This article first appeared in The Edge Malaysia Weekly on August 10, 2020 - August 16, 2020
THE World Economic Forum’s Climate Governance Initiative, which provides guidance for businesses to act on the risks and opportunities posed by climate change, gives hope that the corporate world will wake up to its responsibilities at this critical hour for humanity.
However, there is much cause for concern at the ground realities that are pointing to the state of the climate crisis.
For instance, the AXA insurance group in its 2019 Climate Report states that most investors are not operating in tune with the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement, which binds governments to contain global warming well below 2°C.
Rather, a business-as-usual scenario dooms the world to a temperature rise in excess of 4°C, although the investment market uses 3.7°C as a point of reference for the climate impact of current economic activity (see Figure 2).
AXA’s own investments, its climate modelling methodologies show, have a warming potential that is “well below” the widely used market reference.
“This means the investment universe is at present not aligned with the Paris climate deal,” says Climate Governance Malaysia founder Datin Seri Sunita Mei-Lin Rajakumar in an email interview with The Edge.
Even in January this year, a Reuters poll shows, a temperature score that shows how investments are contributing to climate change has been adopted by “a handful of the thousands of financial institutions worldwide”.
There is more bad news.
Writing in the Nature journal, US-based climate scientist Yangyang Xu and his colleagues warned in 2018 that although the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) Special Report “Global Warming of 1.5°C” was dire enough, it underplays the fact that global warming is accelerating.
According to the IPCC, the world will become 1.5°C warmer than it was in pre-industrial times between 2030 and 2052. However, according to the US scientists, three trends — rising emissions, declining air pollution and natural climate cycles — will combine over the next 20 years to make climate change “faster and more furious than anticipated” (see Figure 3).
It’s not as if the IPCC’s assessment is not worrying enough.
Speaking at a webinar last month on a 1.5°C warmer world with reference to Southeast Asia, Prof Joy Jacqueline Pereira, a leading climate scientist from Malaysia, discusses the scenarios that are expected to unfold if the warnings of climate science are ignored.
“At 1°C, which is the baseline evidence-based data in hand, there are so many reasons for concern as we go towards 1.5°C,” says Pereira, who is the vice-chair of IPCC’s Working Group II for its ongoing 6th Assessment Report.
“Unique and threatened systems will be at risk, and extreme weather events will be coming into play, along with distribution of impacts and global aggregated impacts as well,” she says.
In terms of specific systems, says Pereira, a continued temperature rise towards 1.5°C will impact warm water corals, which are experiencing widespread bleaching. There will also be problems with fisheries, the arctic regions, coastal and river plain flooding and heat-related illness and deaths (see Figure 4).
Malaysia’s current climate change report to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) shows that its temperature, rainfall and sea levels have been rising for the past four decades, a trend that is projected to continue for the next 30 years.
Average temperatures in Malaysia are projected to increase by between 1.2°C and 1.6°C by 2050, the report states.
There are various implications, such as higher flood levels, extreme weather events and extreme heat days, which would affect many aspects of business, says Sunita.
“These impacts include supply chain interruptions from ports to roads, utilities being affected with much of our power generation capacity located by the coastline, extreme heat days affecting persons working outdoors in the plantation, construction and oil and gas industries, shortages in water — a critical component of many manufacturing processes — and supply chains,” she says (see Figure 5).
“Although 1.5°C of warming is a certainty, already baked into the global climate system, we do not have a national level report based on scientific findings describing what a 1.5°C warmer Malaysia would look like,” says Sunita.
Malaysia has tried to address the issue by focusing on the sectors that make the biggest contribution to greenhouse gases.
The country’s carbon emissions are mostly produced by its urban population, where energy generation makes up 80% of total emissions, United Nations Development Programme Malaysia environment analyst Nasha Lee writes in a blogpost on the country’s response to the climate emergency.
Therefore reducing emissions in the energy sector holds enormous potential for both carbon and cost savings, she says. Already, over 50 local authorities, including Kuala Lumpur, Iskandar Malaysia, Seberang Perai and Melaka, are part of the Low Carbon City Framework Programme, which encourages strategies and actions to reduce carbon emissions at the local level.
In addition, Malaysia’s 2018 report to UNFCCC states that development policy has shifted away from petroleum products towards the promotion of renewable energy. Greater emphasis has been placed on developing an efficient and integrated transport system. In agriculture, sustainable practices have been introduced and efforts to improve solid waste management are underway, the report states.
Clearly, the scale of the climate crisis requires a much more robust response from policymakers. Nevertheless, every incremental improvement in environmental governance will pay dividends.
Environmental groups, including the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), have been recommending that the government’s pledge to maintain 50% of the country’s land under forest cover should be enshrined in policy.
“WWF’s analysis shows that Malaysia has already legislated 48.02% of our total land area. Surely we can easily legislate another 1.98% to meet that 50% target,” says WWF Malaysia Head of Policy and Climate Change Lavanya Rama Iyer in an email comment.
Furthermore, this would be in alignment with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, which Malaysia is committed to promote.
With such a grim outlook, it is no wonder that the young, led by activists like Greta Thunberg, are leaving their classrooms and taking to the streets.
In September last year, millions of people in some 185 countries took part in the biggest ever climate protest in history, demanding urgent action to address the issue.
As another year rolls by without the drastic measures being adopted to prevent the inevitable global upheaval arising from the climate crisis, Thunberg’s admonition to the world’s leaders echoes long after she delivered her scathing address at the United Nations: How dare you?
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