ST Global Outlook Forum: Collective action can dull the sting of climate change

Limiting global warming to 1.5 deg C above pre-industrial levels will be a massive effort, noted Assistant Professor Winston Chow. ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

SINGAPORE - 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 ST Global Outlook Forum on Wednesday (Nov 28).

Limiting global warming to 1.5 deg C above pre-industrial levels will be a massive effort, noted Assistant Professor Winston Chow, who is from the National University of Singapore's Department of Geography.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which released its latest report in October, 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, to not exceed 1.5 deg C. And they will hammer out the details of how to do this at COP24 in Poland in December.

Individuals can make a difference to carbon emissions by swopping their cars with 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 weather and climate.

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

Without aggressive measures, the world could become an almost unliveable place, say scientists, and even a 1.5 deg C rise in temperature would lead to more extreme weather in the form of heatwaves and storms, for instance, as well as loss of biodiversity from coral reefs to insects, plants and vertebrates.

It is a big goal.

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

This includes aggressively replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy, as well as 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.

"There's no silver bullet, and every stakeholder must start thinking about how to reduce the impact of climate change."

ST assistant foreign editor David Fogarty, who has been reporting on climate change since the 1980s, said: "It's ridiculous to stop economies from growing; we just have to find a way to do so sustainably.

"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."

The younger generation already gets it, and young people are among the most invested in the problem, he said.

In Australia's capital of Canberra, for instance, hundreds of students lined up outside Parliament House on Wednesday to speak to the government about taking emergency action against climate change.

Singapore's young people are also well informed.

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

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

So is the world doomed, asked ST associate editor Rahul Pathak, who was moderating 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's still optimism."

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