau Gaya Government School.

Jesselton Waterfront City Project. 

The biggest of the eight projects, the plan entails redeveloping the entire Kota Kinabalu Port into an integrated waterfront destination to be called the Jesselton Waterfront City. The port spans over 75 acres of prime land. The plan consists of five projects: the Sabah International Convention Centre, Kota Kinabalu Convention City, Jesselton Quay, One Jesselton Waterfront, and a proposed international cruise and ferry terminal. The waterfront project is being redeveloped as both a tourist destination and a central business district.


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