At the Precipice of Irreversible Climate Change

Jun 4, 2016


By the United Nations Development Programme in Malaysia

Climate change has, and will alter life on earth for years to come. As the biggest challenge of our generation, the impacts that come along with climate change include altered ecosystems and habitats, erratic climate and weather extremes, and risks to human health and society.

Understanding the effects of climate change still presents a challenge to the public and only recently has climate change been a topic of discussions at warongs and coffee shops, as we start to see worrying trends in our own backyards.

In 2014, we saw mini tornadoes that swept through Kedah and the heavy floods in Pahang, Kelantan and Terengganu due to  the extreme weather event and exacerbated by uncontrolled land management and exploitation of natural resources.  During the El Nino season, many water catchments and dams around the country were at critical levels; resulting in water shortages and the recent extreme temperatures, which wreaked havoc on many ecosystems. The abnormally hot weather also affected productivity, as heat stress left workers unable to perform physical activity.  The flipside of these changes in rainfall is the occurrence of flash floods, which have now become a new norm in many parts of the country.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has highlighted that human influence has been the dominant cause of observed warming since 1950. Global greenhouse gas emissions caused by human activities have increased by almost 50 percent since 1990, leading to a marked increase in the average global temperature.   Scientists now have agreed on a threshold of two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial limits as the amount of warming humanity can tolerate before experiencing the most destructive and dangerous effects of climate change (i.e. the tipping point of irreversible climate change). If we continue  “business as usual” , we are likely to exceed this threshold by the end of this century.

On this World Environment Day, let’s ask ourselves this question: Can we change the direction before we go over the edge?

Two recently UN-endorsed events breathed new life into the complex challenge of combating climate change on a global level. In September 2015, nations of the world signed the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), an international set of goals, targets and indicators. The 17 SDGs include SDG13: “Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts”, and recognises climate change as an area of critical importance for humanity and the planet. The actions taken to achieve the goals of the SDG13 also supports the achievement of SDG7: to “Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and reliable modern energy for all”. 

On 22nd April 2016, Malaysia signed the Paris Agreement together with 176 other nations. The Paris Agreement is the outcome of the 21st Conference of Parties (COP) which marks the world’s biggest leap forward in climate change policy in history, giving hope that countries can commit to reducing dangerous greenhouse gas emissions.

Malaysia is no exception to the Paris Agreement and has committed  to reduce its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions intensity of GDP by 45% by 2030 relative to the emissions intensity of GDP in 2005. This consists of a 35% reduction on an unconditional basis and a further 10%conditioned upon receipt of climate finance, technology transfer and capacity building from developed countries.  The Paris Agreement will come into effect in 2020, empowering all countries to act to combat climate change and to take advantage of the many opportunities that arise from a necessary global transformation to a low-emissions pathway.

A variety of initiatives are currently being implemented as a joint effort between the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the government  to catalyse low-carbon development and to achieve our climate targets. The Third National Communications and Biennial Update Report project with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment provides policy and technical support, enabling Malaysia to carry out  robust analysis of its GHG inventories and report on mitigation measures and adaptation strategies; while initiatives such as  the Building Sector Energy Efficiency Project (BSEEP) with Public Works Department, the Green Technology Application for the Development of Low Carbon Cities (GTALCC) project with Ministry of Energy, Green Technology and Water and the recently initiated Demand Side Management project with the Economic Planning Unit (EPU) address climate change mitigation.

Though climate change is a complex challenge, it also presents countries with opportunities. Innovative products and new technologies are emerging to help reduce our reliance on fossil fuels, limiting our impact on the environment. At this critical juncture, Malaysia has two options: to strive for a low-carbon pathway, or to go with “business as usual”, putting at risk all the development gains we have made in the past decades. No doubt the answer is to change direction and adopt a low emissions development strategy for a better future.




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