IT is harrowing that Energy and Natural Resources Minister Datuk Seri Takiyuddin Hassan declared the disastrous flash flood that occurred in Yan, Kedah last month as an “act of God”, ignoring the giant elephant in the room, climate change.
What's equally alarming is that he said this on the eve of Zero Emissions Day (Sept 21), a day designed to raise awareness about the harm caused by carbon emissions and to engage people towards more climate-friendly choices in their personal life.
The recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC 2021) reported the increased precipitation in South-East Asia as one of the impacts of climate change. No wonder we have been experiencing unusually heavy rains leading to destructive floods!
The IPCC 2021 report is deemed as a code red for humanity, as it concluded that the world will certainly warm up by at least 1.5ºC above pre-industrial revolution levels by 2040. And if we don't do anything about climate warming quickly, we will reach that level sooner.
The inability of the public to perceive the threats of global warming and act upon them is alarming. A flash flood causing loss of human lives should spark an urgent call to discuss and act on the root of the issue, which is climate change.
But it doesn't. The public, and sadly even a minister, just accept that heavy rains are an act of God.
The current hot days and heavy rains are just a foretaste of what is coming. Even now, an extreme heat event that used to occur once in 10 years is now happening 2.8 times a decade. When the 1.5°C cut-off is reached, the occurrence of extreme heat events will increase to 4.1 times per decade.
But all is not lost. If we markedly reduce our carbon emissions now, we might still be able to reverse the warming of our planet.
According to Wynes and Nicholas (2017), having fewer children, living car-free, opting for green technology and eating a plant-based diet are some of the actions that have great potential in reducing our carbon footprint.
But adopting these lifestyle choices depends very much on the individual's circumstances and location. For example, living car-free in Malaysia is not as easy as in developed nations. According to the Sustainable Cities Mobility Index 2017, Kuala Lumpur is ranked number 95 out of 100 cities for efficiency of its public transport system. If public transport in the capital is not good enough, what about in the rest of the country? 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 way more expensive than those running on regular internal combustion engines.
Nevertheless, encouraging the use of electric cars is pointless when a whopping 79.9% of our electricity is generated from fossil fuels!
Climate change is a systemic problem that also involves industries and corporations. According to the Climate Risk Disclosure Barometer 2020 Malaysia, the top 100 public-listed companies in this country lack comprehensive climate risk disclosure. This alone shows lack of awareness and drive among corporations to achieve net zero emissions.
To fix a problem of this magnitude, we need collective action. As eloquently put by Christine Lagarde, former managing director of the International Monetary Fund, “tackling climate change is a collective endeavour, it means collective accountability and it is not too late.”
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 such as 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.
An existing example of such a policy is the Roadmap Towards Zero Single-Use Plastics 2018-2030, which was launched in 2018 under the auspices of the then Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change Ministry.
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 these products in Malaysia by introducing pollution levies, incentives for industries to move away from manufacturing single-use plastics, and funding for research and development of alternatives to single-use plastics.
Parliament can enact legislation to help corporations work 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. Taxing incentivises corporations to find ways to reduce carbon emissions to maximise their profits.
Introducing such policies and legislation requires political will because they are unpopular and cause inconvenience especially towards industry. The pushback against the ban on the use of plastic drinking straws has given us a glimpse at the challenges the government will face on the road to net zero carbon emissions. In 2019, the state governments of Selangor and all three federal territories banned the use of plastic straws, but the response among the public was generally negative. If that is how people felt about forgoing the use of straws, how will they react when bigger lifestyle changes such as living car-free are proposed?
The 2022 Budget is due within a few weeks. Can we count on the government to pass a Supply Bill 2022 that includes a green recovery of our economy so that we can build a greener future for the generations to come?
IKRAM Muda Malaysia