Climate change, which started as an issue of pollution, has developed into something beyond simple fixes. 2019 capped off an anxious decade that saw human-caused climate change transform from a far-off threat into an everyday fact of life. Bushfires in Australia to massive flooding in Indonesia serve as prime examples of how drastic changes in the environment affect the human way of life and could become the new norms seen around the world, should harmful activities continue unabated.
The role of humanity is often seen by many as the principal cause of these devastating events, due to the colossal needs of every individual. For several years, carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, which is a contributor to climate change, have continued to rise at near parallel speeds with the goods humans produce and the resources they consume.
As such, the economies of every country have a direct influence on the exacerbation of climate change. This influence jump-started the finalization of the Montreal Protocol in 1987 as a global agreement to phase out the production and consumption of ozone-depleting substances (ODS), foremost of which is CO2. A year later, an issue that had been primarily neglected, reached mainstream recognition and culminated in the establishment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Lastly, the issue of climate change was recognized as a global threat when the Paris Agreement was signed by 197 countries as parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in 2015, with varying levels of ratification amongst signatories.
Despite the recognition of climate change as a grave threat globally, the number of measures taken to address the implications of climate change have been severely limited because of the desire of some countries to attain a level of economic development on par with that of the developed world and the continued use of ODS producing technologies by developed countries.., For there to be a spark of fundamental and widespread change, both governments and civilians alike, as well as the broader economy, need to adjust to the drastic changes that are necessary to stifle the terrible cost of allowing climate change to exacerbate. It is by no means a simple feat to overcome, as ODS producing technologies in every industry have been a hallmark of industrialization.
Despite the recognition of climate change as a grave threat globally, the number of measures taken to address the implications of climate change have been severely limited
In order for such changes to be committed to in a widespread and efficient manner, drastic changes need to be pursued. Policies and technologies need to be adopted by nation-states in line with cleaner means of production and consumption. Some of which are:
Implementation of a Circular Economy
Circular Economy (reduce, reuse, recycle), particularly for the use of plastics, is a shift away from the norm of Linear Economy (take-make-dispose), whereby resources used for the production of goods is drastically reduced or efficiently utilized to produce “more for less,” removing the wasteful use of valuable and finite resources. The EU is one body that has adopted Circular Economy action plans, which they have refined through the plan 2.0 released just in March of this year. Through this plan, tighter waste and recycling laws are the foundation of the EU’s future regarding waste rules.
Key elements of the EU’s Circular Economy plan could be explored for use by other nation-states. In particular, their vision for EU-wide recycling targets 65 percent and 70 percent of municipal and packaging waste by the mid-2030s.
An action that could be undertaken to enforce a swift reduction in harmful, climate-altering activities is the introduction of a Carbon Tax, where industries (or individual factories) can either receive cuts or increases in their taxes based upon the amount of ODS that they produce monthly or annually. Over 40 countries have implemented a price on carbon and it has been a cost-effective way to reduce emissions.
Among other countries, Canada has imposed a tax on fossil fuels for provinces which refused to write their own climate plans, which eventually led to them complying with state rules. A carbon tax would essentially incentivize adherence and adoption of technologies and solutions that inhibit the production of greenhouse gases that exacerbate the effects of climate change.
Agriculture System Revamp
The agricultural sector is one of the most significant contributors to the production of harmful gases, due to the nature of how the U.S. agriculture system is currently operating.
Animal waste produces climate-warming methane that is released into the air further exacerbating climate warming effects. In addition to methane, synthetic fertilizers are used for large-scale agricultural production where nutrients can leach into the soil and waterways. This also causes the release of carbon stocks from the soil into the atmosphere. Therefore, it is crucial to alter the means of agricultural operations by supporting farmers who implement sustainable practices.
Adopting a policy or system based upon efficient means of production and consumption in agriculture could commence a transition into an industry with a lower carbon footprint. This system is in direct opposition to the economy of abundance this sector has been operating in. This is primarily due to federal policies such as the guaranteed loan program that supported the expansion of concentrated animal feeding operations and factory-farms.
It is essential to adopt green practices in the agriculture sector to keep up with demand for food, especially given the increasing human population, without compromising the environment.
In the past 200 years, there have been great advancements in technology, leading to a diversification in energy sources and an increase in energy consumption. Despite nuclear energy being considered as one of the few alternative energy sources that produce or emit the lowest amount of greenhouse gases, it has been largely left behind when compared to other sustainable sources of energy such as solar, wind, and natural gases. Nuclear energy is considered one of the lowest emitters of greenhouse gases when generating electricity, and honing its usage can assist in achieving global climate change targets.
Alternative energy sources still pose challenges such as strategically locating a nuclear-based energy system. However, it can still provide a transition to low carbon footprints if handled correctly. Introducing a “greener” energy source as an alternative to traditional sources such as coal can ease economies into friendlier means of production, as well as lead communities towards supporting policies rooted in green initiatives.
As the climate crisis grows, alternative methods of curbing the exacerbation of pollution and alternative sources of energy have become the new green. It is imperative to find new means to lessen the negative environmental impact of human activities. Protecting the environment and uplifting the developing world out of poverty are progressive causes. Climate change is a major challenge, but is also an opportunity for the public to reimagine ways to curb the effects brought about by human activities. Although far-fletched solutions, if countries were to internalize and properly execute above mentioned strategies, it is possible to reduce emissions and save the environment, ultimately staving off the impacts of climate change.
Anushka Kapahi has completed her Master’s degree in International Affairs from the George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs. She has also completed her undergraduate studies in International Relations and Diplomacy at the De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde in Manila, Philippines. She also has a graduate certificate in Defense and Strategic Studies.