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 –
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.
CLOSER TO HOME
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.
THE BIG PICTURE
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.
GOING GREEN FOR US
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.