Climate change is the major, overriding environmental issue of our time and the single greatest challenge facing environmental regulators. It is a growing crisis with economic, health and safety, food production, security and other dimensions. Mexico city, the capital of Mexico will serve as the International host city for this year’s World Environment Day (WED), with the theme ‘Your Planet Needs You – Unite to Combat Climate Change’, which seeks to propel nations to reach agreement on a successor pact to the Kyoto Protocol in Copenhagen in December 2009. Mexico has seized the opportunities of the carbon markets and has become second only to Brazil in terms of wind, solar, biogas and other Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) projects in the region.
United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has now launched a new and more ambitious phase – the ‘Seven Billon Tree Campaign’. This aims to see more than one new tree planted for every person alive by the Copenhagen meeting.
The highlight of this year’s WED is the launch of the ‘Climate Heroes’, which support individuals who are undertaking exceptional personal feats, high profile expeditions, and other acts of environmental activism to demonstrate their commitment and to raise awareness for one simple idea : Your Plant Needs You! These projects focus on environmental ‘hot topics’ like CO2 output, finding smart solutions to beat waste and tree planting.
UNEP has collaborated with these Climate Heroes to help inspire and motivate people to unite to combat climate change. The Climate Heroes call on individual to do what they can : from adopting the simplest habits like turning off running water when one is brushing teeth, to organizing a public event for WED. They also outline how individuals can cut down by half their climate footprint by quite simple daily chores. For example, jogging around the park rather than on an electric powered treadmill will cut your daily emission by 1 Kg. Around 80% of freshwater is used for irrigation – simple technique like drip irrigation could dramatically cut this use.
Every year over 60 billion tons of plastic are produced, much of it for one time use and less than 5 per cent of the world’s plastics are recycled. National Geographic estimates that over 85 million plastic bottles are used every three minutes. Much of plastic waste that is not incinerated or land-filled, makes its way to the oceans. As the waste breakdown, it is mistaken for food, kills hundreds of thousands of birds and marine life, and is now making its way into our food chain. Project Kaisel consists of a team of scientists and environmentalists who have come together with a common purpose to study how to capture plastic waste in the ocean, detoxify and recycle it into diesel fuel.
Climate change represents a challenge that recognizes no national boundaries. There are countries that have pledged to become zero emission economies not just in terms of CO2, but also in terms of other greenhouse gases. For example Norway’s challenge is oil and gas production, whereas New Zealand’s is livestock methane emissions. Almost 100% of Iceland’s electricity is generated by geothermal heat, but it faces challenges in terms of transport.
The old energy inefficient electric bulb date back to almost two centuries. People are now switching over to the energy saving ones. The World is already glimpsing a Green Economy – from the 300 financial institutions with $ 13 trillion of assets who are signatories to UNEP and the UN’s Global Compact Principles for Responsible Investment to the $ 160 billion boom in renewable energy transactions. And it is not just in developed countries, two of the biggest wind power companies are based in China and India respectively.
The current food crisis is predominantly one about prices rather than about supply. In many countries in the past 50 years or so the emphasis has been on hiking up production at the expense of all else. The emergence of marine ‘dead zones’ – deoxygenated areas of sea in which fish and other marine life-forms have either died or fled – are in part linked with the misuse of artificial fertilizers.
Shifting weather patterns threaten food production through increased unpredictability of precipitation, rising sea levels contaminate coastal freshwater reserves and increase the risk of catastrophic flooding, and a warming atmosphere aids the pole-ward spread of pests and disease once limited to the tropics. Ecosystems as diverse as the Amazon rainforests and the Arctic tundra, may be approaching thresholds of dramatic change through warming and drying. Mountain glaciers are in alarming retreat and the downstream effects of reduced water supply in the driest months will have repercussions that transcend generations. The most dangerous climate changes may still be avoided if we transform our hydrocarbon-based energy systems.
Some people may consider a tropical forest merely a collection of trees worth more as logs and timber exports. Although, these trees absorb the carbon emission of the developed countries – a service that might be worth billions of dollars a year, if only we factored them into a more intelligent economic system that included the GDP generated by nature, and not just GDP based on making cars, TVs and microwaves. Climate change will be equivalent to losing at least 5 per cent of global GDP each year. In other words, a failure to act will lead to a significant disruption of the global economy – the recessions of the past and the present will be as nothing to those of the future. Conversely the Intergovernmental Panel to Climate Change (IPCC) suggests that combating climate change may cost as little as 0.1 – 0.2 per cent of global GDP a year over 30 years.
By: A.N. Khan