Climate Change Impacts: How Prepared are we?

Opening remarks by Ms. Meena Raman, Climate Change Programme Coordinator. 

Good morning and welcome to our public forum.

TWN is an international organisation, head-quartered in Malaysia, and is very actively engaged at the global level on a multitude of issues including environment, climate change, sustainable development, as well as globalisation and trade.

We have been very active on the climate front, engaging at the international level on negotiations under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and its Paris Agreement.

As is well evident by now, we are facing a climate emergency.

The Paris Agreement goal is to limit temperature rise to well-below 2°C compared to pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit temperature rise to 1.5°C.

The fact is that the planet’s average surface temperature has increased by 1 °Csince pre-industrial times over 100 years ago. This change has been driven largely by increased carbon dioxide and other human-made emissions into the atmosphere.

A 1°C rise does not seem like much. Yet, we are already witnessing dramatic changes in the climate, such as rainfall intensities which have not been heard of before, as well as extreme weather events which are unprecedented, including category 5 hurricanes most recently experienced in Bahamas and Japan, with devastating consequences.

Most of the warming has occurred in the past 35 years, with the warmest years on record taking place since 2010.

A recent report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) states that global warming is likely to reach 1.5°C between 2030 and 2052 if emissions continue to increase at the current rate. Some have even predicted that the 1.5°C level will be breached much sooner rather than later.

Analysis of the Paris Agreement contributions of the emission cuts that countries have pledged to undertake from 2021 onwards to 2030 will take us on a path to a 3 to 4 °C world.

Such a scenario is indeed frightening and catastrophic in terms of the climate change impacts we will be witnessing. The world will not be the same as we know it now!

We will hear from our scientists at this forum on what the latest scientific reports from the IPCCC are telling us on the impacts we are already seeing and will see in the coming decades.

In a most recent report published just a few days ago and reported by CNN,[1] new findings by researchers (as a result of new advances in elevation modelling technology) put nearly three times as many people in coastal areas at risk from flooding than previously thought.

The researchers from Climate Central (a US-based non-profit institution), predict that over the next three decades, hundreds of millions of people worldwide are at risk of losing their homes as entire cities sink under rising seas.

According to the report, global sea levels are expected to rise between two to seven feet (0.6 meters to 2.1 meters) — and possibly more — over the course of the 21st century.

As many as 150 million people are currently living on land that will be below the high-tide line by 2050, three times more than previously thought[2]. By 2100, land that is home to 200 million people could sit permanently below the high tide line, rendering those coastal areas all but unliveable.

Asia is one of the most vulnerable regions to rising sea levels. Without enough sea defences, entire coastal cities could be wiped out in some places.

It is reported that some 70% of the people at risk of yearly floods and permanent inundation are in eight Asian countries: China, Bangladesh, India, Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines, and Japan.

These are astonishing predictions, arising from the increasing rates of melting of major ice sheets such as from Greenland and the Antarctic.

According to the IPCC, Greenland is melting the fastest and has lost more than 275 gigatons of mass on average per year between 2006 and 2015, while the even larger Antarctic ice sheet has had its mass loss triple between 2007 and 2016 compared to the previous 10 years.

There is enough warning that coastal communities worldwide must prepare themselves for much more difficult futures than may be currently anticipated.

Yet, what is most startling is the apparent lack of sufficient preparedness in many cities and countries around the world, including our own in Malaysia, in addressing these possible climate impacts.

According to another research[3], more than two in three cities around the world are already noticing the effects of climate change, from more heatwaves to worsening flooding, but few have effective plans in place to deal with the threats.

Apparently, budget restrictions are a key reason cities say they are failing to act, particularly on long-term threats. 530 cities around the world (with a population of 517 million people), reported on the climate hazards they face to a London-based organisation (Carbon Disclosure Project), but just under half said they had done a vulnerability assessment on their climate risks.

Clearly, all this shows that we are not planning or preparing adequately or at all for the current and impending climate impacts.

Many questions arise in this regard.

Are our policy-makers and planners at all levels of government, including the architects and engineers sufficiently aware of the current and impending impacts of climate change?

Are we planning for the future threats and disasters?

Even if there is some awareness about what the latest science is telling us, are the policies, plans and measures being put in place to secure the future of our communities and countries from these climate risks and impacts?

Clearly, the time for ‘business-as-usual’ approaches or token measures is over.

We can no longer ignore what the science is telling us.

We have to sound the alarm bells even louder and adapt (if possible) to the ‘new-normal’ of climate change impacts. We have to also be ready to face situations where adaptation is no longer possible.

The impetus for this public forum stems from grave concerns that we are not planning for the future risks.

We see the promotion of massive‘business-as-usual’ infrastructure projects of highways, tunnels, reclamationworks and building construction, with little or no regard for climate change risks and impacts.

There does not seem to be enough consideration given to whether such projects contribute to increasing climate resilience or if they undermine them?

This question does not seem to even arise in our consciousness in most instances.

In Singapore, for instance, addressing the challenges of climate risks and impacts are already on board at the highest level of government, with the Prime Minister himself talking about climate change risks for the island state in his most recent national day speech. It has been estimated that it would cost S$ 100 billion or more to protect the island state against rising sea levels, and measures are being undertaken with a long-term perspective.

Surely, we too should also be embarking on investing in adaptation plans and measures that build the country’s climate resilience.

Urgent responses are needed now and we can learn from what other countries are already doing. There are also international funds available to us, such as the UNFCCC’s Green Climate Fund that has resources to help countries cope with the climate challenge.

This is why we have gathered at this forum, a panel of speakers from South-Asia and South-East Asia, who will share with us the preparations their countries are doing in their respective countries.

Several speakers will also touch on what international responses and mechanisms are in place to assist developing countries to address the climate action, both for mitigation (to reduce emissions) as well as adaptation.

We are most grateful for the presence of Dr. Nagulendran, the Deputy-Secretary-General from MESTECC, who has kindly agreed to officiate this event. We hope to of course learn from him about the Ministry’s plans.

Clearly, all over the world, there has to be a re-set button in the way we do thingsto secure our futures, in a climate changing world. We have to begin to relook at everything we do from a climate change lens. For otherwise, we will be making wrong investments that will not be sustainable in the long-run, and which would be a colossal waste of scare public resources.

Urgent adaptation plans, that include ecosystem-based approaches are needed to ensure buildings,infrastructure and coastal areas are resilient to storms, increased rain, withstand floodsand sea level rise, etc. Forest and soil conservation measures,including the protection of watersheds and rivers to prevent and mitigate against floods, turning urban areas into “sponge cities”, and the strengthening of our coastlines through mangrove forest protection and rehabilitation are all vital parts of the plan.More comprehensive measures are also needed in dealing with droughts, heatwaves, water-shortages, impacts on agriculture, health, extreme weather and disasters.

Clearly, a lot needs to be done.

This public forum is our initial small effort at bringing more awareness about the urgent need to adapt, build climate resilience and address loss and damage in our region.

We hope that you will all stay till the end of the forum, and be part of a community that is seriously engaged in climate action for a better and safer world.





Presentations at the forum have been shared on the link below :