As someone who studied environmental engineering and sustainable energy studies for years, I remember those days back in school with reports from scientists around the globe issuing stark warnings for today’s climate crisis.
Today, the speed of change is clear to all of us. From the wildfires in Amazon and Africa, to the heatwaves in Europe or the first glacier loss in Iceland, the changes are becoming significant and intense; the consequences severe. The recently hit Hurricane Dorian is one frightening example of how hurricanes will look like as the climate warms and the temperatures in global ocean increase.
We owe all of this to the environmental footprint of consumption – which has gone up excessively in the modern world.
Think of agricultural societies of the past. Communities were mostly self-sufficient – working hard but consuming enough to cover their basic needs. Yet in our modern society today, our demand from ecological systems is currently 75 percent higher than what the earth can renew today. This means that we demand as much from nature as if we live on 1.75 Earths. If current consumption and production patterns continue, the earth will need 183 billion tonnes of material every year by 2050, which is almost three times more than today’s amount and impossible to sustain. The balance has already changed so much that the oceans are filled with trash and plastic, the forests are destroyed, the land is degraded, our biodiversity is at risk, and ecosystems across the globe are collapsing.
The current environment we live in these days therefore brings more complex challenges than ever before, from the water we drink, to the food we grow and eat, and the air we breathe. Environmental factors contribute to 23 percent of all deaths worldwide and 26 percent of all deaths among children 0-4 years old. With the climate crisis on our plate, these numbers are likely to have the most severe impact in places where poor communities live and work.
Not all people will be equally affected by the climate crisis. The poorest half of the world’s population is responsible for only 10 percent of carbon emissions, while the richest 10 percent are responsible for a full half. Climate change may place up to 720 million people at risk of facing extreme poverty - almost the same number of people lifted from extreme poverty in the last two decades. Climate change is therefore not only environmental but also a human rights issue when we think of the fundamental rights to life, food, water, health, and housing. There is no doubt that we are currently facing the risk of undoing years of progress in development and poverty reduction.
Climate change also poses security threats. If we do not act now, it is not too far to hear more devastating headlines about conflicts over basic resources or mass migration flows as a result of factors such as increasing intensity of extreme weather events, sea-level rise, crop failures and water scarcity. This situation will transform between 25 million to 1 billion people into environmental migrants by 2050.
Therefore, international community and governments have a big role to play to make the global commitments happen in line with reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 45 percent over the next decade, and to net zero emissions by 2050.
To achieve these ambitions, at UNDP, we work with governments to find cost-effective, socially inclusive and integrated solutions to the climate crisis. Our aim is to strengthen resilience towards climate impacts and to accelerate the enhancement of nations’ climate pledges. Our work happens mainly in four main areas: Climate change adaptation, Climate change negotiations, Low emission development and Education and awareness. Each component aims to set up systems and capacities for transformational change through integrated solutions.
Governments should be working towards structural changes: reduce inefficient fossil fuel subsidies, increase transparency on the use of public resources, introduce policies and incentives for private sector investment in renewable energy, just to name a few. Government policies and decisions should be informed by the best scientific evidence. And we, as citizens, should continue to demand more from politicians and authorities.
In this moment, only collective effort will bring about change. That means as individuals we too must speed up our reaction to the global crisis and push our governments to do more.
We are all consciously and subconsciously motivated by each other. Many ways to be responsible in our daily lives have already been covered extensively: cut down on food waste and excessive shopping, switch to LED lightbulbs and to public transport, etc. Although individual action alone is not enough, it is a fundamental part of climate action to create political space for governments.
Take the responsibility of your own actions – stay informed, share information, educate people, continue to demand for structural change from politicians, and be conscious of your own moral responsibility. It is not too late to turn things around, if we all do our part.