THE Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recently reported an increased precipitation in Southeast Asia as one of the impacts of climate change. This would explain the unusually heavy rains that has been causing destructive floods.
The IPCC report is deemed as a code red for humanity, as it concludes that we will warm by at least 1.5°C above pre-industrial revolution levels by 2040, and if we do not do anything about it quickly, we will reach those levels sooner.
Our inability to perceive and act on the threat of global warming is alarming. A flash flood causing deaths in Yan, Kedah recently should have sparked an urgent call to discuss and act on the root of the issue, which is climate change. It was unfortunate that a minister declared the incident as an act of God.
We failed to capitalise on the opportunity to alert the public on the perils of climate change. Perhaps, this is due to the complexity of climate change, which makes it difficult for us to understand.
Throughout history, people have been known to identify and act on other immediate threats, such as war. However, climate change is abstract, and is a long-term threat. People do not feel the urgency to act when all they see and feel are some hot days and heavy rains. Nevertheless, these hot days and heavy rains are just the tip of the iceberg of what is coming.
At the current state, we are at 1°C warmer than the pre-industrial revolution temperatures. Even now, an extreme heat incident that used to occur once in a decade, now occurs 2.8 times a decade. When we reach 1.5°C, the occurrence of extreme heat incidents will increase to 4.1 times a decade.
At the current rate of greenhouse gasses emissions, we will reach 1.5°C warming by 2040, and 2.0°C by 2060. However, not all is lost. If we markedly reduce emissions, we may still be able to reverse the warming of our planet. That is why Sept 21 is designated Zero Emissions Day to raise awareness on our carbon emissions and its impact on our planet. But how do we reduce carbon emissions down to net-zero?
Each of us can take steps to reduce carbon footprint. According to Wynes and Nicholas (2017), some of the actions that reduced carbon footprint are having fewer children, living car-free, buying green technology and going vegan. Nevertheless, individual actions are limited by convenience and circumstances. For example, living car-free in Malaysia may not be as easy as in some developed nations.
According to Sustainable Cities Mobility Index 2017, Kuala Lumpur is ranked number 95 out of 100 cities for public transport. In some places, there is virtually no public transport available, which renders living car-free a non-viable option.
In some countries such as Norway, using electric or hydrogen cars is a major part of reducing individual carbon footprint. In Malaysia, however, electric cars are more expensive than regular internal combustion engine cars. Nevertheless, encouraging the use of electric cars is pointless when a whopping 79.9% of our electricity is generated from fossil fuels.
Relying on individual actions alone would be like throwing a bucket of water to put out a forest fire. Climate change is a systemic problem involving industries and corporations. Leaving it for consumers to shoulder the burden alone in addressing the issue would be unfair.
According to Climate Risk Disclosure Barometre 2020 Malaysia, the top 100 public-listed companies in Malaysia lack comprehensive climate-risk disclosure. This alone shows lack of awareness and drive by corporations to achieve net-zero emissions.
To fix a problem of this magnitude, we need a collective action. As eloquently put by former managing director of the International Monetary Fund, Christine Lagarde, “tackling climate change is a collective endeavour, it means collective accountability and it is not too late”. The society must band together and call for a systemic reform through policies and legislation.
The government should enact policies to steer the nation towards net-zero carbon emission. For example, providing a more efficient public transport system, creating better conditions for cyclists, while limiting the usage of vehicles through the establishment of car-free zones will encourage the public to live car-free.
A real example of such policy is the Roadmap towards Zero Single-Use Plastics 2018-2030. As single-use plastics are estimated to contribute up to 10% of greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, this policy puts forward a step-by-step plan to eradicate the use of single use plastics in Malaysia by introducing pollution levies, incentives for industries to move away from single-use plastics, and funding for research and development of alternatives for single-use plastics.
The legislature can enact legislation to ease corporations towards net-zero carbon emissions. For instance, Singapore has enacted the Carbon Pricing Act 2018, which taxes industrial facilities emitting greenhouse gasses equal to or above 25,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent. Taxing emissions incentivises corporations to find ways to reduce carbon emissions to maximise their profits.
Producing such policies and legislation requires political will, as it will not come easy as it is unpopular and inconvenient, especially towards the industry. The pushback from the plastic straw ban gives us a glimpse of the challenges the government will face on the road to zero carbon emission. If that is how people felt about forgoing straws, how will the people react when bigger lifestyle changes such as living car-free are proposed?
As political will hinges on the will of the people, the importance of increasing the popularity of climate action cannot be overstated. How do we achieve that? By raising awareness, through campaigns, rallies, protests, discussions and others.
The clock is ticking. Time is running out. The earth is warming. It is time to help each other out.
The 2022 Budget is due within a few weeks. Can we count on the government and the legislature to pass a Supply Bill 2022 that includes a green recovery of our economy so
that we can build a greener future for generations to come?
Azhari Azizi, Ikram Muda Malaysia.