Last week, the world witnessed a historic moment when probably the biggest deal of the 21st century happened in Paris. 195 nations ratified the climate agreement in the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference or known as COP21.
Cheers and tears were seen Le Bourget, Paris when all the nations committed to cut greenhouse gas emissions to a level that will limit the global average temperature to a rise “well below” 2 degrees Celsius in the 12-page document.
Despite hopes given to the whole world by the international conference, many still holds back their positivity towards the agreement. After all, it is all talk for now, action will be the one which determines the outcome.
And if we talk about action, it rarely happens at the international level or event. Actions on environmental sustainability particularly on preventing climate change will have to be at local levels, especially when it needs a long-term commitment towards it.
This makes me think of my lovely hometown island. There have been interesting plans by the State Government through its Cleaner, Greener Penang initiative. When the initiative was launched back in 2010, it was a hit among Penangites. Everyone was looking forward for a more liveable Penang in terms of cleanliness and environment. In just a couple of months, many claimed that the state has been a lot cleaner and greener compared to the past. I have even heard a comment saying that the Penang Hill has become cooler since the initiative has taken effect. Seriously, I think that person who commented on that might have been up to Penang Hill for the first time. As a person who have been up to the hill for so many times and living in Penang, I think the weather has deteriorated since decades ago.
Talking back about the Cleaner, Greener Penang initiative; it has been 5 years since it was initiated, but what has really improved? Has the initiative made Penang any cleaner or greener? Is it merely a slogan and a publicity stunt to make the people feel it is cleaner and greener?
I guess I have many valid points when it comes to the debate on the effectiveness of Cleaner, Greener Penang.
The illegal logging and hillside clearing has been obvious especially during this year. Hills in Bukit Laksamana, Bukit Kecil Sungai Pinang, Bukit Gambir, Bukit Relau and certain parts of Gelugor has been cleared for unknown reasons. If we look into the Google Maps or Google Earth into the Penang island, we can obviously see brown patches on it. The view is even clearer when we drive along Penang bridge, we can see hills that are cleared whether legally or illegally. Towards the Penang island, we can see a clear brown strip on the hills. While towards mainland, we can see a huge brown patch on the hills. Greener Penang? I don’t think so.
In the recent months, we have also heard about land reclamations that will be implemented in Penang. No matter who is responsible for the approval, Pakatan Harapan or Barisan Nasional; the current state government must bear the responsibility in handling the issues. Whether we like it or not, land reclamations will definitely bring effect to the environment and the ecosystem.
In the middle of the year, State Executive Councillor YB Chow Kon Yeow said for himself that 8 of Penang’s rivers are categorised as critically polluted. The rivers are Sungai Pinang, Sungai Batu Feringghi, Sungai Mas, Sungai Satu, Sungai Kechil, Sungai Pertama and Sungai Jawi.
When we look at the cleanliness level of Penang; we do not actually have to argue that much. We just have to spent time looking around our neighbourhood. Places like roadsides, drains, rivers or beaches and even at the bottom of the “No Throwing Rubbish” sign. Rubbishes are still thrown everywhere. In fact, just early this week, I was visiting a friend’s high rise home just right opposite to Bukit Kukus in Paya Terubong. I saw three men throwing aquariums and furniture down from the hill. Although it may not be the cause of the Government, I would say that the initiative has not been successful to educate the public.
Last year, YB Phee Boon Poh announced a Cigarette Smoke-Free Penang by gazetting smoke-free zones in the public by targeting the core and buffer zones in the heritage city. Unfortunately today, everyone still smokes at anywhere as they wish to. Worst, some irresponsible smokers even threw the cigarette butts everywhere.
The Government plays a role to make sure its initiative takes effect and at the same time the people must also be committed at the local level to co-operate with the government.
In the meantime, Illegal hill clearing, polluted rivers, land reclamation, ineffective smoking ban and rubbishes – that is what Penangites have been facing right now. Cleaner and Greener Penang – you judge it for yourself.
This article has been published in Mandarin in Kwong Wah Yit Poh dated 18th December 2015.