Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM) recently marked a significant milestone after being named as one of the 35 partner institutions listed in the “Lancet Countdown: Tracking Progress on Health and Climate Change 2019”, a report published annually in The Lancet.
It joined the ranks of leading academic institutions and United Nations agencies, namely University College London and the World Health Organisation.
Each year, the report provides an assessment on the health effects of climate change, developments in the implementation of the 2016 Paris Agreement, and the health implications of these actions.
It draws on the expertise of climate scientists, ecologists, mathematicians, economists, social and political scientists and doctors.
The Lancet is one of the world’s most prestigious general medical journal with an impact factor of 53.102. This year’s report featured UiTM’s Faculty of Plantation and Agrotechnology senior lecturer Dr Meisam Tabatabaei Pozveh as a lead collaborator in biofuel research.
UiTM was given the honour to launch this year’s report. Held at UiTM Puncak Alam on Dec 12, the event comprised a series of climate change talks and a health exhibition.
In his speech via Skype, Lancet Countdown executive director Dr Nick Watts said the report served as a global monitoring system on the links between climate change and health.
“For far too long, climate change is seen as a phenomenon that affects only the environment. Understanding it and re-imagining it as a public health issue is important.
“Climate change actually looks like child malnutrition or the exacerbation of asthma. When we view climate change not as a tangible concept, but as a threat to human health, then we start to understand that no country is immune. Low-income countries are bearing the brunt of the impacts,” said Dr Watts.
University of Colorado Boulder’s Centre for Science and Technology Policy Research director Associate Professor Dr Maxwell Boykoff then took the stage to discuss the report’s key messages and highlights.
“First, the life of every child born today will be profoundly affected by climate change. Without accelerated interventions, it will define their health throughout their lives.
“The second key message urges us to limit the global average temperature rise to well below 2˚C above pre-industrial levels, which is the central objective of the Paris Agreement.”
An unprecedented challenge demanded an unprecedented response, he continued.
“The scale of our response does not commensurate with the immense scale of challenges. The report hopes to address that gap by wisely confronting climate change in the 21st century.”
The report outlined 41 indicators across five domains: climate change impacts; exposures and vulnerability; adaptation, planning and resilience for health; mitigation actions and health co-benefits; economics and finance, as well as public and political engagement.
Extreme heat is the main impact of climate change.
“Populations in Europe and eastern Mediterranean are most vulnerable to extreme heat. Here in Southeast Asia, we have seen a dramatic increase in vulnerability of greater than 10 per cent since 1990.
“Last year, 11 million more people were exposed to heat waves compared with 2015. This increases the risk for heat stress, heart disease and kidney disease. Malaysia is also impacted by reduced labour capacity due to climate change,” said Boykoff.
The report highlighted the prevalence of extreme weather events and climate-sensitive infectious diseases.
“Last year, there were areas experiencing a 12-month drought. Malaysia was affected by both floods and drought.
“It is also vulnerable to mosquito-borne diseases. Improvements in public health have seen a 31 per cent global fall in vulnerability to dengue. However, this trend may begin to reverse and be undermined by climate change.”
The report outlined adaptation practices to achieve an alternative future, said Boykoff.
“While air-conditioning use has been resuscitated by the changing climate, there are technological developments to reduce the harms and increase its efficiency. There is an increase in spending for public health, which can significantly reduce the mortality of climate-related disasters. Malaysia is far ahead of other countries in ongoing investment and commitment to public health.”
A shift to clean energy was crucial, he said.
“Coal continues to be the second largest global primary energy supply contributor and the largest source of electricity. So, rapid decarbonisation is critically needed.
“On the other hand, zero carbon emission electricity is on the rise. Renewable energy had a 25 per cent growth in electricity generation last year, 27 per cent of which came from wind and solar sources. This is how we could meet the Paris Agreement’s goals.
“The worst effects of climate change are not felt by those perpetuating the problem. But those with more to lose have the least voice.”
Meisam said the economic gains of clean energy exceeded the cost of any intervention.
“Many say that it is expensive to move towards renewable energy. Fossil fuels are said to be cheaper and accessible. However, there is a hidden cost of health problems and years of life lost due to premature death. For example, due to fossil fuel consumption and air pollution, a person can die prematurely at age 30.
“Moving towards clean energy and zero-carbon economy might be costlier, but in the long run, it would lead to a more prosperous nation.”
UiTM vice-chancellor Emeritus Professor Datuk Dr Mohd Azraai Kassim commended the proactive international collaboration that UiTM made to address climate change.
“We are very pleased that Meisam has been involved with the team behind this report since 2015. With better understanding of the status and impact of climate change on health from international experts, we hope to boost transdisciplinary research activities.
“We need to use this opportunity to formulate plans that can mitigate the current trend, create awareness and boost adaptation to face this environmental crisis.”
Present were UiTM deputy vice-chancellor (academic and international) Professor Dr Mohamad Kamal Harun, deputy vice-chancellor (research and innovation) Professor Dr Mohd Nazip Suratman, deputy vice-chancellor (development) Professor Dr Mohd Fozi Ali, UiTM Selangor branch rector Datuk Dr Abu Bakar Abdul Majeed and Faculty of Plantation and Agrotechnology dean Dr Asmah Awal.