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 A dried-up irrigation canal in Chachoengsao province, Thailand. Many countries need to adapt to the climatic effects on agriculture and food production. EPA pic
A dried-up irrigation canal in Chachoengsao province, Thailand. Many countries need to adapt to the climatic effects on agriculture and food production. EPA pic

CLIMATE change has consumed much international debate for years.

Even after the Paris meeting last December, the world is still divided on how best to tackle the issue, which will threaten global sustainability.

According to predictions by climate scientists, the warming of the earth will create havoc for the global economy.

The signs are already there.

At the current rate of greenhouse gas emissions, the earlier target to limit global warming to 2°C is no longer tenable.

Scientists are now talking about 3°C to 5°C rise.

Extreme weather has already exacted a heavy toll on the economies of many countries.

But, why is the world still dragging its feet to implement mitigation measures? Mitigation is promoted as the best option.

It involves bringing down the atmospheric levels of greenhouse gases (GHGs) through emission reduction and capture.

A major GHG is carbon dioxide.

This is mostly emitted in the burning of fuels for energy.

Fossil fuels, including coal, petroleum and natural gas, have been widely seen as a major culprit.

Unlike fossil energy, renewable biomass is considered neutral in GHG emission.

This is because, in the case of biomass, though its burning also releases GHG, the released gases are absorbed back by the plants.

A good example is oil palm.

After processing, the palm, as by-product, has significant quantities of biomass in the form of mainly empty fruit bunches and fibres.

The burning of such biomass does release GHGs.

But, the oil palm trees will eventually absorb the GHGs through photosynthesis.

This is also the reason why as part of mitigation, the other mechanism to reduce the build-up of GHGs is by planting more trees to absorb them.

Forests and trees are also referred to as carbon sinks.

The ocean is, however, the biggest sink for GHGs.

Unlike forests, oceans can turn acidic when absorbing carbon.

In which case, the environmental repercussions for marine life can be devastating.

Scientists speak of two principal mechanisms to manage climate change.

Mitigation is one.

The other is adaptation. Mitigation would have been a better option.

But, the world could not agree on two major issues on mitigation.

One is emission targets.

The other concerns technology sharing, which involves funding.

On emission, some developed economies hesitate to make emission targets binding.

They argue that targets should not be limited only to developed economies.

Instead, big developing economies, especially China and India, which have been witnessing rising emission levels, should also have legally binding commitments.

That has stalemated the negotiation process.

At the same time, smaller developing countries which lack the capacity to initiate mitigation measures are deprived of technologies which come mainly from the West.

The promise to provide funding for such initiatives has also been nothing but rhetoric.

In the meantime, GHG levels continue to rise.

Many now believe that since the world has failed to reach a viable agreement on mitigation measures, adaptation looks like the only option left.

Talking about adaptation, many things need to be considered.

We need to adapt to the changing climatic effects on agriculture and food production.

Some countries will need to adapt to rising sea levels.

Even the disease profile of countries may change.

Indeed it has been projected that if average global temperature rise exceeds 2°C, some vulnerable low-lying countries may be wiped off the world map.

There is concern that many small islands in the Pacific and the Indian Oceans may be totally overwhelmed by sea level rise.

Closer to home, states, including Kelantan, Terengganu and Pahang, may have to build new capitals.

Kota Baru, Kuala Terengganu and Kuantan may be obliterated, unless new underwater residence can be designed by architects and engineers.

On crops, we may have to design new varieties that are more tolerant of high temperatures and even water stress.

We may want to resort to biotechnology.

Whatever it is, there is a long list of adaptation measures that we need to develop.

One thing is for sure.

All will require the right investment in research and development.

Dr Ahmad Ibrahim is a fellow at Academy of Sciences Malaysia and can be reached at [email protected]

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