Nobel Prize in Physics: Is that the new hope for climate change?

Sustainable Asia
Sustainable Asia
Published in
7 min readOct 12, 2021


12 October 2021 By Stella Chen and Bonnie Au

Nobel Prize in Physics goes to a Japanese scientist who has dedicated his academic life to studying global warming and climate change. A restaurant has decided to embrace the ongoing heavy floods in Thailand by offering meals in the floods. Indonesia is keen to increase the use of palm oil in jet fuel, but what does that mean for the environment? In the Philippines, environmental groups are protesting against two gas facilities’ construction plans that will happen in a region that spans across dozens of marine protected areas. Find out more in this episode of GreenBites.

Nobel prize goes to scientist who contributes his life to study climate change

credit: photo by Bengt Nyman from Vaxholm, Sweden is licensed under CC BY 2.0

It is such a thrill to know that the Nobel Peace prize this year has been given to journalists Maria Ressa and Dmitry Muratov, for their efforts to safeguard freedom of expression in the Philippines and Russia. This is such an encouraging moment for all journalists who are fighting for truth, democracy and freedom around the world. Apart from the Peace Prize, the Nobel prize in Physics is also great news for environmentalists. This is the first time the Physics prize has been awarded specifically to a climate scientist.

Syukuro Manabe, a 90-year-old Japanese American professor at Princeton University in New Jersey and two others won the Nobel Prize in Physics for their fundamental and groundbreaking contributions to the international community’s understanding of global warming and climate change by providing policymakers with regular scientific assessments on climate change.

Dr. Manabe has dedicated his whole life to studying global warming. Back in 1967, he developed a computer model that proved the relation between carbon dioxide, a well-known greenhouse gas, and warming in the global atmosphere. His research work later, further explored the relation between conditions in the ocean and the atmosphere. This is a significant finding for exploring trends in environmental events, especially the increased melting of the Greenland ice sheet. Experts can now understand how such ice melting events affect ocean circulation in the North Atlantic.

Flooding and typhoon affect Thailand and Hong Kong

credit: photo by blavandmaster is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

A restaurant in Nonthaburi has managed to appeal to its customers with the idea. Eating hotpot and barbecued pork with water soaking up to knee-height has soon become a hit in Thailand after multiple cities, including Bangkok, were flooded due to heavy monsoon rain.

Although it is hard to imagine eating while having to worry about your pants getting soggy any moment, tables and chairs being overturned, and food getting washed away, some customers seem to not mind that, and were all in for such a thrilling dining experience.

One customer said that it’s a fun challenge, and that you just don’t know if you’ll get washed away somewhere while eating. Fun as it sounds, let’s turn our attention back to the serious floods that have been grappling vast areas of central Thailand and Bangkok. The areas are bracing yet another fresh tropical storm Lionrock after weeks of heavy rainfall. Thailand has a tropical climate and often experiences flooding from July to October, known as the monsoon season, that causes millions of dollars worth of damage. Several people have also been killed by the natural disaster.

Not only in Thailand, Hong Kong has been hit hard by the tropical storm Lionrock as well. On October 9, T8 signal was issued by the Hong Kong Observatory, and it was said to be the single longest No 8 typhoon signal since 1978, which lasted for 22 hours. While the strength of the storm used to be rare at this time of year, it has become more common, such a warning was raised in October 2016, 2017 and 2020. The top-level black rainstorm warning was also raised the day before. On that same day, a worker died after a building’s scaffolding collapsed in Happy Valley.

Indonesia’s innovation use of palm oil

credit: photo by Lon&Queta is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Moving on to Indonesia. The country conducted its first test flight using jet fuel partly extracted from palm oil on October 6, as Indonesia works towards its goal to commercialize fuel made from edible oil nationwide by creative ways.

As the largest producer of palm oil, Indonesia, according to its economic minister Airlangga Hartarto’s words in a virtual conference, is actively innovating the use of palm oil, such as the development of biodiesel.

According to the Energy Ministry, the bio jet fuel market is estimated to have a potential market worth 1.1 trillion rupiah ($77.25 million) annually, assuming a daily consumption of 14,000 kilolitres.

Indonesia currently operates a mandatory biodiesel program with 30% use of palm oil, known as Program B30, and its government has plans to expand the use of the vegetable oil for energy and slash fuel imports. The bio jet fuel used in the test flight only has 2.4% palm content, but in a 2015 regulation, Indonesia has demanded this be raised to 5% by 2025.

It is known that the use of biofuel can significantly decrease carbon emissions. Yet, environmentalists have raised concern over Indonesia’s keen attention to grow more palm oil as more land clearance takes place and its potential contribution to further deforestation.

For decades, Indonesia has seen forest and land fires that have taken lives, damaged people’s health and caused economic loss. The fires also affect neighbouring countries such as Singapore and Malaysia.

Protest against new construction of gas facilities in the Philippines

credit: photo by FairbanksMike is licensed under CC BY 2.0

In the Philippines, activists and local communities protested against two proposed gas facilities plans to be taken effect near the Verde Island Passage, a marine region that is rich in different marine species in Batangas. In fact, there are 36 marine protected areas within the region. The group Protect Verde Island Passage (or VIP) had sent out letters to raise concern about the construction plans, led by two energy giants, San Miguel Corp (or SMC) Global Power Holdings Incorporated and Linseed Field Power Corporation.

As part of the proposals, a unit under SMC, Excellent Energy Resources Inc., or EERI is planning to construct a 1,700-megawatt combined cycle power plant, with investments of about US$1.4 billion. It is set to be up and running by 2023. And for Linseed, which is a subsidiary of Singapore-led company AG&P, they have planned to build a 1,200 MW LNG (or Liquefied natural gas) import terminal and to further expand its plant to 850MW, with the goal to complete the development that is worth US$304 million, by June 2022.

Both projects, as mentioned earlier, are proposed to happen in the Philippines’ Batangas city, which has now turned into a hub for fossil gas. By December last year, nine out of 13 existing and proposed gas-fired power plants had been found in the province. The city is also home to tens of thousands of people, many of which are small-scale fishers or eco-tourism workers. The amount of revenue that comes from these industries amounts to about several million pesos for the province. That’s equivalent to tens of thousands of USD.

In Protect VIP’s letter directed to the two energy giants, it stated that these sectors are the most affected by liquid waste and bilge water from ships and oil spills coming from the construction and operation stages. A local think tank called Center for Energy, Ecology and Development (CEED) also showed support for Protect VIP’s protests by unveiling an analysis of an environmental impact study done by EERI which they said provided a clear picture of the environmental threats such as coral bleaching, physiological effects and the loss of marine biodiversity.

In the analysis, CEED claimed that EERI did not mention at all regarding the critical impacts to marine ecology ranging from surface water contamination to leakages of chemical additives or wastewater to aquatic contamination and climate impacts caused by methane emissions from natural gas.

On Linseed’s environmental impact study, CEED said the report failed to pinpoint that marine biodiversity in the Verde Island Passage will be directly affected throughout the implementation of the entire project. According to CEED, the report did not address the floating facility’s sediment plumes which could cause serious impacts to the soft coral colonies in the area. Large organisms that live at the bottom of the water could also suffocate from the structure.

Protect VIP also wrote to the project investors including China Banking Corp., and Standard Chartered, to urge them to stop supporting the two projects.

The environmentalist group also said in their letters that these two new gas projects will contribute to the massive expansion of fossil gas projects in the Asian region which threaten to aggravate the climate crisis.

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Sustainable Asia’s podcast “GreenBites’’ is hosted by Chermaine Lee, Khoa Tran, Avery Choi and Stella Chen. Producer: Bonnie Au and Executive Producer: Marcy Trent Long Associate Producer: Rachel Li



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