As climate change now becomes a topic more prominent than ever, it is also a time to question what we can do about it. There are two main courses of action which are commonly discussed upon and undertaken – mitigation and adaptation. Whilst mitigation attempts to address the root causes (i.e. why are temperatures rising), adaptation seeks to lower the risks of climate change consequences (i.e. better water systems for dry seasons). Both of these measures are critical especially for our present time, but according to the IPCC’s latest report, climate change and its impacts will continue for centuries even if mitigation measures are taken immediately. Therefore, we need to start finding ways to adapt to a future of climate uncertainty.
Around the world, adaptation measures often involve infrastructural or policy changes that aid in reducing the vulnerability of people towards climate change consequences, making communities more resilient towards such changes. Malaysia, as a developing country, is highly vulnerable to climate change as its effects are not only environmental and will also lead to socioeconomic effects.
To better illustrate what climate adaptation means for Malaysia, here is an example. Among other climate consequences for Malaysia, one that we are exceptionally familiar with is flooding. Expected increase in intensity and frequency of flooding will mean that communities, rural and urban alike, will have to be better equipped in via infrastructure, education, improvement in policies etc. Increased flooding as a result of climate change can also bring detrimental effects to our economy, as agriculture takes up 12% of our annual GDP. An example of an adaptation method Malaysia can adopt will be to enable farmers with better equipment or better yielding crops in order to sustain their livelihoods and also our national economy. It can also mean providing rural communities who are reliant on climate for crops better education so that they can contribute to other facets of the economy. Now, these so-called “climate adaptation methods” sound similar to development programs, and they do in fact overlap. However, adaptation to climate change for a developing country like Malaysia involves measures targeted specifically at climate change consequences such as building sea defences at coastal areas prone to sea level rise like Tanjung Piai in Johor.
As mentioned above, climate adaptation, more often than not, entails anthropocentric perspectives – measures targeted at reducing the vulnerability of humans. Whilst that aspect is crucial, it is perhaps wise that we do not forsake ecological vulnerability to climate change, such as global warming’s threats to pristine biodiversity. Such is particularly relevant for Malaysia as our tropical rainforests are not only carbon sinks which can neutralise effects of climate change, but they are so because of the biodiversity which exists within it. So, adapting to climate change for Malaysia may very well also include conserving and protecting our pristine rainforests in order to dampen climatic consequences. However, climate change adaptation for biological and environmental threats are, as of date, not explored in depth.
Whilst climate change may not seem like a tangible occurrence to many, it is crucial that policy-makers and every individual to understand the necessity of climate adaptation as inseparable from sustainable development in the near future.
Written by: Nicole Lim Pei Pey
Edited by: Choy Moon Moon