A Degree of Concern – Johor Bahru’s Rise in Temperature

By Edey Suresh, Board Member and Johor State Director for the UN Global Compact Network Malaysia & Brunei (UNGCMYB) which is the official local office of the United Nations Global Compact (UNGC)

Johor Bahru city
A view of our busy Johor Bahru city pre MCO time (photo by Kyaizee Mohd)

When we think of Johor Bahru, we often imagine a beautiful coastal city with azure skies, warm sunshine, fresh air and white clouds rising over the horizon. The rugged beauty of the city is coupled with a robust ecosystem of economies that thrive next to a complimenting yet competitive neighbour. The beauty of the city is further enhanced by a caring monarch and a conscious society.

And while the sight of the city that we behold in our minds is alluring and full of splendour, this picturesque image of our beloved city is now under threat. It is under threat by one of the greatest challenges faced by mankind. It is under threat by the very climate we cherish in the scenic imagination of our city. Climate change is a real threat to Johor and it is not something that is waiting to happen but it has long begun and the after effects are now rearing its ugly head.

A recent land temperature study published by Think City cited that five cities in Malaysia reported higher surface temperatures with Johor recording a peak temperature increase of 6.70°C within a shorter period between May 2005 and May 2018 in comparison to the other cities.

The areas with significant temperature rise were focused around industrial and developing areas such as Skudai, Johor Bahru, Tanjung Langsat, Pasir Gudang, Iskandar Puteri, Bandar Dato’ Onn and Tanjong Langsat.

We know that no single event can solely cause this climate crisis. Some may argue that climate change happens globally and it is even more evident in developing cities. I agree, but it is the rate and the magnitude of climate change occurring now in Johor that raises concern. The increase indicates that there is a spike in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere that can lead to serious consequences.

Some consequences are more instant than others, and some consequences affect our lives directly while others more indirectly. It may vary but nonetheless, the consequences are real, and it will happen either immediately or inevitably.

To understand the situation better, the temperature in Johor fluctuates between 30°C to 32°C. April is the warmest month, with an average high-temperature of 32.8°C. If the temperatures reached a threshold of between 35-37°C for three days straight, an official alert will be put out. Category 2 (heat wave level) is when the temperature is over 37°C for three days straight while Category 3 (emergency level) is when the temperature exceeds 40°C.

Globally, the ambition is to keep the increase below 1.5°C. This is a science-based target that is deemed to be a safe threshold for warming. The climate crisis however does not start at this 1.5°C threshold, it is already here. Going above 1.5°C aggravates the crisis further.

With increasing global surface temperatures, droughts will be longer and more extreme, storms becoming more severe due to warmer ocean water temperatures, a rise in sea levels, increased risks in food production and crop yields, jeopardised food and water security, more frequent unprecedented heat waves and a general degradation of good health and wellbeing.

In Johor, the devastating impacts of the rise in temperature are evident. The evidence of impact can be measured in the loss of livelihood, loss of homes, and loss of millions of Ringgit in emergency services, cloud seeding exercises and disaster relief and to the extent of seeing thousands of people falling ill from pollution.

The interesting thing about climate change is that is has the ability to affect everything. Climate change and poverty for an example are deeply intertwined because climate change disproportionally affects poor people in low-income communities. Those in poverty have a higher chance of experiencing the ill-effects of climate change due to the increased exposure and vulnerability. A 2020 World Bank paper estimated that from 32 to 132 million additional people will be pushed into extreme poverty by 2030 due to climate change. Climate change will amplify the already existing divide between those who have resources and those who do not.

This is not the time to deny or debate the issue as those who have already experienced or are experiencing the brunt of the climate crisis will keep rising. The question is not whether we need to act but how to act with urgency.

The overwhelming science and research are the reason for 148 countries to enter the 2015 Paris Agreement- the world’s first significant global agreement on climate. The Paris Agreement aims to strengthen the global effort against climate change by reducing CO2 emissions and help vulnerable countries to adapt to the immediate changes of climate change. Countries such as Malaysia have agreed to strengthen their efforts in order to keep the global temperature rise below 2°C.

The onus to attempt to reverse the damage is on us. Let’s face it; it is an unequivocal fact that humans are the cause of global warming. So, it is only fair to say that the battle against climate change requires a concerted effort from the public and private sector as well as the community-at-large.

In Johor, companies have for the most part freely emitted carbon. This attitude has to change, and they can no longer continue to sit on the sidelines. Companies that persist in treating climate change solely as a corporate social responsibility issue, rather than a business problem, will risk losing investors and affect stakeholder demands.

Johor needs to get back on track. Business ambitions and actions need to be bolder if we are to stand any chance of winning this fight. Companies must commit to fighting climate change and align their business strategies with better environment, social and governance (ESG) consciousness. It does not matter if you are a SME, small or large company. Sustainability ambitions are for all business sizes as it requires a collective effort.

The good news is that there are rewards for those who make a change. Banks are now providing Sustainable Linked Loans and other sustainable financial solutions that provide an alternative to borrowers with sustainability ambitions. Sustainable investors are also on the rise and many large corporations are now guiding their supply chain to adapt sustainable practices.

In recent news, the Singapore’s parliament has declared climate change a global emergency and announced to deepen and accelerate efforts to mitigate and adapt to climate change, and to embrace sustainability in the development of Singapore. Singapore has a reputation for planning ahead and when it comes to climate change, it’s planning for the worst by devising S$100 billion plan to safeguard the city against temperatures and floodwaters several times those levels with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong calling climate change a matter of “life and death.” Being a close trade partner, Johor companies that adapt sustainable practices will be in a better position to cater to the potential sustainable trade opportunities with its neighbour.

In Johor, we need unhesitating leadership to battle this crisis head on. Similar to the COVID-19 pandemic, no person whether rich or poor, will be immune from the impacts of climate change. Climate action must be made top priority as healthier living environments cannot be achieved by ignoring the degradation of the environment itself. The social balance of our community cannot be struck as long as the gaps of inequality, which is a by-product of climate change, are not tackled with seriousness. We are all caught in an inescapable network of chain effects that require immediate actions to pivot from development to sustainable development.

The need to demand for sustainable actions in everything is upon all Johoreans – Sustainable food, sustainable policies, sustainable businesses, sustainable healthcare, sustainable education, sustainable cities and more importantly a sustainable future – A sustainable future for your children and to your grandchildren.

A Degree of Concern – Johor Bahru’s Rise in Temperature
Edey Suresh, Board Member and Johor State Director for the UN Global Compact Network Malaysia & Brunei (UNGCMYB)1