I believe that, for all the global challenges that we face today, climate and environmental change is the one that will define the contours of this century more dramatically than the others. No nation, whether it’s large or small, rich or poor, will be immune from the impacts of climate and environmental change. We are already experiencing it in Singapore, where we are seeing rising sea levels, floods on sunny days, intense rainfall, strong winds and extreme temperatures. The year 2016 ranks as the warmest on record globally and here in Singapore, which had a mean annual temperature of 28.4°C. 2016 was an El Niño year, and mainland Southeast Asia encountered its warmest monthly mean surface air temperatures in April 2016 since record-keeping began over 100 years ago. Apart from surpassing national temperature records in mainland Southeast Asia, this event disrupted crop production, imposed societal distress and resulted in peak energy consumption.
But I do not believe that this planet is condemned to ever-rising temperatures and rising sea levels. In the last decade, attitudes across the world toward the environment have shifted. Where once there was ignorance, inattention, and disbelief about environmental problems, now there is concern, a modicum of political will, and a growing understanding of the causes of environmental problems and their solutions. Such solutions are particularly urgent in Southeast Asia. The greatest diversity of land and marine species is found in the region surrounding Singapore, and many of the region's ecosystems are fragile and under pressure from social and economic forces. Policymakers may be aware of these challenges, but there are few places they can turn to for insight and advice. At the Asian School of the Environment (ASE) of Nanyang Technological University (NTU), we can begin to address this lack of knowledge. We are an interdisciplinary School that is already a world leader in environmental research focused on Asian environmental challenges. The School integrates earth and environmental life science, ecology, engineering and technology, human ecology, humanities, and the social sciences to address key issues of the environment and sustainability.
I will finish on a positive note; we caused these climate and environmental problems and I believe we can solve them. I also believe that there is such a thing as being too late. When it comes to climate and environmental change, the hour is almost upon us. If we act boldly and swiftly, if we set aside our political interests in favor of the air that our young people will breathe, and the food they will eat, and the water they will drink; if we think about the next generation and their hopes and dreams, then we will act, and it won’t be too late. And we can leave behind a world that is worthy of our children, where there’s reduced conflict and greater cooperation – a world marked not by human suffering, but by human progress.
Professor Benjamin Horton
Chair, Asian School of the Environment