Expert: Most Malaysians unsure what they can do to tackle climate change

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Residents walk through floodwaters at Seri Medan in Batu Pahat March 5, 2023. — Bernama photo

KUALA LUMPUR (March 9): The effects of climate change are becoming increasingly noticeable in Malaysia which has been experiencing extreme weather events in recent times, the latest being the floods in Johor caused by continuous heavy rain and affecting over 50,000 people.

According to the World Bank Group and Asian Development Bank’s Climate Risk Country Profile: Malaysia (2021), under the worst-case scenario of climate change, average temperatures in this country are expected to rise by 3.11 degrees Celsius by the 2090s.

For years, environmentalists and climate change activists globally have warned of how serious things can get if the planet’s average temperature reaches 1.5  degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

Under the Paris Agreement, adopted by 195 nations at the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) in December 2015, the participants agreed to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change by pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

Climate change does not only degrade the quality of the environment but also causes a decline in the quality of life of the people, mainly due to the increase in socioeconomic disparity brought about by the erratic weather.

Awareness of climate change

What is the level of awareness among Malaysians on the effects of climate change and what are they doing to address the issue?

Monash Climate Change Communication Research Hub (MCCCRH) Malaysia Node postdoctoral research fellow Dr Azliyana Azhari said a survey carried out by MCCCRH between July and August 2022 found that most of the respondents are keen on reducing greenhouse gas emissions but lack faith in what they can do to mitigate climate change and its impacts.

The survey, involving 1,063 respondents aged 18 and above, was aimed at gauging their awareness and concern regarding climate change as well as related behaviour in response to climate concerns.

“Some 97 per cent of the respondents are sure that climate change is happening and more than 80 per cent find climate change alarming or concerning. They believe that climate action policies are needed in the near term to address these impacts. However, most of them (respondents) are unaware of what they or others may do to resolve the issue of climate change,” she told Bernama recently.

MCCCRH Malaysia Node is a research institute established in 2021 to study and implement best practice approaches to communicating climate change. It is led by the School of Arts and Social Sciences at Monash University Malaysia in collaboration with MCCCRH Australia.

Climate action

Azliyana said 45 per cent of the respondents were pessimistic with regard to human behaviour, believing that while humans can reduce climate change, people are not willing to change their behaviour.

“Only 10 per cent of them are actually optimistic that humans can reduce climate change and that we are going to do it successfully,” she said.

Azliyana, who led the survey, said they also found that climate change is not only a known fact among Malaysians but something that needs to be acted upon by policymakers and individuals.

“The respondents believe that climate policies are needed in the near term to address these impacts,” she added.

According to MCCCRH’s preliminary report on the survey titled “Climate Change Concern, Behaviour and Media Attitude”, 60 per cent of the respondents believe that Malaysia should reduce its greenhouse gas emissions regardless of what other countries do.

Meanwhile, 86 per cent of the respondents agree that reductions in energy usage should be made mandatory if such efforts mitigate climate change. The respondents also agree that incentives should be given to people who practice climate action.

Acknowledging that most Malaysians only practice climate action if they are given credits or incentives to do so, Azliyana said popular climate actions include cutting down on electricity usage at home, recycling, using their own bags when buying groceries and switching to environmentally-friendly products.

“However, (in practising climate action) most Malaysians never disregard the chance to take advantage of perks such as discounts, free gifts or shopping credits.

“Only a few people are willing to practice climate action without expecting anything in return,” she said.

Data accessing

While a sound understanding of climate change is vital for everyone, it is, however, challenging for the public to access weather alerts and prepare for climate risks.

It is with this in mind that Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) launched MyIKLIM Database on Jan 23 – a first-of-its-kind one-stop portal providing a database on climate change with technical and layman-friendly information readily available to the public, academia, industry and policymakers.

According to MyIKLIM Database project leader Dr Maggie Ooi Chel Gee, localised data gathering is crucial for climate projections for the next 50 to 100 years.

“We are still relying on global data and merely working on assumptions based on such data.

“In fact, local data provided by the (relevant) agencies has limited accessibility to the public. Some of the data are only open to scholars for research purposes but not all are well synchronised,” she said.

Ooi, who is also UKM Institute of Climate Change senior lecturer specialising in air quality modelling, said to enable the public to understand climate change better, MyIKLIM Database was launched as a one-stop data curation portal for climate change research in Malaysia.

She said there is a need to provide open data as a tool to promote citizen science.

“All the data in our portal http://myiklimysd.ukm.my/ is freely accessible and curated for the public to understand climate change, encourage inclusive participation and spur climate action,” she said.

The portal also provides details on, among others, greenhouse gas emissions in the country, land cover maps for Peninsular Malaysia, fire hotspots, future projections of climate and processed satellite data, done in collaboration with agencies such as the Malaysian Meteorological Department and Department of Irrigation and Drainage (DID).

“More educational tools such as carbon footprint calculator and net zero attainment simulators that monitor the progress of attaining net zero goals will also be included in the website soon,” she said, adding that the portal currently has 10 archived datasets.

Ooi said being a tropical country, predicting weather in Malaysia is tough, especially rainfall.

“However, the integration of different modelling technologies will help improve predictions. This will also allow us to calibrate climate projections’ quality based on various emissions’ reduction levels,” she said.

“We hope more agencies will follow in our footsteps to provide more open data to the public for climate education and to be aware of climate change as well as take remedial action and be involved in advocacy matters.

“We are already feeling the impact of global climate change with floods and landslides. Thus, it’s our responsibility to be aware of climate change and take concrete action with (the help of) these data.” – Bernama