Climate change in Malaysia and what it means for us

Climate change in Malaysia and what it means for us
Greenpeace brought Reuters journalists along for a segment of the voyage, bringing them on the Arctic Sunrise from Chile through the rough waters of the Drake Passage, to the Antarctic Peninsula which was brimming with wildlife. PHOTOReuters
SO, climate change is happening. Here in South East Asia, we neither have the time nor the luxury to be debating on whether it’s real or not. It’s real.

The federal government this week announced it will be allocating around RM1.7 million for the farmers in Penang who were affected by the devastating floods in November 2017. Around 2000 farmers will be receiving a compensation of RM876 per hectare of paddy field.

This is in addition to the RM33.4 million that the Penang government had to pay in damages for the island state’s flood victims. By a long mile, this is the single largest payout given for flood victims in the history of Malaysia.

While our news is designed to focus on the events of the day, it’s hard not to recognize that these magnanimous storms are hitting our shores more and more frequently.

The world’s climate is changing for the worse, and humans are responsible for that. Let’s dive into a touch of science to make sense of this.

The Scary but Essential Stuff

Scientists have long known that greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane absorb infrared radiation. With so much more greenhouse gases in the atmosphere since the industrial revolution, less of the sun’s heat is escaping back into space. Inevitably, the Earth gets warmer and warmer.

Since the industrial revolution, carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has risen 40%. Methane has surged 150%.

With rising temperatures, more of the Earth’s ice is melting. Antarctica, which holds 90% of Earth’s fresh water, is melting at a rate faster than previously recorded. In July 2017, a huge chunk of Antartica known as A68 broke off of the rest of the ice continent. A68 is roughly 21 times the size of Kuala Lumpur.
All of this means there’ll be a steep rise in sea levels. And devastatingly, its the Southern Pacific, the body of water that sits right next to us that has recorded one of the highest levels of sea rise in the world.

But what does this translate to. Essentially, with rising temperatures and rising sea waters, storms and floods will be stronger and more frequent. For every 1 degree Celsius of temperature rise caused by climate change, the atmosphere will absorb 7% more precipitation from the ground.

A recent study published by Nature Geoscience revealed that typhoons in our region are getting 15% stronger just within the past two decades. Storms like the one that rampaged through Penang will happen more often. The RM33 million in damages will look miniature compared to what we may potentially have to spend against future floods.

According to Dr Hezri Adnan, Co-creator of The Buwana Institute, “low lying areas in Perak such as Manjung and Bagan Datuk may suffer from inundation,” (flooding). Specifically in Bagan Datuk, “many hectares of palm oil are already dying due to salt water intrusion. With sea levels rising we can expect greater economic loss. In Sungai Perak, we can expect higher rainfall and by extension more frequent floodings.”

Other coastal cities such as Melaka, Kota Kinabalu, Johor Bahru, Kuching and low lying states such as Penang and Kedah are in enormous risk.

Dr Hezri warns that if state governments do not cease the clearing of forests, this manmade hazard will only get worse. “At the rate we are going, we won’t be able to deal with floods when rain volume and intensity escalate.”

It's Not Just About Storms

It's not just about storms. Dr Renard Siew, the Climate Reality Project leader here in Malaysia explains that climate change will accelerate everything from the threats of diseases to the scarcity of essential daily necessities.

“Climate change causes an invariability of rainfall which also affects crop yield. We are already seeing about a 10-15% drop in yield annually. So food security could potentially become a threat coupled with the fact that more youths are moving away from the agriculture industry and into cities.”

Food security won’t just threaten the availability of produce we see in our local market. The unpredictable weather could put thousands of Malaysian farmers into unemployment, creating a sentiment and frustration that is ripe for violent extremism.

Dr Renard also emphasizes that Malaysia’s healthcare system could face greater challenges as dengue outbreaks are heavily linked with greater rainfall. “The rural population is especially vulnerable to vector-borne and waterborne diseases following a flood.”

Hope

Scientists have confirmed that we are now in the sixth extinction event of life on Earth. In the next seven decades, we could lose half of the specifies of life that inhabits this Earth. 99.9% of the species that have lived on this planet have come and gone extinct. There’s no guarantee that humans will make the cut.

But there’s a little hope. For a start, at least we aren’t living in a country where our leaders are openly denying climate change. The fact that our country is already living the effects of climate change makes this ignorance impossible.

So whilst leaders in Russia and the US continue to pocket millions from fossil fuel industries to deny climate change, the rest of the world will have to take the lead. Germany and China have already begun developing an economic infrastructure compatible for renewable energy. Germany now produces 32% of its national energy from solar and wind. By 2040, it predicts to reach 100%.

With the promises of TN50 and the commitment of being carbon neutral, Malaysia could potentially be a leader in a region that will be heavily scrutinized for its efforts against tremendous weather threats. We will be heading into this tumultuous future first.

“I do strongly believe there’s hope,” reiterates Dr Renard. “Already, we’re seeing countries such as the UK and France phasing out traditional combustion vehicles and moving towards electric vehicles (Solar, wind, hydro).”

Investment in renewable energy this January 2018 has skyrocketed. We are starting to move towards large scale solar (LSS). Installing a 1 megawatt LSS system can essentially give a rural town 100% electrification. Such installments are already taking place under The Asian Development Bank in the Pacific Islands.

In 1978, one solar watt used to cost 78USD. Today it will cost a mere 50 cents. Solar and wind energy is cheap. The sun will not send us a bill. The process of installing these solar and wind systems across Malaysia could create enough employment for three generations.

If we want any chance of stopping the effects of climate change, we need to be off carbon in four decades. 

There’s a lot that can potentially go wrong in these next few years however. Malaysia could elect a government that does not prioritize a shift to renewable energy. Worse, new leaders could implement populist policies such as a subsidy in petrol; all the more pulling us back to a dependency on fossil fuel energy.

This may not be the mother of all elections. But it’s an election that will potentially shape our upcoming decades. Suddenly, “giving a new government a chance” doesn’t sound all that wise.



*The writer is a special officer to a Malaysian politician. He voices his opinions in several English dailies about the local political landscape and general news.

**The views and opinions expressed in this article are strictly of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Astro AWANI.