Climate Change: Penang Out of Time


Symposium On Sustainable Penang. Malaysia. 16 January 2018.


“In time, Malaysians will catch up!”

One of the young panels announced confidently.

Promising ideas were offered by young panels in a symposium held in Komtar Tower, Auditorium A in Penang state of Malaysia. The topic was “Can Penang be made sustainable by 2030?”

One of them highlighted the importance of public transport in reducing or even eliminating the need for private cars. Another pointed at our public education system by urging for mandatory and extensive topic on climate change in school’s syllabus. Strong words such as “love for our nature” were even used to stress how fundamental paradigm shift in our relationship with nature was the key solution.

The discussion climbed to climax when moderator Dr. Lee Lik Meng, who is also a former professor from University Science Malaysia, challenged the youths on how to make the solutions possible by 2030. As one of the panels began answering, a particular phrase caught my attention. My internal alarm went off. And before I could ponder further, the phrase came again. And again. When it rang in my ears for the fourth time, I knew there was no mistake. Something was wrong.


The 21st Conference of the Parties of the UNFCCC. Paris. 12 December 2015.

In this historic moment, 195 nations stood together and signed an agreement that could potentially change the course of our history. It would later known as the Paris Agreement. World leaders vowed to keep temperature in year 2050 from increased more than 2 degrees Celsius above where they were before we started powering our economy with coal.

The target ‘two degree Celsius’ was chosen for a very specific reason. Breach the 2 degrees Celsius target, and we break our Earth’s capability to recover. That means the damage we inflicted on our planet will be irreversible and any chance of survival will be out of the window. So far, the temperature has increased by 0.8 degrees Celsius and we have already experienced some of the worse natural disasters ever. Allowing the temperature to warm more than twice that amount will unquestionably have perilous consequences.

In fact, renowned journalist Naomi Klein pointed out that a report published by the World Bank warned that “we’re on track for a 4 degrees Celsius warmer world [by century’s end] marked by extreme heat waves, declining global food stocks, loss of ecosystems and biodiversity, and life-threatening sea level rise.” And the report cautioned that, “There is also no certainty that (human) adaptation to a 4 degrees Celsius world is possible.”

Indeed, we have to act, and we have to act now. With only less than 3 decades away from exceeding the 2 degrees Celsius mark, time is the last thing we can afford to waste.


In auditorium A, the particular phrase rang again in my ears.

“In time, the syllabus in our public education will improve!”

My internal alarm went off again. It was like siren wailed in my ears.

“In time, the city design in Penang will be ideal for the use of public transport!”

Siren thundering in my ears.

“In time, our nation’s legislation will improve and meet the actual needs of the world!”

Someone was having a drum concert on my eardrum.

“In time, Malaysians will catch up!”

One of the young panels announced confidently.

I swear I was almost deaf.


Penang, Malaysia. 4 November 2017.

Penang was making headlines in mainstream media after nearly 2 years the Paris Agreement was signed. The state was experiencing the worst flood to date that displaced around 2,000 victims. That was, however, only the beginning of much worse to come.

Four degrees of warming will also raise global sea levels by 1 or possibly even 2 meters. Island will be drown and coastal areas will be inundated. Penang island will be no exemption.

And let’s not forget about the brutal heat waves that can kill tens of thousands of people. Coupled it with the dramatic yield losses of crops it brings, in a time when demand surges due to population growth, the consequence will be dire. If our ancestors came to Malaya as war or economic refugees, our children will be fleeing Malaysia as climate refugees. Assuming if they survived the raging wildfires, fisheries collapses, widespread disruptions to water suppliers, and globetrotting diseases in the future.

To drive home the point that we are simply running out of time, plenty of mainstream analysts now confirmed that based on our current emissions trajectory, we are headed for even more than 4 degrees of warming. International Energy Agency (IEA) put that number at 6 degrees Celsius.

Fooling ourselves into thinking we can do things slowly, and the change can be gradual and unpainful, is the first thing we should stop doing.


Back in the symposium, it dawned on me that our nation still has much work to be done. After all, the baseless optimistic from one of the young panels that everything will be magically solved in the future sounded suspiciously like we are, yet again, postponing the problem for the next generation to solve – Something we know to do only too well.

As the discussion on stage drawing to an end, I collected my belongings and was ready to leave in a not-so-bright mood.

That was when another panel countered, “No, the future is now! We have to start making difference! Start from today!”

I can’t stop the big smile on my face. Perhaps there is still hope for us after all.

And of course the panel who made the bold remark was a woman.


This article was first published on Aliran, later shared by Penang Green Council on Facebook.