Adaptation governance in Malaysia: It’s time to listen to science


AS THE SEA LEVELS RISE and the tide of climate change continues to sweep across the globe, Malaysia is bracing for impact. With an 8,000 km long coastline, the country’s coastal communities and ecosystems are on the front line of this battle. States such as Johor and Sabah, which boast the longest coastline in the country, are in the crosshairs of an impending disaster.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has projected in its 6th Assessment Report that sea levels will rise by 0.8 meters by the end of the century (IPCC, 2021). This projection is an important piece of information that can be used to guide decision-making around protecting coastal infrastructure, homes, and businesses, as well as preserving important ecosystems such as coral reefs and mangroves.

As the sea creeps higher and higher, these areas are at risk of losing everything from homes and businesses to entire communities, and even their precious marine ecosystems. But the stakes are high, not just for these communities but for the entire country as the economic impact of the sea level rise in Malaysia is set to be alarming.

Imagine Malaysia at the end of the century where Johor’s famous beaches are submerged, where Sabah’s vibrant coral reefs are destroyed, and where entire coastal communities are forced to relocate. This may seem like a bleak, dystopian future, but it is a reality that we must face if we don’t take action now.

The key to saving Malaysia’s coastal communities and ecosystems lies in highlighting the role of adaptation in the current climate change governance. But it’s not just about protecting communities and ecosystems. As sea levels rise, Malaysia’s economy is also at risk.

The loss of coastal infrastructure, homes and businesses can result in economic losses. The destruction of vital ecosystems such as coral reefs and mangroves can also have severe economic consequences, as these ecosystems provide important ecological and economic benefits.

The closure of the National Ocean Directorate, which was responsible for coordinating ocean-related policies and programs, poses a challenge to the country’s adaptation governance. But, this should not discourage us from finding ways to effectively address these challenges.

Johan Rockström, a renowned Earth system scientist, spoke at the World Economic Forum in Davos, highlighting the need for a systems approach to addressing global challenges such as climate change. He stated that “we need to understand that we are dealing with a complex, interconnected Earth system, and we need to find ways to manage it in a holistic and integrated way.”

His words ring true for Malaysia’s adaptation governance efforts, as addressing the interrelated issues of protecting coastal infrastructure, preserving ecosystems, and ensuring the protection of vulnerable communities requires a comprehensive approach.

By taking a holistic, systems approach to addressing the complex and interconnected issues caused by sea level rise, we can ensure that our actions are effective in protecting the most vulnerable communities and ecosystems. Initiatives such as the Coral Triangle Project, which promotes the sustainable management of coral reefs and marine resources in the region, are a step in the right direction. However, it is crucial that these efforts are based on sound scientific evidence and incorporate the latest research and knowledge.

Listening to science is essential for effective adaptation governance in Malaysia. It ensures that decisions and actions are based on the latest research and knowledge about sea level rise, its impacts, and potential solutions.

By taking a science-based approach, the government, non-governmental organizations, and other stakeholders can make informed decisions that are most likely to succeed in protecting coastal communities, preserving ecosystems, and avoiding economic losses.

Climate change requires a kind of governance that is flexible, inclusive, and participatory and more importantly, it must be engaged with the dynamics of change and new evidence. One key aspect is to establish mechanisms for regular communication and collaboration between scientists and decision-makers.

This can be achieved through the formation of advisory groups, where scientists provide input to policymakers on key issues related to climate change and sea level rise. Another important aspect is to ensure that scientific evidence is translated into actionable information.

Developing clear and concise policy briefs, reports, and other documents that present the latest scientific knowledge in a way that is easily understandable for decision-makers is a must. Regular monitoring and evaluating the effectiveness of policies and initiatives and making adjustments as needed is important and needed.

By incorporating feedback and lessons learned into the decision-making process, the adaptation governance process can be more effective in addressing the challenges of sea level rise.Science would need to be incorporated with an economic sense so that policymakers realise the consequence of ignorance. In order to effectively estimate the economic consequences of sea level rise in Malaysia, a comprehensive approach that takes into account both direct and indirect costs is necessary.

Direct costs include damage to infrastructure and loss of property, while indirect costs include impacts on tourism, fisheries, and other industries. A study that combines sea level rise projections with economic modeling can provide valuable insights into the potential economic impact of sea level rise in Malaysia.

It’s time to take a stand, listen to science, and take a systems approach to ensure that our actions are effective in protecting our coastal communities, ecosystems, and economy from the impacts of climate change. Together, we can rise above the tide of sea level rise and secure a sustainable future for all Malaysians.

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