Despite decades of warnings and scientific proof, measures to address the climate crisis are not going far enough. Although the goal remains to ensure that the average temperature of the planet in 2100 is no more than 1.5℃ to 2℃ above pre-industrial levels, experts claim that we are currently on track for a 3° or 4° rise. This brings about a host of problems as we don’t know exactly what kind of world we’ll be facing. If we don’t act fast enough, we could face unprecedented levels of destruction due to climate change. The picture looks quite grim at the moment, however, there is still time to avoid it.
Here is a summary of the challenges we are facing and the possible solutions to the climate emergency.
Challenge 1: Global Warming
The average global temperature of the Earth has risen 1.1℃ since pre-industrial times. However, more disturbingly, in the period from 2015 to 2019, it rose by 0.2℃ as compared to the period between 2011 to 2015. In just the last five years, CO2 emission growth rates were 20% higher than the previous five years, putting us on road to the hottest five-year period on record. Just the last decade alone has brought eight of the warmest years ever recorded, with 2016 setting a new high. The Arctic seems to be facing some of the worst effects of global warming with a 3℃ rise since 1990 and a 3℃ to 5℃ rise by 2050.
Furthermore, the Intergovernmental Panel On Climate Change (IPCC) stated, in their latest report on global warming and the oceans, that sea-level rise is accelerating and is now unstoppable mainly due to melting ice sheets in Greenland and the Antarctic. The report states that even with complete compliance with the Paris Agreement, sea levels are expected to rise by 43 cm by 2100. However, if we do nothing, they will rise by 84 cm. This will put the 1.5 billion people living in coastal regions at risk of extreme weather storms, cyclones, and floods.
Challenge 2: Carbon Emissions
Our oceans absorb over 90% of excess heat and around 25% of the carbon we emit each year, effectively acting as carbon sinks. But the high levels of CO2 that remain in the water are changing its acidity. This comes at a great cost to the marine environment. Apart from oceans, forests and jungles are the other terrestrial ecosystems that are capable of absorbing megatons of carbon emissions. Yet, last year, fires ravaged the Amazon rain forest and currently, the Australian bushfires are destroying more than 4.9 million hectares of forest cover. Not only do forest fires reduce the absorption of CO2, but they also release it, along with other pollutants and gases into the atmosphere. These devastating fires pose several other threats as well, like the severe depletion in wildlife population and the disruption of the water cycle due to reduced rainfall.
Challenge 3: Water Scarcity
Studies show us that the planet loses 24 billion tonnes of fertile land each year. According to the United Nations (UN), 1.8 billion people will be living in areas with absolute water scarcity by 2025, and two-thirds of the population will lack sufficient water resources. Extreme heatwaves, long droughts, poor harvests, and floods are already causing an upsurge in migration. In just 25 years, roughly 135 million people could be displaced by desertification.
Challenge 4: Depleting Biodiversity
There are already signs of a rapid loss of biodiversity due to climate change. Ocean warming, acidification, and oxygen loss will have a major impact on fish and other marine species such as coral, which is being bleached due to rising acidity. This impact will unquestionably be felt in fishing communities and communities in vulnerable areas. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, 26,500 species are in danger of extinction. This will have dire consequences for entire ecosystems, which will, in turn, affect economies.
So, What Can We Do?
Solution 1: Decarbonization of the Economy
The IPCC estimates that the global use of oil and gas must fall by 20% by 2030, and 55% by 2050. To do this we must transition to clean energy sources using nature-based measures to decarbonize all priority energy generation sectors. We must mobilize public and private funding sources, as well as focus on local action to build eco-efficient buildings, public transportation, sustainable infrastructure, and smart cities. For effective decarbonization, we need to completely transform the energy sector to a model based entirely on renewable energy.
Solution 2: Nature
All nature-based solutions capitalize on terrestrial ecosystems like forests, jungles, and fertile land to capture CO2 and act as carbon sinks. This is precisely why reforestation, forestry, sustainable land use, and integrated water management techniques are vital. According to the UN, a green economy (an economy focused on sustainability) could create over 23 trillion euros worth of business opportunities by 2030. And a group of young environmental activists on the front line not only understand this but are championing it. Young people are making it clear by the protests they are staging; they are sending a message about the future of the planet.
Are You Listening?
Summarised from an article by Yolanda Colías at ACCIONA