How does climate change affect us?

The challenge in Malaysia has always been to make issues of climate change relevant to the larger population. With the exception of some millennial, activists, and environmental NGOs, most of us tend to think of climate change as a distant threat, less important or relevant than day-to-day problems like rising living costs and stagnating wages. 

Academic evidence, however, indicates otherwise.

1. An Earth System Dynamics study indicates that 2°C of warming would cause an average total sea-level rise (SLR) of 50cm, putting low-lying regions of the Earth at high risk of intense flooding. Malaysia will not be spared such misery. 

2. The National Hydraulic Research Institute of Malaysia (NAHRIM) confirms these grim predictions and finds East Malaysia is likely to face an even higher SLR.  

3. Flooding will create a significant number of ‘climate change refugees’. If the global failure to deal with the comparatively low count of Syrian refugees is any indication, we may end up failing at-risk populations on the Indian subcontinent, and across SEA – including at-risk Malaysians. 

4. The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) finds that a single-degree rise in mean surface temperatures would “reduce average global yields of wheat by 6%, rice by 3.2%, maize by 7.4%, and soybean by 3.1%”. 

5. Research indicates that rising temperatures will severely impact rice production in Malaysia, reducing yields by over 12% during peak seasons, and by almost a third during off-peak seasons. 

6. Oil palm yields are projected to fall by 30%, and rubber yields by 10%. Combined, these two industries would see a direct annual economic loss of RM5.5 billion. 

7. 90% of coral reefs along the Malaysian coastline will be at risk of severe degradation. Furthermore, ocean acidification raises the health hazards associated with seafood consumption. All this will adversely affect national food security and hamper the livelihoods of Malaysian agricultural workers. 

8. Breaching the 2°C limit will make the availability of clean water an extremely pressing issue, leading to higher concentrations of pollutants in water bodies.  

9. Terrestrial ecosystems will also be at risk. Pest outbreaks and mosquito-borne diseases such as malaria and dengue – already major health hazards in Malaysia – will be more common moving forward. 

10. Hotter temperatures are associated with higher mortality, lower productivity, and more conflict. Extreme weather events – think typhoons and tsunamis – will also rise in frequency and intensity, and likely exacerbate some of the aforementioned issues. 

These impacts, while not exhaustive, provide a compelling enough case for Malaysia, and the rest of the world, to take action on climate change now.

* Extract from The Malaysian Insight

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