One such important event taking place today in New York is the signing of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change (the Agreement). At the last Conference of Parties (COP21) in Paris last year, all 196 parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) have pledged their commitment to combat climate change. In the Agreement, all countries are committed to working toward limiting a temperature rise of below 1.5 degree Celsius. Malaysia is also a party to the Agreement.
The Key Terms of the Agreement
This Agreement has been hailed as ‘one of the most important agreements for the future of the earth.' The Agreement's primary objective (under Article 2) is to keep earth's temperature rise to below 2 degrees Celsius. The 2 degrees mark is an increase of global temperature by 2 additional degrees from pre-industrial temperatures. Keeping below this mark, would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change.
In order to achieve this objective, parties are urged to undertake efforts and to find a balance between anthropogenic emissions and removals by carbon sinks of greenhouse gasses. To this end, each party shall (Article 4.2) prepare, maintain and work toward achieving its Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC). INDCs are individual domestic mitigation efforts that recognise the common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities of all parties (Article 4.1). As such, while these targets are not legally binding, developed nations are expected to take the lead and adhere to their targets, while developing nations are strongly encouraged to do so, with some leeway accorded given present capabilities.
Support shall be provided to developing countries. Developed countries shall provide financial support to assist developing counties (Article 9.1) while all other parties are encouraged to pitch in voluntarily (Article 9.2) in any other way they can. Several ways to do so are such as, to provide support in terms of technology transfers (Article 10), cooperate through (amongst others) sharing information, good practices, experiences and lessons learned (Article 7.7) with each other, and to take measures to enhance climate change education (Article 12) and public awareness. While specific amounts in terms of dollars and cents ware not mentioned in the Agreement itself, it has been reported that developed nations had previously pledged to provide $100 billion annually in climate finance by 2020.
There is no penalty listed within the Agreement against countries who miss their emissions targets. However, the Agreement relies on mutual trust and confidence (given that all parties are affected by the urgent threat of climate change), operating via an enhanced transparency framework (Article 13). This framework is established to provide (amongst others) clarity of understanding of the problem, to track the progress of all parties and their contributions, to provide and share information and support among the parties. To do so, each party is required to provide specific information (Article 13.7) relating to its climate change impacts and adaptation as listed under Article 7. Countries are expected to make reports on their progress once every five years, with the first report set for 2020.
The Effects of Climate Change
Measuring the earth's temperature is not yet an exact science and scientists are often in disagreement as to the true levels of the global temperature. In 2013 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reported that global temperatures have risen by 0.85 degrees Celsius since 1880. However, as of late last year, scientists (as reported in the BBC news) have suggested more alarmingly that global temperatures have already gone past the 1 degree mark, bringing earth half way towards the dreaded 2 degrees point. Regardless of where earth is exactly on the thermometer, the effects of climate change are alarming.
Studies demonstrate that there is evidence of increasing temperatures over land and oceans. As a result, there is declining Artic sea ice and a rise in sea levels. Weather patterns have also changed. Changes are seen in the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, such as floods, droughts, and tropical cyclones. With the increase of carbon dioxide in the air, there has also been an increase in ocean acidification, an increase in its heat content and a drop in the amount of oxygen it is able to dissolve; all of which have adverse effects on marine life. Beyond these changes, climate change has also affected human life; from its impact on agriculture and food production to the diminishing sources of clean fresh water.
It is evident is that climate change has begun - and what is more evident is that much of it is human-induced, much of which is irreversible and much of its effects are super-sized.
On this same day, Malaysia together with 173 other nation states and the European Union, signed the Agreement. Malaysia has communicated its INDC plans to the United Nations. As part of its contribution toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions, it has pledged to reduce emissions intensity of GDP by 45% by 2030 relative to the emissions intensity of GDP in 2005.
In the INDC, the government states that it intends to achieve this by - "....allocate[ing] financial resources for the implementation of climate change mitigation programmes through both public and private sector initiatives. The climate-related policies are implemented along with national priorities such as poverty eradication, improving quality of life and development. In addition, financial resources are also frequently reallocated to address losses due to increased incidences of natural disasters".
While plans to achieve its targets have been laid down, with many of it listed under the 11th Malaysia Plan, the government does recognise that "...while these opportunities exist, considerable efforts would be required to realise these emissions reductions in light of the challenges and barriers..." Of the many challenges indicated, one in particular should be highlighted; the need by the government to ensure "...long-term commitment from all stakeholders, businesses, civil society, and people", one it has recognised as being "critical" in order for it to achieve its targets.
A sustained, long term commitment from the people, us, Malaysians, has been identified as being one (of amongst other) challenges. Reading the INDC it becomes clear that a genuine and sustained commitment is required should the goal to achieve tangible environmental results be a reality. Reversing existing effects or avoiding projected long term consequences of climate change require more than lip service. It requires every able bodied Malaysian to make an effort. While governmental polices and plans may stimulate more green industries, curb the effect of global warming, or improve on legal/ regulatory aspects in existing weaknesses (all of which is necessary) - more is required.
This idea of long term commitment by the people is also reflected in the Paris Agreement, where it recognised that ‘sustainable lifestyles and sustainable patterns of consumption and production...play an important role in addressing climate change'. Considering existing urban lifestyles (given that approximately 70% of Malaysians are living in urban areas today), and patterns of consumption: how environmentally sustainable is the Malaysian lifestyle.
This is a question that must be addressed. It is a question, whose response could have the largest outcomes not only in our own life, but the lives of generations to come.
For more information on the effects of global warming, please go to -