AIPA & Climate Change

By Wong Chen, Subang Member of Parliament

For this month’s article, I will be discussing climate change. My office has been focusing a lot of our policy research time on this topic in the last eight weeks or so. Our interest in the subject matter started in late April, when I was asked by the Speaker to take up the post of Chairman of a Working Group on Climate Change for the ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Assembly (AIPA).

Upon my appointment, I suggested YB Mastura Mohd Yazid (Kuala Kangsar–UMNO) to be my deputy. Thereafter, I proceeded to appoint YB Arthur Kurup (Pensiangan-PBRS) and YB Senator Manolan Mohamad (PKR) to join the country report team. I take the view that the climate change working group representing Malaysia, should comprise of bipartisan MPs and one senator. The supporting team will be the Parliament Researchers, officials from MESTECC and my officers and interns.

This working group will be taking a central role in the three days AIPA Caucus meeting, to be hosted by the Malaysian Parliament in mid-June. All ASEAN member states will be sending MPs to present country reports on their respective efforts in dealing with climate change. The three days AIPA Caucus meeting cannot possibly deal with such a wide and complex subject matter and as such we were asked to whittle down climate change to two sub-topics. In truth we will only have about 5 to 6 hours to discuss two climate change sub-topics with 10 participating ASEAN countries.

The process of identifying the sub-topics started with reading a lot of journals, reports and articles on the matter. In the process, I watched a few documentaries too. The idea is to fully immerse oneself and quickly build up a broad and wide view on the issue. During the first few weeks of researching, my office met twice with the Parliament Researchers and MESTECC officials. Last week, we finalised the two sub-topics; (a) carbon pricing, and (b) rescue and mitigation efforts on extreme climate. In the next two weeks, the working group team will clock in more research efforts on the said two sub-topics to prepare for the AIPA Caucus meeting.

Now I will address the issue of climate change in as concise manner as possible, sans scientific and technical issues. This is what we know so far on the climate change crisis. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), an intergovernmental body of the United Nations, we have about 11 years to ensure that global warming is kept to a maximum increase of 1.5 Celsius. If we fail to do so and global warming increases beyond 2 Celsius we will enter into a phase of irreversible and catastrophic damage to the planet.

What it means is we have to take action now, not wait 11 years for the situation to become irreversible. This will require us to restructure our economic, social and environmental systems now. The solutions are twofold; (a) to reduce greenhouse gas emissions; and (b) to increase carbon sinks. To reduce emissions, we must impose greener ways to produce energy, as fossil fuel based energy production of all kinds and its consumption contributes around 72% of the greenhouse gas. As for the efforts to increase carbon sinks, we must plant more trees and maintain forests, as these absorbs carbon dioxide.

The most effective system to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is called carbon pricing. Carbon pricing can either be a direct carbon tax or a cap or trade mechanism. The problem with carbon pricing is that most governments don’t have the political will to carry it out. It is not wrong to generalise that most governments are friendly to powerful business entities, and the energy production sector is one of the most powerful. It is also a truism that Politicians are averse to introducing any new tax that may be passed on to consumers, for fear of angering voters and losing elections.

So what we have in a nutshell is an existential risk to the planet, where solutions are available but the global political will is severely lacking. In this regard, my assessment is the climate change crisis will not be voluntarily resolved by politicians nor by corporations. The ultimate solution must come from the people and how they exercise their choices as consumers. Only by empowering and informing consumers, do we have a chance to impact the corporations, and in turn the corporations will release the politicians to finally do the right thing.