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  The Star 5 Nov 07
Climate issue gets a boost in KL
BY Martin Khor

Malaysia announced a few first measures to tackle floods and climate change last week while Kuala Lumpur also hosted a regional meeting to prepare Asean countries for the UN climate convention in Bali next month.

CLIMATE change last week went up the Malaysian agenda when the Government announced some measures such as stopping development projects that affect “natural catchments.”

This decision was taken at a meeting of Mentris Besar and Chief Ministers, as of three measures to deal with climate change.

In announcing this, Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Azmi Khalid said the Prime Minister had issued a directive at last Thursday’s meeting that there would be no more approvals for projects that require the closing up of natural water catchments at development sites, adding that closing up lakes and ponds would disturb underground channels and give rise to flash floods.

It is not clear from this whether the order is that only lakes and ponds be not covered up or whether entire water catchment areas (which include forest areas and rivers) should not be touched.

The latter is important as catchment areas are crucial for conserving water and preventing soil erosion that silts and blocks rivers, leading to floods.

Two other proposals at the meeting are for state governments and local councils to plant more shade trees and to have houses in low-lying areas built on stilts.

These three measures seem to be aimed at reducing floods. The country is now preparing for another round of floods, with 4,500 relief centres that can take in 1.2 million people.

The floods last year, especially in Johor, was a stark reminder to Malaysians that climate-related events can be disastrous. Climate change is not something to worry about for the future but is already having impacts in Malaysia and around the world.

The three measures are only initial steps. To seriously tackle climate change will involve an overhaul of economic and social systems, as well as lifestyles.

China and India have formed Cabinet committees headed by the president and the prime minister, respectively, to come up with comprehensive measures to tackle climate change.

Each ministry should start thinking of how climate change will affect the country, what the sources are (such as greenhouse gas emissions and deforestation), how to reduce these sources and what measures to take to reduce the impacts.

The pressures to act will come from the UN convention on climate change, as well as from the increasing incidence of floods and warmer weather that will inconvenience many people.

Last week also saw Kuala Lumpur hosting a regional climate change conference (organised by the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry and the British High Commission) to prepare Asean countries for the Bali meeting of the UN climate convention in December.

Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak described climate change as “perhaps the most momentous challenge of our time” which “presents a clear and present danger to mankind’s common future.”

Malaysia had already experienced devastating floods in recent years. “Climate change will not only influence the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events but also has adverse impacts on agricultural yields, biodiversity, forests, availability of clean water and increases in diseases such as malaria and dengue fever,” he said.

The developing countries suffer a “double inequity,” as they are not responsible but face the worst impacts, said Su-Lin Garbett of the Climate Change office in Britain’sDepartment for Environment.

She stressed that the costs of action (to reduce greenhouse gas emissions) would be less than the costs of inaction.

Speaking on current concerns on the climate negotiations, Chow Kok Kee, former director-general of the Meteorological Services Department and current vice chair of the Technology Expert Group under the UN Climate Convention, stressed that developing countries should be provided with environmental technology so that they could cope with climate change.

Unfortunately, there was little such technology transfer, and also disappointing was that little funding had been provided to developing countries.

Singapore’s representative stressed the principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities” and said climate change concerns should not affect developing countries’ economic growth.

Thailand’s representative proposed regional coordination to assist Asean countries, including on emissions and technology transfer, while the Philippines said developing countries should not be asked to undertake mandatory emission-reduction targets.

Vietnam stressed the need for developed countries to provide billions of dollars to help developing countries to adapt to climate change. So far, only little funds had been forthcoming.

And Laos stressed the need to help poor countries like itself establish climate observation centres to collect and analyse data.

It is good that the Asean region is beginning to think about the climate change issue. But it is only a start, as much more remains to be done.

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