How many more disasters till we take climate change seriously?

Climate change. The Secretary-General of the United Nations (“UN”) sees it as ‘the defining issue of our era’. The international community see it as a serious issue and a great challenge to all of mankind (World Summit Outcome 2005, UN Doc A/Res/60/1). To combat the effects of climate change, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Kyoto Protocol were adopted. It has been almost 22 years since the adoption of the former and 9 years for the latter.

Both these conventions have failed to achieve its purpose of emission reduction due to ineffective implementation. Developed countries, which top the list of countries with highest carbon emissions, are unwilling to take active measures to comply with regulations imposed by environmental conventions. This is most likely because such measures would weaken a state’s political and economic strength.

Climate change and global warming refer to the increase in average global temperature. One of the most severe effects of climate change is the rise of sea level. This carries grave consequences on low lying island states. For example, a 0.49 meter rise in sea level would cause significant portions of Maldives to be severely inundated by 2100. At the current rate of sea level rise, 15 per cent of its capital island, Male, where 30,000 of its nationals live, would be submerged by 2025 and 50 per cent submerged by 2100.

Kiribati and Tuvalu will also be severely affected by climate change. They face the scenario of having their entire territory submerged underwater. This is what Hon. Teleke P. Lauti, a member of the cabinet of Tuvalu, had to say on climate change:

“The sea is our very close neighbour. In fact, on the island where I live, Funafuti, it is possible to throw a stone from the one side of the island to the other. Our islands are very low-lying. When a cyclone hits us there is no place to escape. We cannot climb any mountains or move away to take refuge. It is hard to describe the effects of a cyclonic storm surge when it washes right across our islands. I would not want to wish this experience on anyone. The devastation is beyond description. This concern is so serious for our people, that the cabinet, in which I am a member, has been exploring the possibility of buying land in a nearby country, in case we become refugees to the impacts of climate change.”

Concerns raised by official from these countries have fallen to deaf ears in the international community. The rate of sea level rise is increasing, as noted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Coming back to home, Malaysia has one of the highest rate of deforestation over the past few years. The issue of widespread logging both in the East Coast and Peninsular Malaysia has plagued this country since the 90’s. Deforestation has a big impact on climate change. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out why as climate change is caused by the build-up of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere.

Climate change is the cause for most of the recent natural disasters. Over the last two decades, the number of recorded natural disasters has doubled from some 200 to over 400 per year. I must point out that climate change causes change in rainfall patterns which leads to floods (The UN Refugee Agency: Climate Change, Natural Disasters and Human Displacement: a UNHCR Perspective).

Tons of summits and conferences have been organised to “combat” climate change. The fact is, it has been all talk and no action. In the case of submerging states, the superpowers are major contributors to climate change, but the states suffering are small and poor states. In a local context, a few individuals reap the profit from widespread logging, but the ones that suffer are thousands of innocent citizens.

One must really wonder, how can such human beings delve in their unconscionable wealth while thousands suffer due to their actions and inactions? Humanity still exist, but it is dead where it is needed the most.

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