War to protect environment uniting, and dividing the world

June 5 is World Environment Day. It reminds the world of the urgency to care for the environment.

Judging by the events over recent decades, few would disagree that the global environment is not in the best shape. It has been badly ravaged, unfortunately, by us, humans.

In the name of development, we have bulldozed through projects that compromised the environment. As a result, cases of environmental pollution have seen a disturbing rise.

Many rivers have been badly contaminated by industrial wastes, depriving us of clean water. Our air quality has seriously deteriorated in some places, turning them into health hazards.

The large tracts of arable land we once used to grow our food have become less productive because of overuse and neglect. Not to mention being polluted by such persistent organic pollutants, which is remedy-challenging.

Now that we have reached an almost hopeless situation, we argue about how to revive best, and return our environment to normalcy.

The United Nations (UN) has initiated many programmes to move the agenda to arrest the decline in global environmental health.

We have the UN sustainable development goals (SDGs) to guide international efforts to embrace sustainability. The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), is one instrument created to galvanise global actions to tackle the climate crisis.

There are many more other initiatives by the UN to address the issues of the environment.

In Malaysia, we have also adopted roadmaps and blueprints to guide us. All our five-year plans pay close attention to the environmental challenge.

The 12th Malaysia Plan specifically singles out biomass, a potential environmental hazard, as a possible economic resource for the country to harness. Furthermore, in the quest for clean energy, the 12th Malaysia Plan has identified hydrogen as one energy source we must invest in.

For that matter, many countries worldwide have started the journey to embrace the hydrogen economy.

Though environmental wellbeing is seen as an important agenda for the world, there is doubt that everyone demonstrates a full commitment to UN initiatives.

Take the issue of ocean plastics pollution. Despite all the evidence of waste plastics destroying ocean life, there is no let up in the indiscriminate throwing away of single-use plastics.

The call to separate plastics at source for recycling has fallen on deaf ears.

Changing people’s behaviour remains a significant challenge. We saw the same frustration, in controlling the pandemic. So much for the public commitment to tackling environmental woes.

Countries also are not fully committed, as evidenced by the widespread flouting of the pledges made to reduce carbon emissions. There are countries that use the environmental argument to deny market access.

A good example is the policy to deny palm biodiesel access to the European Union market, which goes against the spirit of engagement and collaboration.

The good news is that more people now recognise the environment and nature as strategic capital for the world economy. Dubbed natural capitalism, countries now realise that the environment should be accorded similar, if not better, treatment than the traditional growth capitals of land, labour, finance, and technology.

Like the other assets, the natural capital equally requires replenishing to stay robust. More and more businesses are embracing the ESG monitoring and reporting mandate, reflecting their increased environmental commitment.

This is important since the business sector is the one which has impacted the environment the most. The issue of the environment has indeed united the world in some ways.

Many countries have now come together to fight the potential hazards of climate change, a major environmental threat. Many are taking steps to reduce their carbon emissions.

However, the world is divided on the best way to achieve that. Some die-hard environmentalists and well-informed scientists call for a total boycott of fossil energy.

But fossil fuel-dependent businesses would not budge from their position. The only way out of the fracas is to strive for a balance between emission and capture.

Net zero is the compromise that would hopefully unite the world to resolve the environmental malaise. Otherwise, the divide will continue with no realistic end in sight. @ESG

Professor Datuk Dr Ahmad Ibrahim is a professor of environmental management at UCSI University, Malaysia. He is also part of the Tan Sri Omar Centre for Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) Policy Studies at UCSI University.