Mitigating climate change through environmental conservation

By Dr. Tay Ai Chen

It is widely agreed that climate change is a global issue that needs international agreement and collaboration to address its impacts. Much of it is due to rapid urbanisation and growth of human population. While exploitation of natural resources and deforestation are unavoidable as poorer countries industrialise for greater economic prosperity, it is nevertheless necessary to investigate how the environment can be protected, and at the same time provide social and economic benefits. In other words, how can environmental conservation be made effective to support sustainable development and the attainment of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Borneo is located in the tropical forest region and experiences strong light intensities, high rainfall, and humidity throughout the year. This warm and humid climatic condition provides a natural ecosystem that is extremely rich in biodiversity. The high diversity of tropical forest species is a major tourism draw for Borneo. These species include the Rafflesia flower, pitcher plants, wild orchids, and the Orangutan and Proboscis monkeys.

Tourism is considered a clean industry as it does not cause direct pollution emissions from related activities. Therefore, clean energy adoption in tourism is effective in reducing carbon dioxide emission and fossil fuel consumption for mitigating the greenhouse effect.

One of the major issues of climate change is sea level rise caused by global warming. An increase of the Earth’s average surface temperature has accelerated the melting of glaciers and polar ice. The release of water and thermal expansion of ocean water has affected low-lying coastal areas across the world. This sea level rise has the potential to submerge and destroy coastal natural ecosystems, and also communities and property in coastal areas.

Widespread removal of ground vegetation and a proliferation of man-made structures on land has worsened the erosion problem and caused extensive localised flooding, particularly in areas with no proper drainage systems. Drainage systems are unable to cope with surface runoff due to a heavy rain. The occurrence of flash floods becomes serious if sedimentation happens at the downstream of rivers. Furthermore, river water quality deteriorates, affecting aquatic life.

To mitigate these problems, forest rehabilitation and restoration is now practised by communities and developers or proponents of projects to provide carbon storage, wildlife habitats, ecosystem services, and valuable resources in the long term.

Agricultural development is a major human activity to ensure food security to overcome the issues of hunger, malnutrition, and undernutrition. Across the world, crop cultivation and livestock farming practices are increasingly in line with the sustainable agriculture. To achieve commercial scale in food production and simultaneously protect our environment, energy consumption including the use of electricity and water, pest management, and fertilizer application, are being sustainably managed.

Effluent discharges from farming and aquaculture into river systems without treatment can cause the deterioration of river water quality, prompting the use of biological controls in organic farming and reducing the use of synthetic chemicals, which is aimed at optimising consumer health and minimising the contamination of soil, water, and air. Shifting to a vegetarian diet is another approach to reducing the excessive use of energy, methane emissions, and overgrazing in livestock farming.

Systematic management of municipal solid wastes, industrial solid wastes, and hazardous wastes is widely practised to minimise the effects of pollution on groundwater, air, and soil. Three major approaches in managing waste are source reduction, recovery, and disposal.

Electronic waste is growing rapidly due to society’s insatiable demand for technology such as smartphones, computers, printers and electrical appliances, which have short life spans. Recycling and reuse of electronic waste are crucial to reducing electronic waste.

Industrial waste from manufacturing plants such as slag, fly ash, and silica fumes have the potential to be recovered as mixing materials in construction.

Meanwhile, composting can also reduce waste as organic matter can be used as plant fertiliser, especially in organic farming. In addition, waste reduction and recovery can minimise waste disposal at landfills, following which the land can be used for other purposes to generate a beneficial economic returns.

By practising environmental conservation, we are mitigating global climate change issues. We need to continue reducing carbon emissions, transitioning to renewable and efficient energy, minimising waste generation, and protecting our ecological system. Environmental conservation will definitely bring us closer towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, particularly those relating to life on land, life below water, affordable and clean energy, and climate action.

Dr. Tay Ai Chen is a senior lecturer of Environmental Engineering in the Department of Civil and Construction Engineering Department at Curtin Malaysia’s Faculty of Engineering and Science. She is a member of the Chartered Environmentalist of Energy Institute, and a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy, UK. She holds a PhD in Plant Ecophysiology from Nara Women’s University in Japan, and a Master of Science in Environmental Chemistry and a Bachelor of Science in Environment from Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM). She had eight years of industrial working experience with Chemsain Konsultant Sdn Bhd before joining Curtin Malaysia, has been involved in more than 36 Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and Environmental Management Plan (EMP) projects covering infrastructure, energy, manufacturing and agriculture. Her research interests include environmental conservation, climate change issues, and vegetation growth. Dr. Tay welcomes any opportunities for collaboration, and she can be contacted via email at