Gearing up towards COP27: How is Malaysia doing?

Gearing up towards COP27: How is Malaysia doing?

Credit; Photo by Sadie Teper on Unsplash

Written by: Wong Yun Qiu, Fathi Rayyan, Pun Hong Kai, Khalisah Khairina, Soo Yu Han

Edited by: Felix Culas and Nat Tan

Last year, Malaysia Youth Delegation (MYD) published an article breaking down Malaysia’s climate commitments, right after the government updated its Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) for the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26). 

With COP27 happening now (November 6 – 18, 2022), we examine Malaysia’s climate commitments, how much we have progressed, and what more needs to be done in this article. We also spoke to 3 prominent Malaysians working in this space to hear their views on Malaysia’s progress on climate action and what governments, private companies and civil society organisations can focus on going forward. 

The three individuals are Dr Renard Siew, Dr Yasmin Rasyid, and Yin Shao Loong.

  • Dr. Renard Siew is a sustainability and climate change specialist. He is an advisor for the Centre for Governance and Political Studies (Cent-GPS), and Presidential Fellow of Malaysia’s National Youth Council (Environment). 
  • Dr. Yasmin Rasyid is a sustainability scientist by profession, environmentalist by passion. She founded EcoKnights, a non-governmental environmental organisation in 2005.
  • Yin Shao Loong is a senior research associate at Khazanah Research Institute. 

Climate awareness is on the rise, but more needs to be done

The pandemic has heightened public awareness about the dangers of unmitigated impact of climate change. The word ‘climate change’ has recently been heard more in talks, board meetings, policy papers or even chats over coffee, especially among the youths. According to the National Youth Climate Change Survey conducted by UNICEF, 92% of Malaysian youths see climate change as a crisis [1], indicating high awareness of the issue. While awareness has risen, there is still a lack of deep understanding on how to tackle it.   

To address this, the public and private sector must collaborate to make climate data more prevalent and accessible, and apply data-informed decision making in the local context

As Yin says, “We need more public education on climate science that is relevant to Malaysia. We need better awareness of climate data and the principles of common but differentiated responsibilities in the UNFCCC.” 

A prominent example of public data sharing in Malaysia is COVIDNOW – an open data initiative led by pro-bono developers, which eventually became a success story of collaboration between the Ministry of Health and the Department of Statistics. If a similar initiative is implemented in the form of a transparent and accessible national climate database, the information can be used by the public to develop a strong understanding of current climate conditions and comprehend future climate scenarios and projected changes. One such example is the International Monetary Fund’s Climate Change Indicator Dashboard, which shows how climate change, financial risk and policy data can be housed under one roof. 

Screenshot of the Ministry of Health’s COVIDNOW portal. It has since migrated to KKMNOW

Additionally, integrating a climate change syllabus in the national curriculum allows a formal progression of understanding and fosters individual responsibility towards taking the reins in tackling climate change. 

Beyond individual action, the private sector must also pull their weight, starting with a thorough understanding of how climate change affects their operations through non-financial reporting. In September 2022, Bursa Malaysia Securities Berhad amended its sustainability reporting requirements, mandating listed companies to report climate-related disclosures in alignment with the Recommendations of the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) [2]. 

This requires companies to disclose its Scope 1, 2, and 3 * (if appropriate) greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and identify climate risks and opportunities, and how it integrates these elements into its long-term strategy. Whilst this is a progressive step in the form of a regulatory push, more attention needs to be given to micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs), which make up more than 97% of business establishments, and contribute over one-third of Malaysia’s GDP [3] [4]. 

Scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions. Source: Greenhouse Gas Protocol

Major corporations and government-linked companies (GLCs) should pave the way in setting an exemplary path for MSMEs to follow. As Dr. Siew says, “GLCs are the first point of contact. They need to show and demonstrate leadership in this space.

With the latest reporting requirements, the ball is now in the top players’ court to bring the rest in the supply chain along. They must conduct detailed Scope 3 GHG emissions accounting. Consequently, MSMEs will need to measure their Scope 1 and Scope 2 GHG emissions, subsequently pinning down the climate risks and opportunities in their operations. This is imperative if we are to ensure that our local economy remains resilient in the years to come. 

According to the Greenhouse Gas Protocol, Scope 1 GHG emissions are from sources controlled or owned by an organisation; Scope 2 GHG emissions are indirect GHG emissions associated with the purchase of electricity, steam, heat, or cooling; and Scope 3 GHG emissions are from activities not owned by the reporting organisation, but that the organisation indirectly impacts in its value chain. 

Make adaptation and finance as our priorities at COP27

Malaysia has been overly committed to climate mitigation policy, ” said Yin, “We should be fully embracing COP27’s themes of Adaptation and Finance, which are squarely within the interests of developing countries like Malaysia.” 

Finance for adaptation has always been a hot topic of discussion but lacks progress at COP. Even if the Paris Agreement’s goals are achieved, the impacts and risks of climate change cannot be fully reversed and can only be reduced through adaptation actions. The COP26 Glasgow Climate Pact, though imperfect, set up a goal for developed countries to double the funding provided to developing countries for adaptation by 2025 [5]. 

Back home, the massive floods that hit Malaysia last year took 54 lives and resulted in RM6.1 billion of losses [6]. The Malaysian Meteorological Department (MetMalaysia) warned that worse floods are expected in 2022 [7]. The general public is asking how well prepared we are in adapting to the impacts of climate change. Unfortunately, the answer is: we are a long way away. 

MetMalaysia posts bad weather forecasts on social media, its website and app

A transformational approach to adaptation involves an all-of-society approach and adequate funding. We looked at three climate finance sources for developing countries, the Green Climate Fund, the Global Environment Facility (GCF), and the Adaptation Fund (AF). Our search found that Malaysia received funding from AF to support the Nature-based Climate Adaptation Programme for Urban Areas of Penang. Additionally, Malaysia obtained USD 3 million from the GCF to prepare a National Adaptation Plan (NAP), which has not been published yet [8]. 

Yin mentioned that we need more awareness that these funds exist. To Dr. Siew, climate finance matters in the decarbonisation journey, as lack of resources and finance have always been a key challenge. Not only that, international funding can aid local talents (researchers and experts) in addressing Malaysia’s vulnerabilities.

Dr. Siew’s view was further echoed by Yin. He emphasised that the government of Malaysia should double down on adaptation efforts for extreme weather events, in addition to climate mitigation efforts. Countries that have higher historical CO2 emissions have a bigger responsibility to mitigate, in proportion to their emissions [9].

Malaysia should be more active in developing policy on adaptation given that Malaysia is climate vulnerable and is insufficiently prepared to face extreme weather events. We should also step up efforts to secure international climate finance to tackle our vulnerabilities” – Yin.

Policies rather than pledges that really matter

While pledges are a good start, actually achieving climate targets is more important. National regulations and policies will help to drive the country towards these targets. Explicit policies can push individuals, businesses and Malaysian society to change. While progress is observed, Malaysia’s climate policy landscape still falls short of pushing for change at the required scale and pace to mitigate and adapt to climate change. 

The long-awaited Climate Change Act is still on my wishlist – there have been various changes of course, but we haven’t seen the implementation of this yet.” says Dr. Siew. 

In 2018, the government announced the plan to introduce the Climate Change Act to increase coordination between ministries and enhance the effectiveness of climate actions. Until today, there is limited public information on the content of the proposed Act. More recently, the Ministry of Environment and Water announced that they are still drafting the National Climate Change Legal Framework, which will set the foundation for a Climate Change Act that is only expected to come into force in 2024 [10]

With climate risk impacts getting worse every year, there is limited time to wait for effective adaptation measures. Yin stresses that the National Adaptation Policy is critical as measures will likely take several years to work. In the meantime, we are continuously exposed to climate impacts. “National Adaptation Policy is really about protecting lives, livelihoods, and the country we call home,” says Yin. 

Financing for adaptation is expected to be a key topic at COP27. Source: UNFCCC

Designing good policies and effectively implementing them are different. To Dr. Yasmin, enforcement is crucial and affects the usefulness of a policy. For policy to work, it needs enforcement mechanisms, complementary support systems and organisations with strong implementation capacity.

Malaysia could be more aggressive with its NDC

Malaysia updated its NDC * prior to COP26 last year. First, it pledged to reduce its economy-wide carbon intensity ** (against GDP) unconditionally by 45% against 2005 levels by the year of 2030, up from the previous target of 35%. It has also included four more GHGs under the national greenhouse gas inventory [10]. Though the updates are welcome, our interviewees suggested more aggressive and comprehensive actions should be taken. 

Dr. Siew proposed that Malaysia should focus its efforts on the long-neglected adaptation front while leading efforts in climate mitigation. He also proposed that Malaysia declares an absolute emissions reduction target along with the currently used emissions per GDP target. This is because the latter goal is a less reliable tool for reducing GHG emissions. A country using the emissions intensity target might still contribute to global warming despite meeting its emission targets, unless it decouples emissions from GDP growth. 

Dr. Yasmin suggests that the NDC factors in the social aspect of mitigation and adaptation steps taken. However, she believes the social impacts of climate policies should be reflected as economic indicators, given the huge role of economics in running a country. 

*NDCs are records of the commitments of Parties of Paris Agreement submitted to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) secretariat to show their commitments in increasing the adaptive capacity of their countries towards climate change while implementing mitigation measures domestically. Though legally non-binding, NDCs are essential in predicting the outcome of the world in achieving the Paris Agreement goal of limiting world temperature rise ideally at 1.5 degree Celsius above pre-industrial levels (years between 1850 to 1900 [8])

** Economy-wide carbon intensity refers to the GHG emission intensity from all the seven GHGs under the national greenhouse gas inventory.

Conclusion

Malaysia has come a long way in being climate aware but many improvements can still be made, particularly in key aspects such as prioritising adaptation and finance, enforcement of policies and being more expansive in our NDC towards adaptation. 

Given the widespread recognition of the severity of climate change among Malaysians, it is vital for Malaysia to fulfil commitments it made and also update its climate action. As a developing country, Malaysia can unlock international funding to assist its efforts in mobilising climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts, which are currently constrained by limited resources.

Meanwhile, when revising Malaysia’s future NDC, the government should not sideline localised adaptation measures and policy developments to protect and provide a sustainable livelihood to Malaysians in the face of climate change.

Emphasis on adaptation measures allow us to take a proactive role in preparing for disasters and reduce vulnerabilities across sectors. This will eventually help us save costs in the long run, especially with the high frequency of extreme weather events in recent years. This can be done by combining critical policies (eg. Climate Change Act and National Adaptation Policy) with the necessary enforcement mechanisms to ensure its effectiveness. 

References

  1. https://www.unicef.org/malaysia/press-releases/9-out-10-youth-malaysia-are-already-taking-individual-action-address-climate-change 
  2. 26Sept_2022_Bursa_Malaysia_Enhances_Sustainability_Reporting_Framework_With_New_Climate_Change_Reporting.pdf (bursamalaysia.com)
  3. https://smecorp.gov.my/index.php/en/policies/2020-02-11-08-01-24/profile-and-importance-to-the-economy 
  4. https://www.dosm.gov.my/v1/index.php?r=column/cthemeByCat&cat=159&bul_id=aFRNc2Zid295Tm1yczN5dWJNS1NwQT09&menu_id=TE5CRUZCblh4ZTZMODZIbmk2aWRRQT09#:~:text=PERFORMANCE%20OF%20MSMEs%27%20GDP%202021,was%20slower%20than%20Malaysia%27s%20GDP
  5. https://www.unep.org/news-and-stories/story/what-does-cop26-mean-adaptation
  6. https://www.channelnewsasia.com/asia/malaysia-floods-2021-2022-losses-statistics-department-2465656
  7. https://themalaysianreserve.com/2022/10/03/november-2022-floods-strategies-to-prepare-mitigate-it/
  8. https://foe-malaysia.org/articles/expedite-efforts-to-seek-international-funds-for-climate-adaptation/ https://www.theedgemarkets.com/article/special-report-12th-malaysia-plan-2021-2025-malaysian-case-carbon-tax 
  9. Views – Articles – Research – Khazanah Research Institute (krinstitute.org)
  10. https://unfccc.int/sites/default/files/NDC/2022-06/Malaysia%20NDC%20Updated%20Submission%20to%20UNFCCC%20July%202021%20final.pdf
Fantastic Climate Adaptation Measures and Where to Find Them

Fantastic Climate Adaptation Measures and Where to Find Them

Written byAin Zahra binti Hisham, Elaine Tan Su Yin, Nurafiqah Mohd Sahar, Yong Sin Ng, Zhi Lin Yeoh

Edited by: Tan Zhai Yun (Nat), Felix Culas

Introduction

Photo by Wade Austin Ellis on Unsplash

The impacts of climate change are happening now.  This year alone, we have seen scorching heat waves and wildfires in Europe [1], deadly floods in Bangladesh [2], unusually heavy downpours in the arid region of Middle East, [3] and prolonged droughts in East Africa [4] . These events have killed thousands of people, displaced millions and left families on the brink of famine.  

Malaysia is not spared from climate change and is particularly vulnerable to flooding. The frequency and extremity of flood events in Malaysia are expected to increase in the next few decades, according to projections by scientists. 

The impacts of climate change will only intensify if we do not take action now.  Apart from doing everything we can to cut greenhouse emissions and slow the pace of climate change, we must adapt to the consequences of climate change to increase our resilience and protect our communities.  

The Malaysian government has mentioned that it plans to formulate a National Adaptation Plan, which will include a long-term action plan and strategies for various sectors.

What is Climate Adaptation?

Adaptation is one of the primary responses to climate change. In simple terms, adaptation means a response to a perceived risk or opportunity. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC):

Climate change adaptation is  an “adjustment in natural or human systems in response to actual or expected climatic stimuli or their effects, which moderates harm or exploits beneficial opportunities.”

These responses include changes in processes, practices, and structures to minimise potential damage or maximise potential beneficial opportunities associated with climate change.

There are inevitable effects of climate change that mitigation efforts cannot address. For example, planting trees alone is not enough to lower the Earth’s temperature. Some studies and models suggest that high carbon taxes have not effectively reduced CO2 emissions to the levels needed [5]

Countries and communities must adapt to climate change by developing and implementing relevant solutions. Adaptation solutions vary by location and are subject to climate risks that are unique to each place. The first step of climate change adaptation is to understand local risks and develop plans to manage them.

This article highlights some adaptation measures implemented in other countries. It also looks at what we can do to deal with the future effects of climate change in Malaysia.

Example of Adaptation Measures in Coastal Areas

[Sucharitakul, G. & Hardy, J., 2021]

Japan is a country surrounded by water. In 2018, Japan was recognised as the country most affected by weather-related disasters. Weather events such as typhoons and tsunamis result in severe damages because many industrial activities in Japan are located near coastlines[6]

Japan’s Ministry of the Environment (MOE) has listed possible adaptation measures based on projected climate change impacts. For example, Japan’s National Plan for Adaptation to the Impacts of Climate Change includes assessments of climate change impacts on tidal flats, saline wetlands, kelp beds and coral reefs. 

Additionally, the MOE encourages regional impact assessments. This is to integrate protection of ecosystems into local climate change adaptation plans. Natural ecosystems, such as mangroves and seagrass, help reduce the impact of waves and currents by acting as natural wave breakers. They function as the first line of defence against large waves in coastal areas.

This practice is relevant to Malaysia as the country has coastlines measuring around 4,500km. Mangrove ecosystems protect this coastline. 629,038 hectares of mangroves are found in Malaysia, with 60% in Sabah, 22% in Sarawak and the remaining 18% in Peninsular Malaysia. 

The structure of mangrove roots is able to prevent soil erosion whilst the mangrove ecosystem reduces the force of oncoming waves, thus preventing flooding. It is important to conserve mangroves to safeguard our biodiversity and coastal communities.

Photo by Timothy K on Unsplash

Malaysia has already lost more than half of its mangroves, resulting in loss of biodiversity such as cockles and clams[7]. Coastal communities are also affected by the loss of mangroves. They depend on this ecosystem to provide a livelihood through fishing. Beyond protecting the coastline, mangroves act as a carbon sink.  They absorb above five times more carbon compared to forests[10] .

Hence, by conserving the ecosystem of mangroves, it will not only benefit the environment but the economy and the surrounding community.  Conservation of the mangrove ecosystem is also a form of nature-based solution, which is defined as solutions that aim to create the greatest impact without compromising the environment and the economy. 

To illustrate the importance of mangroves and corals, think of the airbag in a car. The airbag (mangroves and corals) minimises the impact to your car (coastline) when a collision (high impact waves) occurs. 

Example of Adaptation Measures in Urban Areas

China is the country most affected by flooding in the past 20 years [11]. The Sponge City Concept (SCC) was first proposed by the Chinese government in 2012 as an adaptation measure to its flood risk.

The SCC is an urban stormwater management concept. The city is capable of acting like a sponge that stores stormwater during the wet season and reuses it during the dry season. A sponge city is set up by reconstructing existing water and stormwater management systems and building green infrastructure for infiltration, absorption, storage and purification of stormwater in urban environments [12]. To simplify, SCC helps a city adapt to floods and droughts by improving the efficiency of existing stormwater drainage and irrigation systems, and utilising natural landscapes such as lakes and forested areas to slow down and store stormwater for future use.

[Infographic of the sponge city concept (Pattinson, 2021)]

Other than flood management, SCC also indirectly contributes to reduced carbon emissions and surface temperature in urban areas (urban heat island effect). A case study conducted in Xiamen, China, showed that expansion of urban blue-green infrastructures (blue elements such as rivers, canals, ponds, and green areas such as trees, parks and forests) and effective use of rainwater harvested from the sponge city reduced 66,266.7 tons of carbon emissions annually and cooled down the city’s surface temperature [13].

The sponge city concept shows developing countries how sustainable stormwater management can be implemented in rapidly urbanising regions.

[Noorshahrizam, 2022]

In Malaysia, the major floods between December 2021 and early January 2022 in Klang Valley resulted in a RM6.1 billion loss [14] and 55 fatalities [15]. The region has continued to experience flash floods every month since. This has caused massive anxiety among citizens, with some forced to evacuate and many more facing traffic congestion.

As a city built on the flood plain of the Klang River Basin, it is normal for the flat area adjacent to the river to experience flooding during periods of heavy precipitation. As a result, the rivers in the city were reconstructed into straighter, wider and deeper concrete channels that serve to transport stormwater into the ocean faster when the flow is heavy. 

However, rainfall intensity and frequency are getting more unpredictable and severe due to climate change. In addition, blue and green spaces that can help to retain rainwater and slow down the surface runoff of stormwater have been replaced with roads and buildings due to urbanisation. 

Blue-green spaces provide a porous surface for stormwater to filter (infiltrate) to the soil while moving through the surfaces. In contrast, concrete infrastructures prevent stormwater from filtering through the surface into the ground. As a result, the built infrastructures speed up the time taken for the stormwater to flow from the nearby surface into the river, making the area more prone to flooding as the river is unable to withstand a large amount of stormwater in a short time.

Currently, Malaysia still favours hard engineering approaches for stormwater management. The greatest example is the Stormwater Management And Road Tunnel (SMART) tunnel in the KL city centre. The tunnel helps to mitigate 45% of flood events in Kuala Lumpur [14]. The government is considering building another SMART tunnel in Shah Alam to mitigate future flooding in the city [16].

Beyond these, more sustainable measures must be taken. The city should plan adaptation measures for once-in-a-hundred-floods. Despite the name, these are expected to occur more frequently due to climate change [17]

A sponge city with blue-green areas can address another problem: the urban heat island (UHI)  effect. 

Source: Smart Tunnel

A study showed that land surface temperature in Kuala Lumpur increased by 1.64oC between 1989 and 2019 due to the urban heat island (UHI) effect. UHI Ipoh showed the largest increase in temperature of 6.75oC between 1998 and 2019 [18]. UHI is an effect where an urbanised area experiences higher temperatures than nearby areas due to land cover change. This happens when built infrastructure such as roads and buildings absorb and emit heat more than green and blue areas in the city.

In Kuala Lumpur, reduction in vegetation cover and land-use changes were the main causes of the UHI effect [19]. Vehicle traffic and air conditioning usage also contribute to increased temperatures [20].

A well-planned city with adequate blue-green areas such as Putrajaya has a lower UHI effect compared to other cities in Malaysia [19]. However, even well-planned cities can induce the UHI effect from their buildings.

The Malaysian government has proposed projects like China’s Sponge City to address flooding. The Kuala Lumpur City Hall and the Department of Irrigation and Drainage (DID) has plans to build an underground storage tunnel. It is designed to store flood water and release it into the river during low flow [21].

Additionally, DID is implementing a flood disaster risk assessment based on climate change projections. The assessment covers 36 major river basins in the country and is expected to be ready by 2024. These are critical efforts to develop and implement sustainable climate adaptation measures. 

Nevertheless, it is important to ensure these findings and data are shared among stakeholders, including the public and private sector, to encourage implementation of climate adaptation measures from different parties. For instance, it enables private sector players and individuals to make decisions on where to live, work and invest in assets according to the findings of the risk assessment. 

On the other hand, it is challenging to align the sponge city concept with ongoing urban planning and renovation portfolios. Successful implementation of the Sponge City Concept will require knowledge sharing among relevant stakeholders [22]. However, relevant stakeholders in Malaysia are often working in silos. 

For example, even while the KL City Plan recognises the importance of retention ponds and flood retention zones in mitigating floods, 6 retention ponds in KL were turned into development projects by the city hall, making the city more prone to flooding [23]. In addition, irrigation and drainage guidelines available for developers are not enacted with laws, making it hard to manage existing drainage systems for the holistic implementation of the sponge city concept in Malaysia [24]

Therefore, collaboration between stakeholders, including developers, the transportation sector, policymakers and the urban community is essential for the implementation of sustainable adaptation measures to address flooding and the UHI effect.

Social Adaptation Measures for Climate Change

A vital climate adaptation strategy to protect communities is to build climate-resilient education infrastructure and systems in climate-vulnerable countries [25]. For instance, Bangladesh is prone to super cyclones. In response, the country began implementing a cyclone warning and evacuation program [26]

In the past few decades, Bangladesh’s cyclone-tracking systems have improved significantly through satellite monitoring and early warning systems through radio and mobile phones, run by volunteers. In May 2020, when super cyclone Amphan hit the country, it resulted in fewer than 30 deaths. More than three million people on land received the warnings and were able to take shelter [26]

Moreover, primary schools in Bangladesh are being constructed to serve as cyclone shelters[26]. This is aimed at significantly reducing casualties from cyclones. The World Bank’s Multipurpose Disaster Shelters Project is helping to make the coastal population in Bangladesh less vulnerable to natural disasters through 552 new shelters, 450 rehabilitated shelters, and about 550 kilometres of new rural roads. Moreover, the project is supporting community-based early warning initiatives and the shelters are fitted with solar panels and rainwater-harvesting devices [26]

Meanwhile, in Malaysia, we are constantly faced with extreme weather events, heavy rainfall and flash floods. Recently, Malaysia’s Ministry of Federal Territories announced plans to review, establish and upgrade the early warning system by using SMS blasting to inform the public of weather events quicker and more accurately to minimise damage and fatalities caused by unexpected calamities. Although Malaysia is not affected by the cyclones, the solution practised by Bangladesh is worth learning from. It has proven that building community resilience can significantly improve adaptation strategies and minimise the effects of climate change. 

Call to Action

Everyone must recognise the importance of climate adaptation to reduce Malaysia’s vulnerability to the harmful effects of climate change. To recognise is to learn, acknowledge, observe and take action. In times of crisis, it is vital that we speak up. A modest first step is to send emails to our Members of Parliament (MP), who are supposed to speak on our behalf in the parliament. The link below will bring you to a video from Youths United for Earth (YUFE). It shows how you can  contact your respective MPs. Click here[27] for a template of the letter.

Some topics to consider writing in your letter:

  • Your experience dealing with climate change impacts
  • The urgent need for climate adaptation in your area of observation
  • Your own suggestions on climate adaptation measures

At the end of the day, we need to elevate the voices of the people on matters that affect them. Through our research on successful climate adaptation measures in other countries, we hope this catapults you to participate more actively in efforts to adapt to climate change.

References

(Introduction)

1. Ataman, J. J. H. (2022, July 19). Europe’s heatwave: UK sees third-hottest day on record, wildfires rage in France and Spain. CNN. https://edition.cnn.com/2022/07/18/weather/europe-uk-heatwave-wildfires-france-spain-intl/index.html 

2. Mahmud, F. (2022, June 22). Bangladesh floods: Experts say climate crisis worsening situation. Floods News | Al Jazeera. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2022/6/22/bangladesh-floods-experts-say-climate-crisis-worsening-situation 

3. Al Jazeera. (2022, July 23). Flash floods kill at least 22 people in southern Iran. Climate Crisis News | Al Jazeera.

4. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2022/7/23/flash-floods-kill-at-least-21-people-in-southern-iranOstasiewicz, A. E. J. B. (2022, May 14). East Africa drought: “The suffering here has no equal.” BBC News. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-61437239

(What is climate adaptation)

5. C. Stokes, L., & Mildenberger, M. (2020, September 24). The trouble with carbon pricing. Boston Review. https://bostonreview.net/articles/leah-c-stokes-matto-mildenberger-tk/

(Example of Adaptation Measures in Coastal Areas)

6. Eckstein, D., Künzel, V., Schäfer, L., Winges, M. (2020). Global Climate Risk Index 2020. German Watch.

7. https://germanwatch.org/en/17307A.A Amir. (2018, March 11). On our love affair with Malaysian mangroves. New Straits Time. https://www.nst.com.my/opinion/columnists/2018/03/343971/our-love-affair-malaysian-mangroves

8. Yoshioka, N. (2021). Adaptation to Climate Change in Ocean and Coastal Areas. Ocean Policy Research Institute, Perspective no 23.

9. WWF. (2008). Climate impacts are threatening Japan today and tomorrow. Nippon Changes – Report.

10. Sucharitakul, G. & Hardy, J. (2021, July 26). A threat and a solution – tourism’s role in mangrove protection. Climate Champions. https://climatechampions.unfccc.int/a-threat-and-a-solution-tourisms-role-in-mangrove-protection/

11. Gjisman, R, Horstman, E.M., Van Der Wal, D., Friess, D.A., Swales, A., Wijnber, K.M. (2021). Nature-Based Engineering: A Review on Reducing Coastal Flood Risk With Mangroves. Frontiers in Marine Science, 8 July 2021. 

12. Shahamin, F.M.M., Mubarak, T.H., Khairany, N.M.A., Zahirah, M.T. (2020). Album Pengenalan Species Bakau. Selangor. Institut Penyelidikan Perhutanan Malaysia (FRIM). 2020.

(Example of Adaptation Measures in Urban Areas)

13. United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction. (2020). The human cost of disasters: An overview of the last 20 years (2000-2019). https://www.undrr.org/publication/human-cost-disasters-overview-last-20-years-2000-2019

14. Griffiths, J., Chan, F. K. S., Shao, M., Zhu, F., & Higgitt, D. L. (2020). Interpretation and application of Sponge City guidelines in China. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences, 378(2168), 20190222. https://doi.org/10.1098/rsta.2019.0222 

15. Shao, W., Liu, J., Yang, Z., Yang, Z., Yu, Y., & Li, W. (2018). Carbon Reduction Effects of Sponge City Construction: A Case Study of the City of Xiamen. Energy Procedia, 152, 1145–1151. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.egypro.2018.09.145 

16. Mageswari, M. (2022, February 12). SMART TUNNEL MITIGATES 45% OF KL FLOODS. The Star. https://www.thestar.com.my/news/nation/2022/02/12/smart-tunnel-mitigates-45-of-kl-floods 

17. Zainal, F. (2022, March 8). Floods: 55 fatalities from December 2021 to January 2022The Star. https://www.thestar.com.my/news/nation/2022/03/08/floods-55-fatalities-from-december-2021-to-january-2022 

18. Krishnan, D. B. (2022, February 4). More Smart tunnels to be built in Shah Alam, major cities to tackle flood woes. NST Online. https://www.nst.com.my/news/nation/2022/02/768698/more-smart-tunnels-be-built-shah-alam-major-cities-tackle-flood-woes 

19. Arnell, N., & Gosling, S. (2014). The impacts of climate change on river flood risk at the global scale. Climatic Change, 134(3), 387-401. doi: 10.1007/s10584-014-1084-5  

20. Think City. (2021, March 5). Think City Land Surface Temperature Mapping Shows Malaysian Cities are Getting Hotter. Think City. https://thinkcity.com.my/news/think-city-land-surface-temperature-mapping-shows-malaysian-cities-are-getting-hotter/  

21. Ramakreshnan, L., Aghamohammadi, N., Fong, C. S., Ghaffarianhoseini, A., Ghaffarianhoseini, A., Wong, L. P., Hassan, N., & Sulaiman, N. M. (2018). A critical review of Urban Heat Island phenomenon in the context of Greater Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Sustainable Cities and Society, 39, 99–113. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scs.2018.02.005 

22. Wang, K., Aktas, Y. D., Stocker, J., Carruthers, D., Hunt, J., & Malki-Epshtein, L. (2019). Urban heat island modelling of a tropical city: Case of Kuala Lumpur. Geoscience Letters, 6(1), 4. https://doi.org/10.1186/s40562-019-0134-2

23. Bernama. (2022, June 3). KL to get underground storage tunnel to prevent flash floods. Free Malaysia Today (FMT). https://www.freemalaysiatoday.com/category/nation/2022/06/03/kl-to-get-underground-storage-tunnel-to-prevent-flash-floodskuala-lumpur-to-get-underground-storage-tunnel-to-prevent-flash-floods/ 

24. Zevenbergen, C., Fu, D., & Pathirana, A. (2018). Transitioning to Sponge Cities: Challenges and Opportunities to Address Urban Water Problems in China. Water, 10, 1230. https://doi.org/10.3390/w10091230  

25. Free Malaysia Today. (2021, December 28). 6 retention ponds in KL earmarked for development, says MP. Free Malaysia Today (FMT). https://www.freemalaysiatoday.com/category/nation/2021/12/28/6-retention-ponds-in-kl-alienated-for-development-says-mp/ 

26. Harun, H. N. (2022, June 2). Putrajaya good example of “sponge city” to avoid floodingNST Online. https://www.nst.com.my/news/nation/2022/06/801681/putrajaya-good-example-sponge-city-avoid-flooding 

(Social Adaptation Measures for Climate Change) 

27. Weaver, J. (2021, February 22). Education and climate change – are we addressing the linkages? World Bank Blogs. https://blogs.worldbank.org/climatechange/education-and-climate-change-are-we-addressing-linkages 

28. Huq, S. (2022, March 1). Adapting to Climate Change: Lessons from Bangladesh. Scientific American. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/adapting-to-climate-change-lessons-from-bangladesh/

(Call to Action) 

29. Youths United for Earth (YUFE). (n.d.). General Template Letter – Email MPs. https://www.yufemy.com/

News Splash: The rippling effects of water pollution

News Splash: The rippling effects of water pollution

Written by Farhana Shukor and Zhee Qi
Introduction

Water is a natural resource that is vital to life and any threat to it would be detrimental towards the well-being of earth’s inhabitants. Water and sanitation were formally acknowledged as human rights by the United Nations General Assembly in 2010 and 2015, respectively. Further, international human rights laws have also imposed obligations on countries to provide access to safe drinking water and sanitation.

In August 2020, the Malaysia Prime Minister’s Office launched a research study — the Water Sector Transformation 2040 (WST 2040) — to investigate water sector reform, aiming to transform it into a “dynamic growth engine for the country”.

The Climate Change Impact and Adaptation task force of WST 2040 engaged members of the Malaysian Youth Delegation (MYD) to develop a youth survey. This survey aimed to collate the youth’s opinions and their policy recommendations on climate change and the local water sector. It was open for responses from the 26th February 2021 till the 4th April 2021, and successfully garnered responses from 168 youths. The definition of youths here was people aged between 18-35 which was based on the definition provided by the Children and Youth constituency of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (YOUNGO).

The survey findings were crystallised as MYD’s Water & Climate Change Youth Survey Report. This report provides a good starting point to determine the youth’s perception and understanding of climate change and the consequential risks from their lack of understanding, which can be used to develop solutions to sufficiently address these issues. In conjunction with that, an article on the report has been penned and published by MYD on our website.

While the previous article touched on governmental roles, this article aims to discuss matters at stake for water security and the power corporations hold in shifting the paradigm. In line with the survey findings and in light of rampant water pollution issues, this is an open letter to one of our stakeholders — corporations. Corporations have a big role in tackling the climate crisis because by large, they produce a substantial amount of emissions. The 3rd Biennial Update Report submitted by Malaysia to the United Nations Framework Conference on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in 2016 indicates that greenhouse gas emissions are largely attributed to the energy (77.9%) and waste (8.44%) sectors.

Risk by definition is uncertainty, but the lens for which we perceive the uncertainty can either identify the problem or the solution. In this article, we will address both perspectives and produce a Strength, Weakness, Opportunities and Threats (SWOT) analysis focusing on private corporations and their roles in this space, based on the report findings and additional resources.

Strengths

Beginning on a hopeful note, it was found that the majority of the participants had access to water and sanitation.

Most participants confirmed that their municipalities have some initiatives in place to tackle existing water hazards such as providing temporary water supply alternatives and improving the supply infrastructure (refer to Figure 1).

[Figure 1: Municipal action against water related hazards experienced]

Notably, the findings reflected that 37-50% of participants were satisfied with the efforts of the private sector towards water related tasks. In relation to that, 53-64% of participants believe that the private sector should be “very responsible” for future actions such as ensuring sustainable consumption of water and planning for climate change impacts.

[Figure 2: Participants’ awareness of climate change risks]

Figure 2 provides an overview on the participants’ awareness of climate change risks. Based on this, it appears that there is generally a good awareness and understanding of climate change risks amongst youth. The caveat here is that the survey responses may largely be from youths who are part of environmental circles, hence the findings may not reflect the opinions of the wider Malaysian youth demographic. However, this assumption cannot be verified as there was no identifying data to indicate the field of study or work of all survey respondents’.

Weaknesses

A majority of participants indicated they only have a single water source. This is a precarious scenario as any of the water hazards experienced may potentially disrupt water access for a significant period of time.

[Figure 3: Distribution of water related hazards experienced by participants]

In relation to that, it is also important to note that the greatest water hazard faced by participants is water rationing or cuts, with 64% of participants experiencing this hazard. Of this group, only 67% indicated that they were provided with a temporary alternative water source.  This hazard is also known to be linked to the frequent water pollution incidents that occurred in the state of Selangor and were caused by private corporations’ mismanagement of waste.

While most participants confirmed that their municipalities have some mitigation efforts in place, it is evident that those initiatives are merely short term coping strategies. There is a huge gap that needs to be filled to ensure water security. Based on the results from the second component of the survey, held on a conversation tool known as Pol.is, it was emphasised that there is a need for cooperation between public, private and civil sectors to tackle these issues. The responses indicated that corporations too have a vital role to play in mitigating current water-related hazards (refer to Figure 4).

[Figure 4: Participant’s perception of stakeholder responsibility in mitigating water-related hazards]

Threats

An obvious threat to water security is water pollution. However, it is important to note that water pollution is ultimately a result of human activities such as the disposal of pollutants into waterways. Most water pollution occurrences can be attributed to corporate activities which are made worse by the lack or absence of environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) considerations. Threats like water pollution can disrupt some business operations which can impact business outcomes and interests. 

As the community becomes more environmentally conscious, there exists a risk of economic and reputational losses when companies act negligently towards environmental protection. With the rising trend of ESG requirements worldwide, it was predicted that non-ESG compliant companies might lose out on investment opportunities. Hence, local companies are urged to take proactive steps to mitigate this risk and play their role in tackling the climate crisis.

Furthermore, based on the Pol.is conversation results, most participants agree to increased penalties on corporations that harm and/or pollute the environment.

Threats were also identified in the findings on climate change risks. The findings mainly reflected a mismatch between knowledge or awareness of climate change and the significance of limiting global warming to 1.5℃ as in the Paris Agreement. The findings showed that most of the respondents believed that the government is responsible for limiting global warming to 1.5℃, with a small segment believing that a target is unnecessary. As noted above and as seen in Figure 2, there is generally a good level of awareness among youths on climate change risks. This against the awareness of limiting global warming would indicate some lack of awareness on how global warming relates to climate change.

 

Opportunities

Based on the threats presented, a number of opportunities present themselves that could be taken by stakeholders. Participants appear to strongly support most of the water policy options presented in the survey (see graph below). Thus, it could present valuable opportunities for stakeholders, especially corporations, by being first-movers or pioneers. 

[Figure 5: Participant’s preferred policy strategies]

Public support on implementation will be strong if there was more: i) integrated water resource management; ii) technological innovation, such as water-recycling technology; iii) climate change adaptation planning, such as improving early warning systems; iv) nature-based solutions, for example mangrove conservation for coastal protection; v) water demand management, such as use of water-saving toilets; and vi) integrated river basin management.

Further to the above, the survey findings confirm that a majority of participants agreed to encourage the private sector to invest in water-conserving and recycling technologies.

 

Closing: Call to Action
Moving forward, corporations should be more attentive towards the environmental impact of their actions, and make climate-friendly decisions in their businesses. Corporations are encouraged to be honest about their sustainability capacity because it is arguably better to make pledges they can deliver and act on, rather than making large but empty declarations in their sustainability report. We hope that by sharing these findings, corporations are able to fill in the gaps.

Nonetheless, the responsibility does not solely fall on the shoulders of corporations. The government should also be active in tackling climate change alongside corporations because both stakeholders should complement each other in their actions – areas in which the government falls short in, the private sector can support further or compensate for, and vice versa. 

Lastly, the public too has a role to play in this. As the current generation, we owe a duty towards the coming generations to safeguard and ensure the sustainability of resources. This article demonstrates that public participation is crucial in holding the authorities accountable and paves the way forward for the public to partake more actively in climate movements.

References:

  1. Malaysia Third Biennial Update Report to the UNFCCC https://unfccc.int/sites/default/files/resource/MALAYSIA_BUR3-UNFCCC_Submission.pdf
  2. Ayisy Yusof. (2021, Aug 9) “Companies urged to adopt ESG standards”. News Straits Times. <https://www.nst.com.my/business/2021/08/716368/companies-urged-adopt-esg-standards>.
  3. (2021, Aug 31) “Over 450 areas in Selangor affected by unscheduled water cut”. The Star. <https://www.thestar.com.my/news/nation/2021/08/31/over-450-areas-in-selangor-affected-by-unscheduled-water-cut>.
  4. Slezak, M. “Australian teenagers’ climate change class action case opens ‘big crack in the wall’, expert says”. ABC News. 27 May 2021, 26 September 2021. <https://www.abc.net.au/news/2021-05-27/climate-class-action-teenagers-vickery-coal-mine-legal-precedent/100169398>.

Study Session 1: Climate Change and Public Health

Study Session 1: Climate Change and Public Health

Written by Hong Kai, Sabrina Hoong, Chanel Ng

The Malaysian Youth Delegation (MYD) hosted a study session: Climate Change and Public Health with Dr. Khor Swee Kheng, a public health specialist  focusing  on health policies and global health — more specifically the political economy of health and the strengthening of the health systems. He shared about the linkages and complexities between climate change and public health. Inspired by his sharing session, this article writeup intends to explore the linkages between the two.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) latest report revealed alarming findings. Substantial evidence reveals the significant human influence on the rising temperatures — a 1.5°C rise in climate temperature is now inevitable. This growth will have profound consequences for human civilisation, ranging from increased droughts and rainfall events to sea-level rise.

While it may not appear obvious, the worsening climate crisis directly impacts public health in various forms (see figure below). For instance, it was reported that extreme heat due to the changing climate could increase heat stress on humans (IPCC, 2021).

[Figure: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (n.d.)]

In addition to heat stress, weather extremes such as increasing floods may favour the transmission of diseases. In 2014, Kelantan suffered its worst flood and one of its main adverse health outcomes was the rise in the incidence of diseases, particularly vector-borne Leptospirosis.

The types of diseases that affect public health can be broadly divided into communicable diseases and non-communicable diseases.

Communicable diseases are infectious and can be grouped into three categories — waterborne (e.g., Cholera), airborne (e.g., Covid-19), and vector-borne (e.g Dengue). Extreme weather events such as the El Niño can lead to ecological conditions facilitating the emergence of vector-borne diseases, thus increasing the risk of exposure towards society at large.

Climate change, which influences temperature and rainfall fluctuations, encourages the spread of neglected tropical diseases, such as Dengue (Paul and Tham, 2015). As this phenomenon worsens, ecological changes are expected to become more rapid. This increases the chances for new viruses to spread across the population, where mutation may in turn increase the potency of the virus (Shope, 1991).

Non-communicable diseases are chronic diseases developed by factors such as the environment, genes, and behaviour. Such diseases include respiratory diseases, cardiovascular diseases, mental disorders, cancer, and diabetes. Due to the indirect nature of their relationship, these diseases are often overlooked in the discourse of public health and climate change.

For diabetes, extreme weather events and rising temperatures may increase the morbidity of such patients, particularly those with existing cardiovascular diseases (Zilbermint, 2020). As for those without an existing condition, rising temperatures may lead to more people choosing to stay indoors. This discourages the practice of a more healthy and active lifestyle, weakening one’s immune system and physical health.

There is also a strong link between climate change and mental health. The relationship is often characterised through climate anxiety or eco guilt, new terms coined recently to reflect their growing occurrence. A major factor that contributes to climate anxiety is recognising the arrival of danger but lacking the ability to mitigate it. (Ingle and Mikulewicz, 2020). Climate anxiety is particularly prevalent amongst children and young people — a recent survey on ten-thousand 16 – 25-year-olds found that 95% of respondents were worried about climate change, and this is partly due to disappointment towards the lack of governmental action on tackling the crisis (Thompson, 2021).

Now narrowing our focus on Malaysia, prominent local climate-sensitive diseases include: cholera, typhoid, hepatitis A, malaria, dengue and chikungunya. (Alhoot et al., (2016). It was estimated that a reduction in short lived climate pollutants (SLCPs) could prevent 5,900 premature deaths attributed to outdoor air pollution per year, from 2030 onwards (Shindell, D., et al, Science, 2012). Storms, floods and droughts can lead to the rise and emergence of climate‐sensitive diseases due to contamination of water and environment, and creation of breeding sites for disease-carrying vector mosquitoes.

Malaysian healthcare strategies to manage public health in the face of climate change

The Malaysian government has introduced various strategies and roadmaps over the years to reduce the public health impacts due to climate change. However, some may argue that these plans were not implemented effectively.

For instance, the National Environmental Health Action Plan (NEHAP) was published by the Ministry of Health (MOH) in 2013, aiming to improve the quality of the environment and public health while maintaining the objective of sustainable development (Guidance document on NEHAP, MOH Malaysia, December 2013). It was introduced on the back of increasing incidences of food, water and vector-borne diseases over the years. However, the NEHAP 2016-2020 reported that the majority of the proposed action plan was not implemented, nor was there a concrete plan. The plan heavily focused on developing guidelines and research papers under institutional components and essential support functions for environmental health, but no mitigation actions were outlined to address the pollution sources.

As of 2015, one of the gaps in Malaysia in the report to the World Health Organisation (WHO) was the lack of planned allocations from domestic and international funds to cover the estimated costs of implementing climate resilient health systems. The development of an Integrated Disease Surveillance and Response (IDSR) system with early warning for climate-sensitive health risks and valuation of co-benefits to health of climate change mitigation activities was also absent.

In 2019, Malaysia adopted a National Policy on Climate Change, which incorporates health perspectives in its key actions. One of which is to mobilise financial and technical assistance in the area of public health and climate change. Although this positive measure could contribute to a climate-resilient health system, there has been little progress in fund allocations since the WHO report in 2015.

However, there may still be hope. The National Policy on Climate Change aims to establish and implement a national Research and Development agenda on climate change taking into account public health services and delivery, as well as integrate measures into policies, plans, programmes and projects in public health. In 2019, MOH established 11 Thematic Working Groups (TWG) on:

  • air quality;
  • water and sewage system;
  • solid waste;
  • hazardous waste management;
  • climate change;
  • contingency readiness and environmental emergency plans;
  • health impact assessment;
  • information technology;
  • urban drainage;
  • environmental health experts; and
  • vector-borne diseases.

The TWGs are tasked with finding ways of identifying threats to the environment, formulating strategies to overcome the issue.

The way forward

While climate mitigation measures provide clear and significant disease prevention opportunities in many sectors, including the health sector, these opportunities are not widely recognised or connected.

We have identified ways in which key measures addressing climate change can bring health co-benefits in a range of economic sectors. The health sector should participate in developing and executing relevant mitigation policies moving forward. For example, we need health leadership and participation in multi-sectoral and multi-stakeholder decision making processes relating to climate mitigation, through engagement with key public and private sector stakeholders.

We must establish and strengthen core public health functions and capacities, including the analysis and communication of health co-benefit opportunities associated with various climate mitigation policies. More importantly, climate mitigation measures should be incorporated into relevant national health systems policies and plans in areas where the health sector has primary decision-making over GHG emissions sources from healthcare activities. This ranges from medical waste management, procurement policies, and healthcare facility infrastructure performance standards, aligning with the national health adaptation strategy of building and upgrading healthcare infrastructures to be climate-resilient. 

Effective engagement with youth groups, civil society organisations and the private sector and providing them with a platform to advocate for climate justice will also help raise public awareness about opportunities for climate and health. This will play a transformative role in building public support and creating demand for broader uptake and implementation of climate and health promoting mitigation measures in Malaysia (Technical Briefing for the World Health Organization Conference on Health and Climate).

Climate change mitigation policies can prevent significant communicable and non-communicable diseases caused by key economic sectors, therefore saving health costs from reduced deaths and diseases. Harnessing climate actions for health benefits play a transformative role in the climate debate by strengthening public and policymaker will for action, which supports coordinated stakeholder engagement and partnerships.

References

Action Plan for Environmental Health. Ministry of Health Malaysia, 2020. http://nehapmalaysia.moh.gov.my/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/Action-Plan-TWG-NEHAP-2016_2020-Final-Dis-2020.pdf.

Alhoot et al, 2016. “Climate Change and Health: The Malaysia Scenario.” Climate Change and Human Health Scenario in South and Southeast Asia, 2016, 243-268. doi:10.1007/978-3-319-23684-1_15. 

“Climate and Health Country Profile Malaysia.” World Health Organization. Accessed October 11, 2021. https://www.who.int/globalchange/resources/PHE-country-profile-Malaysia.pdf?ua=1.

Guidance Document: National Environmental Health Action Plan (NEHAP) Malaysia. Ministry of Health Malaysia, 2015. http://nehapmalaysia.moh.gov.my/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/guidance_doc_malaysia.pdf.

Malaysia’s Third National Communication (NC3) and Second Biennial Update Report. Ministry of Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change, 2020. https://unfccc.int/sites/default/files/resource/Malaysia%20NC3%20BUR2_final%20high%20res.pdf.

National Policy on Climate Change. Prime Minister’s Office, 2019. https://www.pmo.gov.my/2019/07/national-policy-on-climate-change/.

Paul, Bryan, and Wai L. Tham. “Interrelation between Climate and Dengue in Malaysia.” Health 07, no. 06 (2015), 672-678. doi:10.4236/health.2015.76080.

“Promoting Health While Mitigating Climate Change.” World Health Organisation. n.d. https://www.who.int/phe/climate/conference_briefing_2_promotinghealth_27aug.pdf?ua=1.

Shope, R. “Global climate change and infectious diseases.” Environmental Health Perspectives 96 (1991), 171-174. doi:10.1289/ehp.9196171.

Technical Briefing for the World Health Organization Conference on Health and Climate, 27-29 August, Geneva. Discussion Draft. https://www.who.int/phe/climate/conference_briefing_2_promotinghealth_27aug.pdf?ua=1.

Protection of Natural Resources and Nature-Based Solutions

Protection of Natural Resources and Nature-Based Solutions

Written by: Lee Ee Jenn & Azierah Ansar

The Malaysian Youth Delegation (MYD) organized its second study session of the year with Dr Wong Ee Phin on the topic of ‘Protecting Natural Resources’. Dr Wong is the Principal Investigator of the research project ‘Management and Ecology of Malaysian Elephants’ (MEME) & Assistant Professor at University of Nottingham Malaysia. She has extensive experience in conservation efforts, in particular with elephant behaviour and Human-Elephant Conflict.

Why is conservation important? Links to climate change

The session commenced with Dr. Wong emphasizing the importance of conservation, both on its own merits as well as considering its role in climate change. Biodiversity loss and natural resource mismanagement are imminent threats, as can be seen through the concept of planetary boundaries, the predetermined “safe operating spaces” for humanity. Crossing certain boundaries (biophysical thresholds) could have catastrophic consequences to humanity, including abrupt environmental change that make the planet far more unstable and hostile to humans (Steffen, W. et al., 2004). Currently, three of nine interlinked planetary boundaries have already been overstepped, as illustrated below—the rate of biodiversity loss being at critical levels. As seen in the second screengrab, our rate of development is far exceeding the ability for the planet to regenerate.

[The inner green shading represents the recommended “safe operating space” for nine planetary systems. The red wedges, on the other hand, represent the approximate state of the current position for each of the planetary systems. Currently, the boundaries for the rate of biodiversity loss, climate change, and human interference with the nitrogen cycle have been exceeded. The highlight of the chart is the devastatingly high rate of extinction (unit: the number of species per million species per year), which conservatively exceeds by 1,000% of its proposed value and 1,000 times its rate compared to its pre-industrial rate (Image & description taken from: Rockstrom, J et al, 2009).]

[The equation above shows that when demand, the rate at which the biophysical subsystems are consumed for the purpose of economic development (or any other reason) is higher than the supply, which is the biosphere regeneration, Earth will stray from its state of stability, known to geologists as the Holocene, and enter instead the Anthropocene (Crutzen, 2002) where humans become the main driver of global environmental change (Steffen et al, 2007).]

Since the industrial revolution, 75% of the Earth’s ice-free land surface has been significantly altered, more than 85% of the world’s wetlands have been destroyed, and plastic is expected to outnumber the populations of fishes in the oceans by 2050. The catastrophic destruction of our ecosystem has led to over 1 million species of animals, plants, and insects to be threatened by extinction.

Every natural ecosystem exists in an equilibrium, with all the organisms of an area influenced by and interdependent upon one another. If one element in the ecosystem is altered, a knock-on effect occurs to disrupt the food chain — if one population decreases, other species’ populations will also be affected. As Dr Wong put it: ‘‘The more the web of life is untangled, the faster it is going to collapse’’.

[Example of a food web: where the decrease in the primary producers will affect the apex predators (tertiary consumers) due to the disrupted food chain for other organisms’ survival.]

Extinction is an irreversible phenomenon that permanently reduces genetic diversity. Genetic diversity is highly important in sustaining and improving agriculture, forestry, and fisheries. Dr Wong highlighted that as new strains of disease evolve and climates become ever more volatile, our best hope for finding plants that are resilient—to continue growing food we can consume, for instance—is in nature’s gene bank. Take the 1860s European grape vine catastrophe: an insect completely annihilated every vineyard in the continent, paralysing the European’s wine production industry (Olmo, 1976). The industry was only saved due to grafting, a procedure made possible by the variety of vine genes conserved at the time. We will be unable to adapt to such threats if we continue on our current trend.

Furthermore, the effects of mismanagement of natural resources are not only felt within a limited geographical area, but worldwide. It is estimated that 1.5 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide has been released into the atmosphere due to deforestation alone (UNEP). Such consequences feed into a vicious cycle, where events that lead to loss of biodiversity exacerbate climate change and climate change could also become an important driver of loss of biodiversity. Hence, it is important for climate change and conservation to be addressed together.

One of the ways to do this is through the implementation of Nature-Based Solutions (NBS).

What is NBS?

Nature-based solutions (NBS) is a catch-all term encompassing a broad range of actions that ‘use’ natural habitats to tackle socio-environmental challenges. This can range from managing and protecting ecosystems, to green infrastructure in urban areas, to applying ecosystems-based principles to agriculture (University of Oxford, 2021).

Nature-based solutions can help us:

  • Adapt to the impacts of climate change;
  • Slow global warming by storing carbon;
  • Increase water and food security;
  • Manage disaster risk: controlling floods, stabilising shorelines;
  • Safeguard public health.

Engineered interventions, such as seawalls and irrigation infrastructure, have been the dominant approach to coping with climate variability so far. NBSs stand starkly in contrast to such ‘hard’ and ‘grey’ methods, and have the advantages of relatively low costs and additional benefits for people and nature. Restoring natural forests, for instance, can not only protect communities downstream from flooding, but also increase carbon sequestration and protect biodiversity.

However, nature-based solutions are treated with caution by some conservationists and researchers, as  poor implementation can have adverse effects. For example, an afforestation (tree planting) project using a non-native monoculture (one species only) could result in poor biodiversity and degrade soil quality. Moreover, NBSs such as afforestation or creating new ecosystems can distract from the need to protect existing intact ecosystems, and have even been framed as a climate change solution by fossil fuel giants, allowing them to claim to reach net zero without substantially cutting emissions. NBS have an important role to play in climate policy, but individuals must be wary of their potential misuses (Seddon et al., 2020).

Solutions

Many nature-based solutions can be implemented in Malaysia, two of which are detailed below.

1. Coastal habitats such as mangroves protect coastlines from the damaging effects of wave erosion and tropical storms, and slow the intrusion of saltwater that can damage crops and livestock. Mangroves in particular are massive carbon sinksbeing one of the most carbon-dense ecosystems in the world—and contribute to food security and local communities through fishery resources.

However, an estimated 24% of Malaysia’s mangroves are not under legal protection, and thus vulnerable to deforestation (The Star, 2021). Mangrove habitat loss is ever-ongoing to clear space for more plantations and developments, and we should oppose this.

There are a number of initiatives currently ongoing to preserve mangroves which should be more widely implemented. For instance, the ecoCare Centre managed by the Malaysian Nature Society in Terengganu fosters the regeneration of mangroves by planting nurseries and raising awareness through workshops (Malaysian Nature Society, 2021). In regards to climate policy, Malaysia should extend full protection status as permanent forest reserves to its mangroves, cooperating with local communities to ensure enforcement.

2. NBSs are not limited to the wild, but can also help urban spaces mitigate and adapt to climate change by bringing ecosystem services back into cities. Tree-lined streets and green spaces can provide natural shading and reduce cooling needs (which guzzle energy otherwise) while lessening noise pollution and air pollution. Tree-shaded walking and cycling paths simultaneously function as ecosystem and mobility corridors. NBSs have human needs at the forefront of their considerations, and more green space further serves to provide recreation and health benefits, improving quality of life across the board.

Think City, an urban policy outfit, is currently working on a Climate Adaptation plan in partnership with Penang City Council. It aims to reduce the Urban Heat Island effect, referring to metropolitan areas experiencing significantly warmer temperatures than surrounding rural areas due to human activities and infrastructure. They are working on greening Penang (rooftops, parking spaces, pocket parks etc) and using plant-based methods of increasing water catchment to alleviate flooding (Think City, 2021). Given the rising threat of heat waves especially in sweltering tropical Malaysia, other cities are encouraged to follow their model as well.

Aside from the aforementioned solutions, NBS also include:

  • Coral reef and rainforest conservation;
  • Agricultural solutions, like using existing agrobiodiversity to increase biodiversity and landscape resilience to extreme events;
  • Rebuilding and stabilising river banks and wetlands;
  • Upsloping vegetation to reduce the risk of landslides.

Malaysia is a megadiverse country, and it is time to recognise that all of these solutions have a place in climate adaptation and mitigation efforts. We should challenge the idea that climate risks must be tackled by gray infrastructure like dams and drainage systems, as there are better nature-based alternatives that address our socio environmental issues whilst restoring our relationship with nature and preserving habitats for wildlife.

Conclusion

In conclusion, biodiversity loss and natural resources not only have biophysical effects, but could also impact the survival of human society and its development. Whilst we could justify protecting our natural resources on moral principles alone, our session with Dr. Wong and our further research prove that there are practical reasons for conservation that greatly impact humanity and our daily lives. Proactive and efficient conservation regimes must be rolled out, or we must prepare for the worst possible outcome if it is business as usual.

Sources:

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