Our children deserve a living planet

I GREW up in Bandar Hilir and a kampung in Ujong Pasir, Malacca in the 1970s. As a boy, I enjoyed playing in the outdoors and interacted with all kinds of wild animals.

Behind our house were wild birds, monitor lizards, snakes, macaques, and by the beach, hermit crabs, mud skippers and horseshoe crabs. There were enough natural spaces for the wildlife to thrive.

Catching spiders, insects and snakes was an integral part of me being a Malaysian boy. Growing up in Malacca, we looked forward to running along the beach at low tide, collecting sea shells and dead corals.

We had ample opportunities to interact with the outdoors, and without doubt learned a lot about nature.

To love and care for nature was not something forced upon us.

We did not study nature academically, instead we grew up around it and had a deep sense of knowing what is out there. With my eyes closed, I can still remember the sights, sounds and smells of animals and nature around us then.

However, as I grew older, it became very clear to me that the natural space will eventually give way to land conversion for human development.

All the natural places I played – the secondary forests, the beaches and mangroves – have been cleared for housing development, roads or are lost due to land reclamation.

The places where I grew up are now all gone. The outdoor playground that my friends and I enjoyed have now vanished. What is left are merely deep sentiments and fond memories.

I cannot take my children to my hometown and say, "This is where papa used to play. This is the spot where I waited to catch spiders."

I can only tell them the memories of where my childhood spots used to be. They will never realise nor appreciate what their father lost.

But I am also pragmatic because we are developing our natural environment to cater to human needs – to generate economic growth, provide housing and jobs for a growing population.

Invariably, many of the spaces that we have all enjoyed as children will never remain forever. I am quite clear about that.

However, development and progress can be made in a sustainable manner if town and city planning incorporates environmental interests. After all, nature is life giving.

For that reason, during Earth Hour 2018, our goal in WWF-Malaysia was to help Malaysians understand the need to achieve the Convention on Biological Diversity's (CBD) Aichi Biodiversity Target 1 – that "By 2020, people are aware of the values of biodiversity and the steps they can take to conserve and use it sustainably."

As we progress towards economic prosperity, we must design our cities with biodiversity elements that enhance the quality of our life. Sufficient number of parks, with spaces large enough to function as green lungs to provide clean air and to cool down the heat of the urban environment is vital to our wellbeing.

For these reasons, WWF created the One Planet City Challenge (OPCC), to highlight solutions to environmental problems and reward progressive cities that put human beings, biodiversity and climate mitigation at the centre of urban planning and implementation.

These cities are the role models for planet Earth. The leaders in these model cities create sustainable housing and transport, engage in energy efficiency programmes and move towards supporting renewable energy. They strive towards the development and dissemination of low-carbon solutions through progressive policies and actions.

In 2011, the OPCC started as a WWF-Sweden competition in search for cities that were progressive in the implementation of green practices.

From just one country, OPCC expanded into 23 participating countries in 2017. Among them are the United States, Canada, China, India, France, Japan and Brazil.

In Malaysia, the participating cities are Petaling Jaya, Malacca, Shah Alam, Penang, Kuching and Kota Kinabalu.

During the 2017/2018 cycle, Malacca became the first state to have all its councils registered for OPCC.

Among others, OPCC encourages communities to promote walking and cycling in conjunction with the use of public transport as a mean of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

In other words, it encourages us to reduce our usage of cars, instead, walk or cycle to the stations and take a bus or train to reach our final destination.

As we walk more, we become healthier. As we use fewer cars, we burn less petrol and our air gets cleaner.

The OPCC actually promotes a sustainable lifestyle and reminds us that we need to take small but daily steps to combat climate change.

We all really need to better appreciate how important it is to protect what we have. Our natural capital is for our wise use, not abuse.

Do we care if our endangered, rare and endemic wild animals and plants are threatened with extinction, and our natural spaces lost forever?

Do we care at all if our rhinos, tigers and marine turtles become extinct?

I cannot, in good conscience sit back and see more of our wild animals and plants become distant memories. Our children deserve better than that. They deserve to inherit a living planet.

Datuk Dr Dionysius Sharma is executive director/CEO of WWF-Malaysia. Comments: letters@thesundaily.com