Solving climate change doesn’t save the planet, it saves us
Solving climate change doesn’t always require technically advanced methods. Singaporean Professor Koh Lian Pin is leading the way with nature-based solutions
“We must get people to understand that we are not doing this to save wildlife, or even the planet, it’s to save ourselves,” states Professor Koh Lian Pin, director of Singapore’s Centre for Nature-based Climate Solutions (CNCS), on why everybody needs to get on board with the issue of climate change.
It was the internationally respected scientist’s desire to make a difference and look for real solutions to this global crisis that led him to return to Singapore after 16 years abroad to set up CNCS.
“I came back because this is where I can play a big role; I can use the experience and expertise that I have gained overseas,” continues Koh, whose career has taken him to institutions in Switzerland, Australia and the US.
A firm believer in technology, he has conducted a TEDx talk on the benefits of using drones in conservation work and founded Conservation for Drones, a non-profit organisation that arose from his hobby for flying remote control planes while based in Zurich.
Most recently, he spent two years as vice president of science partnerships and innovation at Conservation International (CI), a global environmental organisation. It was while working for CI that Koh really began to explore the potential of nature-based solutions to help counter global warming, such as the management, protection or even restoration of ecosystems – like tropical rainforests, peatland or mangroves – to tap their natural ability to store harmful carbon.
“In the universe of climate change solutions, nature-based options have received the least attention in recent decades,” says the award-winning scientist, who is a beneficiary of the government’s Returning Singaporean Scientists Scheme. “Yet I believe there is a huge potential. These can be the most effective option.”
That belief is what inspired him to start CNCS, bringing together a team of experts, drawn from different disciplines, to quantify this potential and use scientific analysis and research to ensure greater credibility in this field.
The initial (unpublished) findings are promising, with the team estimating that globally nature-based solutions could mitigate over half the 40 billion tonnes of carbon released annually into the atmosphere. It also found that protecting the world’s currently threatened areas of tropical rainforest could save up to 1.8 billion tonnes of carbon emissions.
For the dedicated conservationist, who first got interested in biological sciences after reading Richard Dawkins as a teenager, the benefits of this approach are clear. Not only does it lower carbon levels, but it also protects animal, bird and plant species from the threat of changing land use, something Koh knows about first-hand from his research into the impact of oil palm plantations in Indonesia and Malaysia. Yet ever the pragmatist, he also highlights a persuasive economic benefit to this approach.
“The most potent argument is to make people, companies, and governments realise the economic potential of carbon offsetting,” he states, pointing to the Centre’s research. It’s estimated that ecosystems in Asia Pacific have a potential value of around US$24.6 billion in terms of carbon offsetting.
“We want to show the government the potential of these solutions, as well as help them better understand some of the problems,” explains Koh, who believes the Centre’s research can help guide government policy and wider decision making in the region.
The 44-year-old is not just focussing on his work at CNCS, having recently taken up an additional post as a nominated member of parliament in the current Singapore parliament.
“I saw my contemporaries beginning to enter leadership positions in Singapore, and I felt I should also get involved,” explains Koh, who has already spoken in parliament about conservation and climate change. He welcomed the government’s announcement of the Green Plan to tackle climate change and hopes to be involved with Singapore’s strategy going forward.
Looking to the future Koh is confident the world and particularly Singapore is moving in the right direction. “I am an eternal optimist,” he says, “There’s no going back from where we’ve come.”Centre for Nature-based Climate Solutions