Are we ready for climate change?

by Yeo Bee Yin

Super Typhoon Haiyan poses a question to all Malaysians – are we ready for “climate change madness”? We call upon the government to embark on a comprehensive National Climate Change Adaptation and Extreme Weather Disaster Risk Management Program.

“Climate change madness” is a term popularized by the international media based on the emotional speech by Mr Yeb Sano, the head of Philippines delegates, at the opening session of United Nations Climate Talks. The questions for us in Malaysia are: how “mad” is climate change and are we ready to handle “climate change madness”?

Unlike many who would like to think that climate change could be reversed by greenhouse gases (GHG) emission reduction, scientists tell us that while the pace of climate change depends on the GHG emission reduction, climate change is inevitable. (The globe is a big mass body and the atmospheric carbon takes decades/centuries to reach new equilibrium.)

Climatically, climate change in Malaysia will mean increase in total heavy rainfalls, rising mean sea level and possibly extreme weather. Climate change is not only about extreme weather, global warming will also give impacts to water, ecosystems, food, coasts and health depending on the extent of global warming as shown in Figure 1.

According to the fifth Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, if GHG emissions are reduced significantly, the rise in global temperature will be about 2 degree Celsius towards the end of century. However, with no action it is likely that the temperature could be more than 4 degree Celcius higher. 2 degree Celcius will lead to increased floods and storms, wider spread of diseases and increased risk of extinction of certain species while 4 degree Celcius will lead to millions of people exposed to increased water stress and coastal flooding, significant extinctions, extreme food shortages and severe health impact.

Is Malaysia ready for 2 and 4 degree Celcius increase? We as a nation need to be prepared for two things in the face of “climate change madness” – to adapt to the impacts caused by the gradual increase of temperature in water, ecosystems, food, coasts and health as well as to prepare a comprehensive disaster emergency relief plan in the event of historical heavy downpour or extreme weather. We need to anticipate the negative effects of climate change and take appropriate action to prevent or minimize the damage or take advantage of the opportunities that may arise.

Both climate change adaptation and disaster risk management of extreme weathers are multi-faceted. To ensure that Malaysia is fully prepared to face the “climate change madness”, we call upon the Environment Management and Climate Change division from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment to embark on a comprehensive National Climate Change Adaptation and Extreme Weather Disaster Risk Management Program.

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