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Jaslyn Go and Corinna Liang
Recent pictures of smog-filled Beijing alarmed even those environmentalists who think they have seen it all. The on-going wildfires in Australia are attributed by experts to climate change. We have our own scary experiences with the haze from burning forests in Indonesia.
This is why the conference in Kaohsiung, Taiwan to address pollution and climate change organised by the Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats (CALD) was so timely and instructive. The 30 or so participants from Hong Kong, Myanmar, Mongolia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Philippines and host country Taiwan were present to see how we could advance the agenda of pollution and waste reduction.
The issue at hand is the adoption of healthy environmental practices which the United Nations defines as “adjustment in ecological, social, or economic systems in response to actual or expected climatic stimuli and their effects or impacts.”
Needless to say, the subject has become an issue of great urgency for Asian countries, many of which are experiencing the adverse impacts of climate change to life, livelihood, property and sense of security.
The event focused on what political leaders, policy-makers, political parties and civil society organizations can do or have done to foster sound environmental governance, particularly in terms of developing the capacity to deal with climate changes. Participants were provided information and encouragement to make the necessary reforms and interventions in both administration and legislation towards developing communities that minimised environmentally unfriendly practices.
Ms Jennifer Chen, the deputy director of the Environment Protection Bureau of Kaohsiung, presented the city’s efforts to combat global warming. She reported that the authorities have introduced legislation to reduce CHC emission by 30%, achieve low carbon-emission transportation, implement roof-water collection, construct more efficient green-building plantations, and develop solar-energy power-fields.
Speakers from Thailand, the Philippines, Mongolia and Myanmar also presented challenges their countries faced. Dr Monthip Sriratana, a consultant to the Thai government on climate change, said that there had been a significant rise in temperatures in her country. The number of hot days per year has been increasing and rainfall from monsoons was also at a record high. These changes were affecting Thailand public infrastructure and tourism, agriculture and public health
The sea-level is also rising on Thai coastal areas. Communities along the coast are trying to prevent high-tide flooding by building bamboo structures. Flooding itself costs Thailand some US$22billion in agricultural and tourism losses.
In the Philippines, the government has implemented some measures like recycling programs and imposition of heavy fines for water wastage. Dr Marie Anne Pernes, MP said her government is also looking into renewable energy as an alternative energy source. Following an unprecedented spate of natural disasters like typhoons, heavy rainfalls, and landslides, the government passed a climate change act to improve the country’s approach towards environmental issues.
Mongolia’s Ms Onon Bayasgalan; a consultant with UNDP’s Green Development and Environmental Compliance and Enforcement Project, said that Mongolia, with its vast arid interior, was vulnerable to global warming. Mongolia is currently facing an annual increase of 0.7°C in temperature and recorded a 40% increase in precipitation in recent years. This has resulted in high mortality rates in livestock which the people depend on for their livelihood. The country is also facing a 2.6% decrease in forested land which is affecting agriculture.
The Mongolian government is addressing the problem by putting in place sustainable pasture and air pollution management through the use of ecosystem valuation methods and econometric analysis.
Environmental advisor to the National League for Democracy, Myanmar, Mr Tun Lwin told participants monsoon rainfall levels have dropped causing droughts in some regions. He requested for assistance to better address the climate situation in Myanmar.
In Singapore, we face our own problems with pollution. According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), we have the largest carbon footprint per head in the Asia-Pacific. WWF said that, “Singapore…is a society that maybe is one of the best examples of what we should not do.”
Also, researchers at the University of British Columbia studying ecological indices in 152 countries said that Singapore’s “ecological deficits are the worst in the world.”
Perhaps we should take climate change more seriously and look into introducing legislation that would require the country to reduce pollution and adopt best environmental practices. With flash floods occurring at a worrying regularity and dengue fever going at record levels, it is timely for us to have a bigger conversation about climate change and how it is affecting our country.
The SDP will continue to pay attention to this issue and study how we can improve the situation in Singapore.
Jaslyn Go is SDP’s Assistant Treasurer and Head of the Fund Raising Unit. Corinna Liang is a member of SDP’s Women Democrats.