Cli­mate Change 101

So you’ve heard about the hole in the ozone layer, and how the po­lar bears and orang utans will lose their homes due to melt­ing ice caps and de­for­esta­tion. But it’s all part of a big­ger is­sue at hand, so here’s what you need to know about cli­mate change –

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It’s hard to be­lieve that there are still peo­ple who do not be­lieve in global warm­ing. The ever-mount­ing ev­i­dence: ris­ing sea and global tem­per­a­ture lev­els, in­creas­ing ocean acid­ity and the grow­ing oc­curence of ex­treme weather events1.

But two months ago, Don­ald Trump shocked the world when he an­nounced that he’s with­draw­ing the US from the Paris Agree­ment on cli­mate change.

Drafted in 2015, the coun­tries that signed the agree­ment pledged to fight cli­mate change by adopt­ing ef­forts to re­duce the emis­sion of green­house gases... But what ex­actly does this mean? Green­house gases are gases in the at­mos­phere that ab­sorb and trap heat. While this is one of the rea­sons why life on Earth is pos­si­ble, the in­crease in green­house gases caused by hu­man ac­tiv­ity has caused the planet to be­come hot­ter, set­ting off a chain re­ac­tion that can spell disas­ter.

Don­ald Trump’s move made the US one out of only three coun­tries in the world – the other two be­ing Nicaragua and Syria – that isn’t part of the pact. “This agree­ment is less about the cli­mate and more about other coun­tries gain­ing a fi­nan­cial ad­van­tage over the United States,” Trump said af­ter his an­nounce­ment of the with­drawal. In the wake of his de­ci­sion, world lead­ers from France, Ger­many, Italy and Canada re­leased state­ments ex­press­ing their re­gret and dis­ap­point­ment.


Sin­ga­pore is part of this agree­ment too; we’ve pledged to re­duce our green­house gas emis­sions by 36 per­cent, and sta­bilise emis­sions by 2030 be­fore de­clin­ing. To this end, a car­bon tax will be im­ple­mented from 2019, which will be ap­plied on large emit­ters of green­house gases like power sta­tions. This will “spur the cre­ation of new op­por­tu­ni­ties in green growth in­dus­tries such as clean en­ergy,” said Fi­nance Min­is­ter Heng Swee Keat in his Bud­get speech in Fe­bru­ary 2017. He added that rev­enue from the tax will help to fund mea­sures by in­dus­tries to re­duce emis­sions .

“As a low-ly­ing, is­land city-state, Sin­ga­pore is par­tic­u­larly vul­ner­a­ble to the con­se­quences of cli­mate change and we have a deep in­ter­est in global ef­forts to ad­dress [it],” said the Na­tional Cli­mate Change Sec­re­tariat (NCCS) in a state­ment.

So how ex­actly will cli­mate change af­fect Sin­ga­pore? For one, we’d be more prone to flood­ing, see­ing how most of the coun­try’s land is just 15m above sea level. Ac­cord­ing to NCCS, the mean sea level in Sin­ga­pore has in­creased at the rate of 1.2mm to 1.7mm per year from 1975 to 2009. Rain­fall has also in­creased by more than 500mm from 1980 to 2014.

And if you’ve ever felt like the weather’s get­ting warmer by the day, you’re ac­tu­ally not wrong. The an­nual mean tem­per­a­ture here in 1972 was 26.6 °C, but less than 50 years later, that num­ber is 27.7 °C.

Be­sides the ob­vi­ous dis­com­fort the hot weather brings, this also does not bode well for our health. We live in a re­gion where vec­tor-borne dis­eases (in­fec­tions spread by mainly blood-suck­ing in­sects) like dengue fever, zika, and malaria are en­demic. Ex­perts have ob­served that mos­qui­toes breed faster and bite more as the air be­comes warmer.

An­other rea­son why you should be con­cerned about cli­mate change? The re­sult­ing in­crease of storms, floods and droughts will af­fect food sup­plies; given that we im­port more than 90 per­cent of our food, we’ll be hit hard dur­ing a food short­age.


We need to keep the rise in global tem­per­a­tures to a min­i­mum, be­cause even a 2°C change might cause ir­re­versible dam­age and some coun­tries won’t be able to cope or adapt to the changes in time2.

Coun­tries that signed the Paris Agree­ment pledged to not let the global tem­per­a­ture rise higher than 1.5°C above pre-in­dus­trial lev­els and lower emis­sions.

China has can­celled plans to build more than 100 coal power plants. The gov­ern­ment has also put in place in­cen­tives to en­cour­age the use of cleaner elec­tric ve­hi­cles, which saw a 70 per­cent jump in sales. Mean­while, In­dia is shift­ing to­wards re­new­able en­ergy sources, and might achieve its goal of get­ting 40 per­cent of its elec­tric­ity from non-fos­sil-fuel sources that cause less harm to the en­vi­ron­ment in the ex­trac­tion process – such as wind, so­lar power and hy­dropower – be­fore 2030.

There’s a rea­son why al­most all coun­tries across the globe unan­i­mously agreed to be part of this con­certed ef­fort to combat cli­mate change. Think about this: if the sea lev­els con­tinue to rise, it would al­ter the ge­og­ra­phy of the world, erod­ing coast­lines, flood­ing cities, and caus­ing is­land cities (i.e., us) to dis­ap­pear com­pletely.

It might not seem ur­gent, but to put things into per­spec­tive, Kiri­bati (Google it!), a low-ly­ing is­land na­tion in the cen­tral Pa­cific Ocean, has been ex­pe­ri­enc­ing dev­as­tat­ing floods due to

“Sin­ga­pore is par­tic­u­larly vul­ner­a­ble to the con­se­quences of cli­mate change and we have a deep in­ter­est in global ef­forts to ad­dress it.”

ris­ing sea lev­els, forc­ing some res­i­dents to re­lo­cate. In 2014, the then-pres­i­dent of Kiri­bati even pur­chased 20km2 of land in Fiji as an emer­gency refuge.


The good news is we can ac­tu­ally make a real dif­fer­ence if we take the nec­es­sary steps now. Last year, it was found out that the hole in the ozone layer over the Antarc­tica is grad­u­ally heal­ing3 thanks to the Mon­treal Pro­to­col. Im­ple­mented al­most 30 years ago, the in­ter­na­tional treaty was de­signed to pro­tect the ozone layer by phas­ing out the pro­duc­tion of chlo­roflu­o­ro­car­bon, a com­pound that’s re­spon­si­ble for ozone de­ple­tion.

And we don’t want to toot our own horn, but to give credit where it’s due, a 2015 global on­line sur­vey by Nielsen shows that mil­len­ni­als are most will­ing to pay more for sus­tain­ably-pro­duced prod­ucts, which has driven more and more com­pa­nies to adopt eco-friendly prac­tices.

Be­sides sup­port­ing such busi­nesses, you can also look into ways to re­duce your car­bon foot­print. You can start by mak­ing changes to your food con­sump­tion habits.

“We need to be aware of where our food comes from [and ask ques­tions like:] ‘what are the en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pli­ca­tions of trans­port­ing frozen meat pro­duced on cat­tle ranches lo­cated on the other side of the globe for lo­cal con­sump­tion? And how is our ap­petite for seafood re­sult­ing in the over­fish­ing of oceans?’” says Dr Matthias Roth, as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor at Na­tional Uni­ver­sity of Sin­ga­pore’s Depart­ment of Ge­og­ra­phy.

“At a more prag­matic level, con­sumerism needs to be curbed by think­ing twice about buy­ing non-es­sen­tial prod­ucts that use re­sources when pro­duced, and pro­duce waste when thrown away but of­ten have a very lim­ited life­span.” The more waste we gen­er­ate, the more waste we need to dis­pose of, and waste dis­posal pro­duces green­house gases and causes land and air pol­lu­tion.

But you know what? Don’t stress your­self out think­ing that this is an all-or-noth­ing sit­u­a­tion. As Emma Wat­son, one of the eco-con­scious voices of our gen­er­a­tion, once said, it’s very dif­fi­cult to be a com­plete purist. That’s why she fol­lows the 80/20 rule, which means that while she tries to make sure most of the prod­ucts she uses are sus­tain­able, some­times, “you just need a mascara to be waterproof and that’s OK.” So don’t beat your­self up if, say, you still use plas­tic bags at the su­per­mar­kets. As long as you’re do­ing other things in your life, like sup­port­ing eco-tourism or print­ing on both sides of the pa­per, you’re do­ing your part to save our vul­ner­a­ble en­vi­ron­ment.

The world is get­ting hot­ter, drier and more disas­ter-prone.

Ris­ing sea lev­els can al­ter the ge­og­ra­phy of the world.

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