Collective action only way to battle global warming, say experts

The Straits Times by CHANG AI-LIEN

Individual actions - billions of them by billions of people each day - can have a significant impact on global warming.

In fact, the only way to battle the predicament is for individuals, businesses, organisations and governments to work together to enforce rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented change, said an expert panel discussing the costs and consequences of climate change at The Straits Times Global Outlook forum yesterday.

Limiting global warming to 1.5 deg C above pre-industrial levels will be a massive effort, said Assistant Professor Winston Chow of the National University of Singapore's department of geography.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which released its latest report last month, the world would have to cut its carbon emissions by half of 2017 levels by 2030, and then achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 to meet this target.

Under the landmark Paris Agreement, countries have agreed to achieve warming of well below 2 deg C and, with best efforts, not exceed 1.5 deg C. They will hammer out the details of how to do this at the 24th Conference of the Parties (COP24) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Poland next month.

Individuals can make a difference to carbon emissions by swopping their cars for public transport, going vegetarian or taking fewer flights, for instance. "It will call for societal, political and economic action in every aspect of society," said Prof Chow, who investigates the relationships between cities and climate.

"Action should have been taken yesterday, if not today."

Without aggressive measures, the world could become almost unlive-able, say scientists, with even a 1.5 deg C temperature rise leading to more extreme weather such as heatwaves, as well as loss of biodiversity - from coral reefs to insects and plants.

It is a big goal.

Assistant Professor of Engineering Systems and Design Lynette Cheah of the Singapore University of Technology and Design said: "We need to aggressively pursue low carbon energy, change our lifestyles and behaviour, and reduce consumption... and start to think about adaptation."

This includes aggressively replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy, and investing in the sector.

"It makes sense to do this sooner rather than later, since fossil fuels are going to run out anyway," added Prof Cheah, whose research focuses on developing models and tools to assess the energy and environmental impacts of road transport.

Ultimately, lifestyle changes which reduce consumption in many areas will be the way forward as the world's population balloons.

ST assistant foreign editor David Fogarty, who has been reporting on climate change since the 1980s, said: "Going green is not an economy killer, it presents opportunities in terms of technology and investments. One of the big problems is the feeling that climate change is a distant problem for other generations to deal with, but that idea has been tipped on its head entirely."

He said young people are among the most invested in the problem.

Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli had recently told ST that school students understand the problems brought about by climate change and what they must do.

"Therefore, for the next generation, I am quite optimistic," he said.

So, is the world doomed?, asked ST associate editor Rahul Pathak, who moderated the three-person panel.

"There is action taken at the intergovernmental and governmental level, from the bottom up and from young people," Prof Chow pointed out. "There is still optimism."