Climate change is accelerating at an unprecedented rate. With it comes threats like global warming, pollution, natural disasters, degraded landscapes and threats to biodiversity, to name a few. In order to avoid the risks brought about by climate change, we must control greenhouse gases (GHGs) from being released into the atmosphere and boost the means of sequestering them. This way, we can ensure that average global temperatures are limited to 1.5ºC (34.7ºF) above pre-industrial levels. This figure was chosen in the 2015 Paris Agreement, the world’s first holistic climate-related treaty.
Currently, the human-induced temperature rise is just over 1ºC. However, scientists warn that we still need a 45% emissions cut to remain under the 1.5ºC limit in the next 10 years. The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) has identified six sectors where emissions can be reduced to minimize the temperature rise. These six sectors are energy, industry, agriculture, food and waste, nature-based solutions, transport and buildings and cities.
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UNEP has confirmed that it is possible to slash an average of 30 gigatons of GHGs annually by 2030. Through changes on governmental, private-sector and individual scales, we can prevent rising global temperatures by tackling emissions across the six sectors below.
Currently, the energy sector is responsible for 65% of annual GHG emissions. However, we have the technology and resources to prevent 12.5 gigatons of GHGs from being emitted into the atmosphere within the energy sector alone. By swapping out fossil fuel-based resources such as coal, oil and gas for renewable alternatives like solar, wind, wave and geothermal power, countries can benefit from clean energy, increased efficiency and lower long-term costs. In fact, in most parts of the world, it has become cheaper to build new solar photovoltaic and/or wind plants than to continue operating existing coal plants! This switch to clean energy would also provide three times more jobs than investments in fossil fuels, which would further boost the economy.
To swap over to renewable energy alternatives, governments need to introduce policies that incentivize clean energy and terminate policies in support of fossil fuels. Within the private sector, companies can track energy usage and efficiency. They must also transition to renewable energy sources and support companies within the supply chain that have similar values and practices. On an individual scale, people can manage the energy used in their households. Additionally, they can support companies that use or produce clean energy.
The industry sector includes the production of all raw materials and finished resources needed to support Earth’s growing population. This makes it one of the largest contributors to atmospheric carbon emissions. These items range widely and include steel, plastic, clothing and vehicles. Overall, global industries can reduce their annual GHG emissions by 7.3 gigatons. This can be done by adopting clean-energy-based systems, boosting energy efficiency, reducing GHG emissions in the lifecycle of products and tackling other climate-related issues like methane leaks.
Similar to the energy sector, governments can mandate reduced GHG emissions and promote the use of sustainable alternatives to carbon-intensive systems and technology. On a commercial scale, companies must look into sustainable production processes and develop products that are more environmentally friendly.
On an individual scale, we should strive to reduce, reuse, repair and recycle the products we consume. Our lifestyle choices can have hefty climate impacts. By purchasing more than we need, we encourage overproduction of goods and strain our wallets and the planet. One such example is plastic products, especially those that are single-use. They are extremely carbon-intense and growing in demand. Since plastics take thousands of years to break down naturally, plastic that is not needed is often burned. This further contributes to air pollution and GHG emissions.
Alongside being mindful of what we consume, we can also be more conscious of who purchase from. Purchasing products from companies with ethical and circular practices is crucial. This includes businesses that offer refillable services or sustainably-sourced materials. While eco-friendly products can be pricier than others, they are typically more durable and save resources and money in the long-term.
Agriculture and food
As a result of the changing climate, food shortages are increasing. Estimates show that 10% of the world’s population does not have enough to eat. By adopting sustainable food production solutions, emissions can be decreased by 6.7 gigatons annually. An additional two gigatons of emissions can be reduced by adopting sustainable diets and lowering food waste. By ending food waste, we can lower 8% to 10% of global carbon emissions!
Action can be taken on various levels for sustainable agriculture and food. Governments and businesses can support farmers with climate-smart technologies for agriculture and promote more plant-based products. This way, individuals are encouraged to eat seasonal, locally-sourced, plant-rich diets. Stakeholders can also work towards strategies to compost food scraps and limit food waste.
Nature-based solutions entail protecting biodiversity and preventing harm to natural ecosystems that help sequester GHGs from the atmosphere. This way, 5.9 gigatons of emissions can be reduced each year. By protecting terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems like forests and oceans, air quality, food and water security, local economies and climate resilience can all be enhanced.
Governments can incentivize protecting local ecosystems and enforce laws to ensure their conservation. Through re-wilding schemes and enhanced protection, these ecosystems and the flora and fauna in them can flourish. This is one of the easiest ways to help prevent the exacerbation of the effects of climate change. On commercial and individual scales, making mindful decisions that support or protect local ecosystems is key to maximizing climate resilience.
Currently, transport accounts for approximately 25% of all GHG emissions. If current trends continue, this is set to double by 2050. Transport emissions can drop by 4.7 gigatons through the use of electric vehicles, robust public transport infrastructure and non-motorized means of getting around, like walking or cycling. If vehicle emissions do not drop significantly, deaths from exhaust fumes will rise by over 50% in urban areas by 2030.
To combat these environmental and health-related concerns, governments can work towards incorporating and incentivizing zero-emission public and private transportation. This way, cleaner modes of transport will be favored by companies and individuals. People can also opt for using public or shared transport where applicable. Furthermore, companies should also allow for increased remote and/or hybrid work. By allowing people to work from home, commutes are reduced, which significantly lessens transport-related carbon emissions.
Buildings and cities
As of 2020, 37% of carbon emissions were produced by the construction industry. By 2030, buildings will account for 12.6 Gt of energy-related emissions. By refurbishing existing architecture and cities, we can reduce emissions by 5.9 gigatons annually.
If governments implement carbon-neutral construction regulations and incorporate green and blue infrastructure, buildings can manage resources and runoff with light environmental footprints. Cities can also be designed to maximize resources within the urban fabric, allowing neighborhoods to have all services needed in the locale.
For individuals, understanding the energy efficiency of buildings you inhabit is important. This way, you can address gaps through minor finishing tweaks, like double-glazed windows. To help maintain comfortable temperatures, green infrastructure (green walls/roofs), verandas and bio-based materials are excellent. Other green swaps include LED lights and energy-saving technology for maximized efficiency.
Via United Nations Environment Program and Greenpeace
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