"If we are serious about saving millions of species, then we must change our way of thinking, living, and appreciating all that inhabits our planet."Pixabay/12019

Our rapidly growing global population is depleting the Earth’s finite natural resources faster than nature can replenish them. At the same time, we are polluting the land, air, and water, pumping toxic gases into the atmosphere, and burying waste underground. There has been a more than 12-fold increase in our impact on the biosphere since 1950 due to increased urbanisation, economic development, and deforestation. During this period, the population climbed from 2.5 billion to 7.7 billion. If we continue at this rate, the planet will soon become uninhabitable.

It has been less than five years since the Paris Agreement delineated a global framework to avoid dangerous changes in climate, and limit global warming to below 2 degrees (with an aim of 1.5 degrees). Despite this, global carbon emissions increased by 1.7% in 2017 and a further 2.7% in 2018. Developing countries such as Morocco and Gambia are leading the climate change race with exceptional performances. However, the United States is one of the worst-performing nations, with 2030 projections that exceed the emission targets by more than three times.

“To have any chance of avoiding the worst impacts, we must move immediately to sustainable alternatives.”

As global temperatures rise, extreme weather events - including floods, storms, droughts, and heatwaves - are becoming more common. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicts that a billion people will face food and water shortages by 2050. Famine may lead to forced migration. Species that are unable to adapt to rapid changes will likely be wiped out. These losses will make the planet a far more difficult place to inhabit. According to a United Nations report compiled by 400 experts, an astounding one million species now face annihilation.

However, nature is resilient: It will gradually recover if we work towards restoring what we have destroyed, bringing animals, insects, and birds back to bleak areas, rejuvenating and making them beautiful again. The discovery of a catastrophic hole in the ozone layer prompted global leaders to sign the Montreal Protocol in 1989, regulating the production and consumption of ozone-depleting compounds. Since then, the ozone layer has begun to recover and is expected to return to 1980 levels by 2070.

That said, the climate crisis is a much larger problem. To have any chance of avoiding the worst impacts, we must move immediately to sustainable alternatives. What each one of us does in the next few years will determine what happens in the next few hundred years.

It is not just about developing greener fuels, technologies, and materials. It is about addressing every aspect of the net-zero future and the impact it will have on people’s lives, society, and the economy. Last year, the UK became the first global economy to legislate for net-zero emissions. Eliminating greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 will mean a fundamental change in all aspects of our economy over the coming decades, including energy generation and decarbonised buildings.

Carbon-negative technologies will be revolutionary in the fight for a sustainable planet. Becoming carbon-negative requires a country, sector or company to remove more CO2 from the atmosphere than they emit. Bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) absorbs CO2 from processes such as biomass power plants, lime kilns and pulp mills, and injects it into deep geological formations, removing it from the carbon cycle. Other nature-based solutions include afforestation and reforestation; enhanced natural processes include land management to increase the carbon content of soil using modern farming methods.

“To support a resilient future and respond to climate change, we urgently need to move towards new sustainable technologies and policies.”

Microgrids improve the resilience and reliability of electricity grids. They accommodate for the addition of distributed clean energy resources, such as solar and wind energy, to reduce fossil fuel emissions and expand beyond the centralised electrical infrastructure. This leads to increased energy efficiency, reduced long-distance transmission losses, and cascades outages. The downsides of using robust microgrids include high capital costs, local voltage rise, and islanding (a condition which poses a danger to utility workers).

Besides microgrids, governments need to take steps towards increased electrification of all aspects of the economy. A study revealed that electrifying residential and commercial buildings could reduce 13% of the US greenhouse emissions (mostly used for space heating, water heating, and cooking). Similarly, transport and industrial electrification could potentially reduce up to 17% and 22% of the total emissions respectively.

Electric vehicles (EV) are game-changers; they are more fuel-efficient and result in lower greenhouse gas emissions compared to internal combustion engine vehicles (ICEVs). A complete transition to EV’s will take time, however, as large goods vehicles are not currently supported.

It is also important to consider that replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy reduces the air and water pollution associated with extraction processes and transport. Fossil fuel extraction often leads to water deposits on the surface, which carries dissolved solids, heavy metals, and radioactive material - these are unsuitable for human consumption and difficult to dispose of safely.


Mountain View

The way we talk about the climate matters

The importance of Passive House and other equivalent low-energy building standards should not be underestimated. Low energy designs can reduce energy costs by up to 81%, and offer occupants the potential for higher quality environments with a more stable and controlled level of thermal comfort. These benefits should be fully exploited to promote energy-efficient designs when government legislation and regulation do not lead the way.

An estimated 8 million metric tonnes of plastic ends up in the oceans each year, accounting for 80% of all litter. During the COVID-19 pandemic, 129 billion face masks and 65 billion gloves have been used globally every month. On top of this, the price of oil has decreased with demand, meaning that the manufacture of plastics from fossil fuels has become less expensive than recycling. This cost incentive has further complicated the challenge of overcoming plastic pollution. We must reduce our daily plastic use and start using alternatives such as recyclable paper straws and bottles, as well as reusable cloth masks.

Environmental sustainability is one of the most critical issues facing the world today. To support a resilient future and respond to climate change, we urgently need to move towards sustainable technologies and policies. If we are serious about saving millions of species, then we must change our way of thinking, living, and appreciating all that inhabits our planet.