Time to rethink our actions to reduce ecological footprint — WWF-Malaysia

AUGUST 8 — Malaysia is the seventh wettest country in the world in terms of rainfall / precipitation, yet water rationing is not uncommon following periods of dry weather.

The haze, once a rare occurrence expected only during periods of El Niño, is now an almost annual occurrence which impacts our health, causes school closures, raises the price of food, and drives us indoors.

Earlier this year we experienced a heatwave which shut 259 schools — and it wasn’t just Malaysia who suffered. Globally, April 2016 was the warmest April since scientists started recording global temperatures in 1880.  Last month we were told that it was likely that 2016 will be the hottest year recorded. The same statement was provided for the year 2015, and in 2014. In fact, of the top 11 warmest years since scientists started keeping track of global temperatures (three are tied for 9th place), eight of those years have been in the past decade.

These three issues are environmental problems directly affecting Malaysians and costing our economy — and they are all linked to unsustainable consumption and production.

Bajau women getting water. — Picture courtesy of Jürgen Freund / WWF-Regional
Bajau women getting water. — Picture courtesy of Jürgen Freund / WWF-Regional

As a planet, we are living beyond our means. WWF’s Living Planet Report from 2014 showed that the global population are consuming at 1.5 times the rate the planet renews resources. In fact, this year, August 8th is Earth Overshoot Day, which means that we have consumed 100 per cent of the earth’s resources that are renewed every year and from now until December 31st we are eating into our ecological wealth. To use a financial metaphor, we have used up the interest generated from our savings, and will from now on be spending our savings. This means our overall wealth will reduce, and there will be less interest next year. 

A common assumption may be that the more developed countries are responsible for consuming the most of earth’s resources, but in fact Malaysia is above the global average — if everybody consumed like we did, we would be consuming 1.7 times more resources than the earth renews in a year.

The environmental issues we mentioned above are symptoms of this unsustainable consumption — our domestic water consumption in 2014 was 211 litres per person per day, almost 40 per cent more than our Singaporean neighbours who consume just 151 litres per person per day. No doubt our high consumption has some part to play in our need to ration water during dry months. We also emitted an average of 7.9 tonnes of CO2 per person in 2011, almost 60 per cent higher than the global average of 4.95 tonnes, making us in part responsible for heat waves, droughts and floods to come in the future from our changing climate.

These are real impacts from unsustainable consumption that affect our lives — and if we continue on our path of unsustainable consumption we will find our lives impacted more and more. It’s not just heatwaves, water rationing, and haze; in the past couple of years alone we saw landslides in Cameron Highlands and unprecedented flooding in East Peninsular and East Malaysia. Globally, island nations are sinking, coastal cities are flooding, and roads in India are melting. Who knows what may come for Malaysia in the future?

To reduce future environmental-linked impacts, Malaysia must practise Sustainable Consumption and Production. This means that we minimise negative environmental impacts from consumption and production while promoting quality of life for all.  The “quality of life” part is important — living sustainably does not and should not mean living like a caveman.

Sustainable Consumption and Production (SCP) is a recognised concept which has been included as one of the goals in the Sustainable Development Goals, a set of aspirational goals for global sustainable development which were released by the United Nations last year. The key principles of SCP as defined by the UN centre around improved quality of life for all without environmental damage.  The pathway to this is multi-pronged: one principle focuses on reducing energy, materials emissions and waste without compromising quality of life. Another focuses on “life-cycle thinking” — considering the environmental and social impact from all stages of production and consumption.  The last principle focuses on guarding against the “rebound effect”, so that gains in efficiency are not cancelled out by increases in consumption.

Logged rainforest timber. — Picture courtesy of Jürgen Freund / WWF-Regional
Logged rainforest timber. — Picture courtesy of Jürgen Freund / WWF-Regional

In Malaysia, the government is working on introducing SCP into our national policies.  The 11th Malaysia Plan, which takes us from 2016 to 2020, has “Adopting the sustainable consumption and production concept” as a focus area. There are five strategies under this focus area, which address the creation of green markets, increasing renewable energy and managing energy demand, encouraging low carbon mobility, and managing waste holistically.

As Malaysians and global citizens, we must also do our part to consume and produce sustainably. It can be difficult to know where to start — but here’s an easy one to get you started: try not to waste.  Turn off your lights, fans and electrical appliances when you’re not using them and use your water sparingly and fix drips and leaks as soon as you notice them. Only buy items that you need and will use, and repair them, if possible, when they break. Think about how your goods were produced, and purchase sustainably produced goods when you can — look for green certifications such as FSC certified paper and wood products, MSC or ASC certified fish and RSPO certified food and bath products. Feel good that you’re doing your part to reduce natural disasters and protecting quality of life for yourselves and future generations.

*This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail Online.