Ignore global warming at our own peril

TURNING LANDFILLS INTO ASSETS: Capturing landfill gases will help eliminate atmospheric pollution. Moreover, methane can be used to generate electricity.

GLOBAL warming or climate change is here to stay. In fact, it is manifesting its Sahara-like presence sooner than anticipated.

But what does this drastic change in global weather patterns mean to the general public? What has triggered the onset of this atmospheric phenomenon and are there ways to mitigate its impact?

In essence, what is global warming?

Shedding light on the subject, Datu Dr Penguang Manggil, permanent secretary to the Local Government and Community Development Ministry, said in layman’s term, global warming is the increase in average temperature of the Earth’s near-surface air and oceans – since the mid-20th century – and its projected continuation.

“During the last 100 years, ending 2005, the global surface temperature has increased by 0.74 to 0.18oC, attributed mainly to the increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations such as carbon dioxide, methane and ozone.

“These gases in the Earth’s atmosphere act like a greenhouse roof, letting in enough of the sun’s heat to keep the Earth warm for humans, animals and plants to live. Human activities over the last hundred years had greatly increased the concentration of these gases, causing the atmosphere to hold in too much heat.

“Based on the climate model projections, the global surface temperature will likely increase by further 1.1 to 6.4oC in the 21st century,” explained Dr Penguang, who holds a PhD in sustainable forest management.

“Climate change, on the other hand, is the long-term significant change in the expected average mweather patterns of a specific region or more relevantly, to contemporary socio-political concerns of the Earth as a whole over an appropriately significant period of time,” he added.

Dr Penguang reiterated that global warming is caused by increase in the concentration of anthrogenic greenhouse gases – most significantly carbon dioxide (CO2) which is released when coal, oil, gasoline, natural gas and other fossil fuels are burnt to produce electricity, heat and cool buildings and power vehicles.

CARING FOR ENVIRONMENT: (From left) Ngieng and others pouring enzyme into the river in a symbolic gesture to protect the environment.

C02 in atmosphere has increased exponentially

According to Dr Penguang, the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere has increased exponentially from 280 parts per million (ppm) in the beginning of the Industrial Revolution in Europe to about 390 ppm today, and is rising by 1.5 to 2 ppm annually.

The Inter-governmental panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report on Emissions Scenarios gave a wide range of future CO2 scenarios, ranging from 541 to 970 ppm by the 2100, he said, adding that reputable scientists had emphasised CO2 concentration must be kept below 450 ppm otherwise the costs of adapting to a warmer world “will not be bearable.”

“The other greenhouse gas is methane, which is released to the atmosphere when wastes in landfills, plants  and other biomass decompose. The increase in the concentration of GHGs is also caused by land use,  land use changes, and clearing of green areas, including those at your backyards.”

What are the effects of global warming on humankind?

Dr Penguang reckoned the phenomenon would have serious impacts if nothing were done to halt or even reverse it.

“Among some of the effects on both the natural environment and human life are changes in rainfall  patterns – like what we experienced when we had more rainfalls and more rainy days in 2007 and 2008.

Other worrying signs include increasingly intense and frequent hurricanes; floods, droughts and other weather events; lowering of ocean pH; oxygen depletion in the oceans; spread of diseases such as malaria, dengue fever, lyme disease, plague and cholera; reduction in ozone layer; food and water scarcity and possible submersion of low-lying cities and coastal land,” he said.

In the Malaysian context, the recent floods in Johor and Sarawak, and the typhoon-like winds and storms are tell-tale signs that global warming is coming – and now.

Dr Penguang warned the tropics was expanding pole-wards and this would have far-reaching impacts, notably in intensifying water scarcity in the Mediterranean and the US “sun belt” as well as Southern Africa and Southern Australia.

“The general agreement among climate scientists that global temperatures will continue to increase has led some nations, states, corporations and individuals to implement responses – that is adapting to the effects of global warming and reducing or even reversing global warming itself. The latter is referred to as mitigation and includes both emissions reduction and speculatively geo-engineering.”

USE OF ORGANIC WASTE: Organic waste such as fruit peels and vegetables are later turned into compost.

COMPOSTING: Compost obtained through pallet-composting process.

Kyoto Protocol

The World’s primary international agreement on combatting global warming is the Kyoto Protocol,an amend-ment to the UNFCCC negotiated in 1997, whereby the Annex 1 Countries (Developed and Industrialised Coun-tries) are required to reduce their GHGs emissions by five per cent that of the 1990 levels through a greenhouse gas emission trading scheme known as the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), impose a quota on world-wide fossil fuel production, increase energy efficiency and move towards use of alternative environment-friendly fuels.

Dr Penguang said the Kyoto Protocol has more than 160 member states globally and covers over 55 per cent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. Only the US, historically the world’s largest GHGs emitter, and Kazakhstan have not ratified the treaty which expired in 2012.

He added that international dialogues had already begun on a future treaty to succeed the Kyoto Protocol.

On what local governments can do to help mitigate the effects of global warming, Dr Penguang said environmental protection is everyone’s responsibility because whatever each individual does will have some impact on environmental quality – that is carbon foot print, be it in the air, water or soil media.

“The local authorities, being the captains of the community in each district or municipality, have a very important role to play in that they act as the drivers of change as well as an agent of the government to initiate and implement the policy framework which could have serious impacts on our environmental quality.

“As custodian of our environment and promoter of environmental protection and management at the ground level, the local government can put in place some green initiatives and measures to help mitigate the effects of global warming.

“In fact, a few local authorities in Sarawak have implemented some of these initiatives either on their own or under the directive of our ministry. Among them is Green Your Fleet whereby the local authorities can improve energy efficiency of  vehicles by retiring old and underused ones, enact orders or rules to re-purchase fuel efficient vehicles and promote car-pooling as well as mass-transit travel for employees of big corporations/companies.”

Switch to LEDs

Dr Penguang suggested local authorities switch to Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs) fixtures for street lightings, traffic signals, stadiums, public parks and the like.

“LEDs consume 80 to 90 per cent less energy than conventional lights. For example, an 18-watt LEDs can emit as much light as a 150-watt standard incandescent bulb. LEDs also last six to 10 times longer, hence further reducing costs through decreased maintenance.”

He believed government buildings were perfect “energy efficiency” candidates as they could be retro-fitted with new ventilation, and cooling systems, energy-efficient lightings and better insulation.

This, he pointed out, would help reduce electricity bills and maintenance costs – and improve comfort.

On green power, Dr Penguang said the local authorities could use electric utility deregulation to produce less polluting renewable power such as solar energy, power from landfills and hydro electric power.

He suggested the local authorities turn their landfills into an economic asset by recovering landfill methane and converting it for positive use such as electricity production.

Reiterating that increased greenhouse gas concentration stemmed from land use, land use changes and clearing of green areas, including those at one’s backyard, Dr Penguang said paper, plant and food materials as well as other organic wastes produced methane gas as they decomposed and capturing landfill gases would help eliminate this pollution, “and as a bonus, methane can be used to generate electricity.”

“This is being done at the Mambong Integrated Waste Management Park near Kuching, and the closed Air Hitam Sanitary landfill in Selangor which produces two megawatts of electricity. Besides, properly closed and rehabilitated landfills can also be converted into playgrounds and recreational parks,” he noted.

GREEN THE ENVIRONMENT: An SMC officer urging the public to go recycle bags for a greener environment.

No clear-cut policies

Meanwhile, asked if the Sibu Municipal Council (SMC) would consider such an initiative, its deputy chairman Daniel Ngieng said generally, there were no clear-cut government policies to convert landfills in the Division into integrated waste management centres.

“The Mambong Integrated Waste Management Park is categorised as a private initiative – and we also don’t have any technical input and engineering structure to do the same thing. Of course, the council is concerned about the impact of greenhouse hazards on society. As such, the council will continue to effectively play its role, especially in turning Sibu into a livable place,” Ngieng assured.

According to Dr Penguang, the Reduce, Reuse, Recycle (3R) initiative has also been implemented.

“Malaysians generate about 20,000 tonnes of household solid waste daily, of which 4,000 to 5,000 tonnes are plastic and they produce a lot of greenhouse gases. Hence, recycling is encouraged as it will reduce the GHGs in two ways – first, goods made of recycled materials use less energy and secondly, if more household wastes are recycled, the landfills will produce less GHGs, and cleaner air as a result,” he said.

The Sibu Municipal Council (SMC) has revealed plastic made up 14.5 per cent of the total waste dumped at the Kemuyang Landfills. Other recyclable items such as paper and paper cartons made up 10.51 and 8.8 per cent respectively.

Ngieng noted: “While recyclable items make their way there, the contractor in charge manages the segregation of waste for recycling.”

Asked whether the “Say No To Plastic Bags” campaigns on Mondays were living up to expectations and if so, what was the percentage of reduction, he said there was actually no such statistic or data right after the launch but assured in future, the council would work out the monthly usage of plastic bags at commercial outlets and analyse plastic use reduction based on the recycling report of the Kemuyang Landfills at its monthly standing committee meetings on public health, environment and municipal services.

He also disclosed there are now 33 participating outlets.

Other green initiatives include garbage enzyme DIY, waste segregation campaign, Takakura-Bokashi Composting Method and “Say No To Styrofoam” campaign.

As for styrofoam, the SMC is taking the lead in banning the use of food containers, made of this polystyrene material,at food outlets to protect the environment.

The council has decided to implement the green initiatives full swing from Jan 1, 2014, following the successful trial implementation at the recent Borneo Cultural Festival (BCF), Ngieng said.

DATU Dr Penguang Manggil

Taking the challenges in his stride

DATU Dr Penguang Manggil is a forester by profession.

He holds a bachelor’s degree in forestry, MSc in resource management and PhD in sustainable forest management.

He has been working in various capacities with the Forest Department for 28 years; two years 10 months as the controller of Environmental Quality of the Natural Resources and Environment Board (NREB) Sarawak before his present appointment as permanent secretary to the Local Government and Community Development Ministry in October 2009.

Over the years, he has been very much involved in a wide range of disciplines – forest administration and management; enforcement activities; biodiversity and trans-boundary conservation initiatives; environmental protection and conservation as well as being in the administration and management of the Local Government (Local Authorities) in now.

In the Forest Department, he was appointed as director for a number of bilateral and multilateral international projects, the most important of which include (1) Sustainable Forest Management and Trans-boundary Conservation projects of the International Tropical Timber Organisation (ITTO) based in Yokohama Japan; (2) the Joint Working Group Malaysia, the Netherlands projects at Maludam National Park in collaboration with the Altera of Wageningen of the Netherlands; (3) the UN Development Progra-mme/Global Environment Facilities (UNDP/GEF) project at Loagan Bunut National Park; (4) the Joint Malaysian-German Technical Cooperation Project on the Forest Management Information System and (5) The DANIDA conservation project at Niah National Park.

In his capacity as director of these projects, he presented papers and participated actively as a Member of Malaysian Delegation in many important in fora as well as multi-lateral environmental agreements (MEAs).

These include the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) in Johannesburg, South Africa in August/September

2002; the UN Forum on Forest (UNFF) from 1999-2002; the UN Framework Conventionon Climate Change (UNFCCC); the International Tropical Timber Council (ITTC) from 1999-2005; the World Park Congress in Durban, South Africa (Sept 2002); the UNESCO World Heritage Convention (WHC); the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species of Flora and Fauna (CITES); the UNESCO GRASP Scientific Commission; the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD); the Convention on Wetlands of International Significance as water fowls habitat, known as the Ramsar Convention and others.

Dr Penguang’s involvement in these internationally funded projects, conventions and fora has broadened his experience and knowledge and changed his perception and outlook on the protection, conservation and sustainable management and utilisation of our valuable natural resources.

It has instilled in him the more pressing needs to protect and manage our living environment holistically and move along with the rest of the world in adopting international norms and standards.

Dr Penguang sees his current job as a very challenging one, doing almost everything under the sun and the moon, and more so, at a time when the demands and expectations of informed societies are at their heights and environmentalism has never been treated with such importance before, dominating the agenda of almost all levels of international fora and conventions in the likes of climate change, global warming, loss of biodiversity, cleanliness, pollution, environmental degradation as well as the well-being of civil society.

As a signatory to more than 200 Multi-lateral Brown and Green Environmental Agreements, Declarations, and many other emerging soft laws, Malaysia, the state of Sarawak and hence the Local Authorities, have a strong moral obligation to ensure compliance to such Agreements, at least at the ground levels.

This is where his vast experiences are very useful in helping the LAs mitigate and address public concerns over environmentalism and the need to keep our surroundings likeable and livable.

“What I can see today is that we are in the midst of profound “civilisational” changes. There has been heightened awareness of, and debate over, the compelling needs for actions by all quarters of our society onto a new pathway to a more secure and sustainable future.

“Being in charge of the third level of the government and closest to the people, and when something goes wrong, the local authorities are always at the receiving end. Sometimes, we get blamed for something which is not within our functional jurisdiction.

“Mind you, the LAs will not be able to perform their tasks effectively and efficiently on their own without the support and cooperation of other agencies and the private sector, NGOs as well as other stakeholders, including the local communities,” Dr Penguang said.

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