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Letter to Editor: Malaysia’s floods a further sign of climate change

Dear Editor,

WWF-Malaysia is deeply saddened by the loss of lives and properties from the recent severe floods and landslides throughout Peninsular Malaysia. Our thoughts are with the families who have lost loved ones, a roof over their heads, their security and livelihoods. At this point in time, our priority should be the health, safety and well-being of all those affected by the floods. Nonetheless, the current situation also underlines the need for urgent action to rebalance our relationship with nature.

The occurrence of torrential rains over the past week should not be a surprise. Even though rainy days are par for the course during the annual monsoon season, the Malaysian Meteorological Department had provided information and issued warnings since mid-December on the heavy and continuous rainfall which caused the massive floods and landslides in the country. This extreme weather condition is, in fact, one of the results of global warming, caused by the rising carbon emissions from human activities. 

Globally, extreme weather associated with global warming are causing catastrophes on a massive scale. The severe floods which happened over the weekend is further proof that Malaysia is not spared. Our nation faces significant climate risks in the long term, with low-lying coastlines becoming increasingly vulnerable to the impacts of rising sea levels. Extreme weather patterns are also increasingly threatening basic necessities like our water and food security, public health, as well as resources that support our economy, including the infrastructure we have invested into. 

To combat the impacts of climate change and global warming, we need a combined and comprehensive approach. The first approach is to build climate resilience by adapting to the inevitable impact of climate change, and secondly, through climate mitigation to reduce carbon emissions, resulting in net zero emissions.

The first key measure to address these two approaches is by phasing out coal from power generation. This is crucial; hence, it is encouraging to see that Malaysia has recently taken a “no coal” position. Our nation has substantial potential to harness renewable energy in terms of solar energy, hydropower, and biomass. To reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, we must emphasise on green investments such as renewables, public transportation, low carbon mobility and energy efficiency. We need to be competitive, by decarbonising our energy and to support the transition to a low carbon economy in the manufacturing and transportation sectors. Given falling technology costs in renewable energy sources, we can also gain benefits through embracing solar and battery storage technologies, while driving a green economy agenda. 

Secondly, Nature-Based Solutions must be prioritised. We should leverage on the country’s rich natural capital, which provides us with a vital opportunity to protect our environment, reduce our carbon footprint and, at the same time, create a competitive advantage. We need to protect our natural forests as a carbon sink to capture emissions, and undertake forest restoration to mitigate the impacts of climate change. Retaining at least 50% of our land mass is crucial in keeping our forests intact to capture emissions, and we should strive to keep this carbon asset for domestic use to make our economy more competitive and generate multiplier effects. One example of this multiplier effect is that these forests also act as a sponge, storing rainwater and reducing the impacts of flash floods.

Given the close link between the environment and human health, livelihoods, water and food security, it has never been more urgent that environmental protection, conservation and sustainable management is mainstreamed at all levels. The evidence is irrefutable: Greenhouse Gas emissions from fossil fuel burning, deforestation, and other human activities are suffocating our planet and putting billions of people at immediate risk. 

Restoring our planet’s health requires all of our efforts, from the government to the private sector and the public as a whole. We must act now, and act together, to ensure a rapid transition towards a low carbon economy. Together, we can prevent the coming disasters of climate change, nature loss and environmental destruction. 

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