Urgent need to act on climate change amid pandemic, says Dr Jemilah

Climate change is not a future threat, but it is happening right now, as the consequences seep into people’s lives today, says senior advisor


THERE is a need to act with greater urgency when it comes to climate change, similar to how the world reacted to the Covid-19 pandemic, said Senior Advisor to the Prime Minister (PM) of Malaysia on Public Health Tan Sri Dr Jemilah Mahmood.

Dr Jemilah said climate change is not a future threat, but it is happening right now, as the consequences seep into people’s lives today.

“A slightly longer-term view also brings into sharp focus the existential threat of climate change and related transboundary haze, forest fires, droughts, floods and other events described as ‘natural’ disasters which are, in fact, a result of human activity,” she said during the Increasing Regional Climate Resilience webinar hosted by the Climate Governance Malaysia (CGM) yesterday.

CGM is a group of non-EDs that aim to address climate change as a top risk to businesses in Malaysia.

She said there is an underlying trend as climate change remains a terrifying prospect, not just for businesses, but also for humanity.

“Why are we not in the same state of panic about climate change that we are about Covid-19? Academics argue that it is because ‘outbreak’ and ‘pandemic’ are the words accompanying this deadly coronavirus. Then, it is high time that we switch our language to truly represent the climate situation now, a climate crisis, an emergency desperate for immediate attention,” Dr Jemilah added.

She said businesses are missing from the equation for solutions, though they drive the planet; it is almost like a zero-sum game.

“Businesses can choose to either be proactive — recognise the risks and mitigate the impact in time — or come unprepared and merely approach the unmitigated risks reactively.”

“At the moment, there is still a need for a common definition for businesses to evaluate what economic activities count as environmentally friendly or disruptive, and if such classification should be extended to the overall business operations,” she said.

Meanwhile, Dr Jemilah said the pandemic taught the nation what good governance is, and the same can be applied towards tackling climate change.

“There is a need for sectors to come together, Asean is actually perfectly configured for this. Its Secretariat is composed of three pillars, all of which should be working in full synergy to address the regional challenges that we face from climate change and other future threats. The economic pillar of Asean should be visibly working with the business community, at future-proofing regional business, promoting the use of electric vehicles and actively moving to find ways for regional cooperation on renewable-energy generation,” she said.

Dr Jemilah noted that most importantly, businesses need to look beyond borders and consider engaging at regional levels.