There is growing urgency for countries around the world, especially in Southeast Asia, to provide an adequate response to climate change.
Last year, the urgency of the message has been brought forth more starkly through the devastations brought about by Typhoon Durian in the Philippines. Post-tsunami Aceh was hit by another tragedy of floods and mudslide with more than a third of its population displaced by severe flooding. Malaysia and Singapore are not spared either, with heavy rains leading to uncontrollable floods affecting the economy and dampening the Christmas cheer.
The British Meteorological Office is predicting a resurgent El Nino climate trend combined with higher levels of greenhouse gases that could spur new bouts of ecological disasters around the world and render 2007 the world's hottest year, with a 60 per cent chance of matching or breaking the 1998 record.
The People's Daily reported on Friday that China's Tibet plateau, seen as a barometer of world climate conditions, is experiencing accelerating glacial melt and other ecological change. Xinhua news agency affirmed the findings on the same day with news of temperatures in the Qamdo area of eastern Tibet rising to 21.8 degrees Celsius, which is 1.7 degrees higher than the previous record set for the same day in 1996.
The United Nations' Food Aid Organisation has warned that rising temperatures could wreak agricultural havoc, as currently experienced by Australia’s worst drought in history, as the nation registered its smallest wheat harvest in a decade, placing thousands of farmers at risk of bankruptcy.
Southeast Asia’s greatest challenge for the year is a worsening haze – from the predicted prolonged dry spell – to the possible scale of the 1997-98 episodes. The region’s ‘war on haze’ – using the words of Indonesian President SBY – needs to be positioned within the context of a war on climate change as well, since the Indonesian fires and haze have been touted to have contributed to almost a 10th of global greenhouse gas emissions, and the flipside of the natural disaster coin has a pronounced human face.
2007 is the time for honest and accountable political agendas to promote pro-active policy efforts to improve governance measures and public awareness to tackle global warming.
Some countries in Southeast Asia are leading the way. Singapore and Malaysia for example, have committed to long-term studies to ascertain the impact of climate change for forecasting and preventive measures, alongside public awareness campaigns. Indonesia has also jumped on the bandwagon with greater participation in the global carbon trading scene. There should also be more regional learning opportunities and policy exchanges since the causes and consequences transcend national borders. Transnational environmental problems such as the haze may in turn be more easily resolved under the broader rubric of climate change.
Carving a more rigorous post-2012 Kyoto Protocol regime also remains a top priority for every ‘global citizen’ to come to terms with, especially when the recent UN climate talks in Nairobi last November continue to pose stumbling blocks over how the US$3 million (S$4.7 million) Adaptation Fund is to be managed to help poorer countries adapt to climate change.
Climate change, air quality are top green priorities (TODAY, 4 November 2006)
Fund dispute threatens progress at climate talks (The Straits Times, 14 November 2006)
Climate change could wreak more havoc (TODAY, 5 December 2006)
Government to study effects of global climate change (The Star, 5 January 2007)
Why does the haze come back every year? (The Jakarta Post, 6 January 2007)
2007: Year of El Nino havoc? (AP/ The Straits Times, 6 January 2007)
Tibet record temperatures spark climate change fears (AFP/ The Straits Times, 7 January 2007)