The United Nations (UN) climate panel has released its most comprehensive assessment of climate change yet on the 9th of August. And the key takeaway from the report is HUMANS ARE TO BLAME. Quoting this strong term from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), assert nothing but the fact that humans are causing climate change.
The report opens up with a first line that says “It is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land.” We need rapid action to cut greenhouse gas emissions that could limit some impacts, but how? Well, let’s discuss further.
What are the Key Takeaways from the UN Climate Change Report?
Below is a comprehensive summary highlighting four main points from the UN Climate Change Report along with how Malaysian can do better when it comes to climate change.
- Global temperatures will keep rising
The Earth is getting hotter and hotter due to the burning of fossil fuels, which trap heat in the atmosphere. The warming trend is only accelerating in the past four decades. “Each of the last four decades has been successively warmer than any decade that preceded it since 1850,” the report notes. But even the severest of cuts are unlikely to prevent global warming. Without immediate steep carbon emissions cuts, though, average temperatures could cruise past 2C by the end of the century.
- Much of the change is irreversible
Due to burning fossil fuels, carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is at the highest level in 2 million years. And this is only getting worse as humans keep emitting tens of millions of tons more every day. “Many changes due to past and future greenhouse gas emissions are irreversible for centuries to millennia, especially changes in the ocean, ice sheets and global sea level,” the report notes. The report concludes that even if nations significantly cut carbon emissions, the temperature will continue to increase because many countries including Malaysia are missing their own Paris targets now. That means more extreme weather events.
- Sea levels will continue to rise
Sea levels have already increased above normal in the past four decades and the sea levels are sure to keep rising for hundreds or thousands of years to come. Even if global warming were halted at 1.5C, the average sea level would still rise about 2 to 3 meters (6 to 10 feet), and maybe more. Flooding has nearly doubled in many coastal areas since the 1960s, with once-in-a-century coastal surges set to occur once a year by 2100. Scientists could not rule out extreme rises of more than 15 meters by 2300, if tipping points trigger runaway warming.
- Arctic could soon be free of ice
The ice at the Arctic Ocean will soon vanish entirely at least once by 2050, under the IPCC’s most optimistic scenario. The Arctic is the most alarming area of the globe and it is getting warmer at least twice as fast as the global average. While Arctic sea ice levels vary throughout the year, the average lows during summer have been decreasing since the 1970s and are now at their lowest levels in a thousand years. This melting creates a feedback loop, with reflective ice giving way to darker water that absorbs solar radiation, causing even more warming.
So, Is There Any Urgency for Climate Change Action in Malaysia?
Malaysia has had the five warmest years on record in the last decade, as well as record wildfires, floods and storms. There has been progress in some countries but overall, Malaysia is limping not running forward.
We have barely begun the energy transition to renewables. For example solar energy makes up just 0.4% of our energy mix despite being so accessible. Malaysia relies heavily on coal despite being the most polluting fuel. 58% of our carbon emission is from coal and to make matters worse we are even building more coal plants.
In global rankings, Malaysia is near the bottom in the global Climate Change Performance Index. In 2021, Malaysia dropped down to 56th place, to the bottom 10 nations. Even our neighbours, Indonesia and Thailand are in a higher position.
Where is the sense of urgency on the issue of the environment in Malaysia? We don’t see any climate laws being tabled by politicians. Why? Malaysia needs to declare a climate emergency to end this “business as usual” mindset immediately.
Despite making commitments to the Paris Agreement and agreeing to reduce its emissions by 45% by 2030, no actions are taken.
A Climate Change Act was previously discussed but we have no official plans or timelines on this. But there is no point in coming up with an act where there is not mandatory reporting on carbon emissions.
You can’t manage what you don’t measure. We almost completely depend on fossil fuels and we don’t have a proper waste management system in place. And the list goes on.
So, How Can We Improve on Environmental Laws & Acts?
We have to start from the basics of protecting forests. Our jungles, peatland and mangroves act as carbon sinks aka absorb carbon. So, by planting and protecting our forests and trees, we can reduce our carbon emission.
This requires engaging with state governments who view forests as a resource for income and can easily degazette “protected” areas. Deforestation in Malaysia has got to stop or at least slow down.
Forest statistics for Malaysia include palm oil and timber plantations. But how can we compare such monocultures with the rich mega-biodiversity of rainforests?
There is an urgent need for transparency in this field. Honestly speaking, there does not appear to be political will to seriously address climate change. Many fail to realise the the irony that taking climate action and improving our environmental laws will only benefit the economy and mitigate against risks to the country and economy.
To summarise, Malaysia needs better green policies and leaders.
Institutional framework is needed so climate change is mainstream at all levels of government and considered in all decision-making. Let me make it clear, the planet is at a climate crossroads now. Scientists have said that it is only going to get worse.
So we need immediate, strong political action to reverse this calamitous course. I just hope we act before it is too late.