THE Katowice Climate Package – ie, the rule book on climate change that was agreed to earlier this month in Katowice, Poland – is disappointing in that it did not make a strong resounding call for enhanced ambition to limit global warming to 1.5°C.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) special report on what will happen when the planet warms to 1.5°C above preindustrial levels has already indicated that climate change impacts are worse at 2°C above preindustrial levels, and that a number of impacts could be avoided by limiting global warming to 1.5°C compared to 2°C above preindustrial levels.
The latest United Nations Environment Programme emissions gap report indicates that holding warming below 1.5°C would require existing pledges to be “increased around fivefold”. What is worse: global emissions are expected to grow by 2.7% in 2018, the highest growth in the past seven years, according to the Global Carbon Project.
The IPCC was formally invited by governments to produce the special report as part of the decision to adopt the Paris Agreement. It is most unfortunate that the United States, Saudi Arabia, Russia and Kuwait have refused to accept the report on the basis of its knowledge and scientific gaps.
The best available science was used to conclude that the world is already seeing the consequences of 1°C of global warming through more extreme weather, rising sea levels and diminishing Arctic sea ice, among other changes.
A number of climate change impacts could be avoided by limiting global warming to 1.5°C compared to 2°C, or more. Every extra bit of warming matters, especially since a warming of 1.5°C or higher increases the risk associated with long-lasting or irreversible changes, such as the loss of some ecosystems.
The implications of climate change for Malaysia in a world that warms by 1.5°C has to be comprehensively studied. However, in the absence of such studies, the Malaysian government must use the best available information and take a precautionary approach.
Based on the IPCC special report, tropical South-East Asia, which includes Malaysia, is projected to experience the largest impacts on economic growth if global warming exceeds 1.5°C.
Other expected impacts include increase in the number of hot days and heavy rains, higher risks of floods, flash-floods and landslides, net reductions in yields and nutritional value of rice as well as populations that are both exposed and susceptible to poverty, particularly those dependent on agriculture and coastal livelihood.
As the sea-level rises, much of the low-lying coasts in areas of South-East and adjacent South Asia are expected to be affected, bringing new migration and security issues for the region.
Unlike China and India, Malaysia does not have the luxury of tracts of temperate land that could help the country to buffer or withstand the impacts of climate change, as warming proceeds to 1.5°C and then on to 2°C. Scientifically robust programmes should be initiated to document and report on the unavoidable damages of climate change and efforts to address them, including gaps in capacity.
Such a report should be provided every two years and then included as part of the global stock-take that will be conducted in 2023.
The Katowice Climate Package is a missed opportunity for Malaysia to show leadership and make a strong call to limit global warming to 1.5°C.
It is still not too late – we can still show strong leadership at the Climate Summit to be convened by the UN Secretary-General in September 2019.
All efforts should be deployed in bilateral and multilateral platforms to push for unprecedented and ambitious fresh pledges in 2020 from both developed and developing top-emitting countries. Malaysia should also be an example and set ambitious targets and take unprecedented actions, including innovative mechanisms for removing fossil fuel subsidies and implementing a carbon tax without impacting low income groups. Singapore is introducing a carbon tax in 2019.
We should incentivise private financing and avail ourselves of resources available at the international level, including the Green Climate Fund, to enhance mitigation actions.
We have clever economists in the country whose talents have not been tapped to address the issue of climate change, we also have an Economic Affairs Ministry. The time has come for climate change to be viewed as an economic and development issue, to leap-frog the country into a high-income developed nation.
We should not be victims in a 1.5°C world.
Prof Dr Joy Jacqueline Pereira is the vice-chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Working Group 2 on Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability; she is also a professor of Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia’s South-East Asia Disaster Prevention Research Initiative.