Key ASEAN cities feeling the heat of climate change

Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, and Jakarta face the risk of suffering ‘unprecedented climate change’ by the year 2050.

In a study conducted among 520 cities, Swiss research group Crowther Lab, affiliated with Zurich-based ETH, posit that these mega-cities in Southeast Asia could experience ‘more intense dry and monsoon seasons’, says Jean Francois Bastin, lead author of the report.

Rising temperatures are contributing to the melting of kilometres-thick ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica into the ocean, causing global sea levels to increase by as much as one metre by the turn of this century.

The report’s dire news comes as no big surprise for Malaysia. Prone to frequent episodes of extreme flooding and dry spells in the past couple of years, Malaysia has among its ASEAN peers one of the highest urban populations concentrated in low-lying coastal areas.

Despite being a signatory to the Paris Climate Agreement together with 195 other nations, Malaysia has yet to develop a concrete nor viable mitigation and adaptation plan to date.

In fact, newly minted minister of Energy, Green Technology, Science, and Climate Change, Yeo Bee Yin, pointed out in an interview last year that “two years after the country signed the Paris Agreement, nothing much has been done”.

On the other side of the Causeway, Singaporeans too are feeling the effects of hotter weather and heavier tropical storms.

But unlike in Malaysia, climate change here is a matter of national security, likened to the Armed Forces’ job of defending the nation’s sovereignty. Given limited options for escaping to higher areas in the event of an inundation, Singapore is right to feel the heat of global warming and climate change.

In his National Day address on August 18th, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced the building of a polder at Pulau Tekong, slated for completion in 2022. This Dutch contraption involves building a wall in the sea whilst pumping water from behind the structure to prevent water from entering.

The project, among others, forms part of a 100 Billion SGD ($72 Billion) national initiative to tackle rising sea levels. Not only could polders protect low-lying areas, they allow for reclaiming of crucial land for housing and other development purposes.

No shortage of solutions exist in this Lion City of infrastructural marvels and engineering feats. Environmentalists, however, caution that focusing exclusively on adaptation initiatives is insufficient to survive changing global climate conditions. Mitigation efforts such as carbon emission reduction, waste reduction, and encouraging renewable energy need to also be part of the national conversation.

Nature-based solutions in the form of mangrove forests too, can serve multiple functions while proving to be far more resilient than engineering projects. These natural wildlife habitats adjust naturally to changing sea levels, protecting inland coasts.

Malaysia has plenty to borrow from its neighbour in terms of exerting political will and marshalling national resources in its survival against imminent climate catastrophes.

Photo by Hu Chen on Unsplash