Legendary astronomer Carl Sagan says “The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.” At the moment instead of protecting our home, we are destroying it at an alarming rate. Deforestation, marine pollution and over-harvesting are pushing our planets species to the brink of extinction. However, perhaps the most alarming effect we are having on earth is the alterations we are forcing upon our climate. Our livestock and transport industries to name some, are pumping our atmosphere with greenhouse gases, causing adverse changes to our planets climate.
In 2015 almost all countries came together to discuss what we can do to combat climate change. The Paris Agreement was finally sealed in December 2015, after years of faltering negotiations. The only two countries not to sign this agreement are Syria and Donald Trump’s America. The agreement aims to keep global temperatures from rising more than 2°C by 2100. Although the targets set were said to be optimistic and look almost impossible, it was a positive sight to see so many nations come together to discuss perhaps the biggest challenge the human race has ever faced.
When it comes to setting targets and making plans for climate change there are two things to consider; Mitigation and adaptation. Plans for mitigating the effects of climate change are generally straightforward, they look at ways to increase efficiency, transition to clean energy and improve heating, insulation, transport and dietary habits. Adapting to climate change though is not always as simple. Each sector will need to adapt in different ways. Some adaptations – such as flood defences can require huge investment to build, and only rarely prove their effectiveness. Yet there are plans and measures that countries can take, to both mitigate the threats from climate change and adapt to the changes that are already coming.
Furthermore, perhaps the most focused measure is that of switching from acquiring energy from fossil fuels, to more renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. So over two years on from the Paris agreement, which countries are leading the way when it comes to green energy?
Morocco –In 2010 a $300 million wind farm was inaugurated near Tangier. With a production capacity of 140 megawatts an hour. It has since been suppressed by the Tarfaya wind farm built in 2014, also in Morocco, which produces 850 megawatts an hour. In 2016 the nation switched on the first facility of the world’s largest concentrated solar plant, on the fringe of the Sahara desert. The countries constitution has been altered to include sustainable development, stop subsidising fossil fuels and has started welcoming private investments in the clean energy sector.
Scotland – In 2017 Scotland managed to meet 68.1% of its energy needs without fossil fuels. Wind generation had increased by 34% and hydro by 9% from the year before.
Iceland - Iceland generates the most clean electricity per person on earth, with almost all of its energy coming from renewable sources that make the most of its unique landscape. It now derives all of its energy for electricity and home heating from geothermal and hydroelectric power plants.
Denmark - Denmark is on the path to be completely independent of fossil fuels by 2050. With the most effective policies for reducing carbon emissions and using renewable energy, it is also a top choice for international students when it comes to environmental education.
France – Under the lead of Emmanuel Macron France has taken the decision not to issue any more oil and gas exploration licences. Macron is a great ambassador for climate change often seen pressuring other nations, namely America, to follow suit and make environmental changes to their governments.
Following on, it’s not just at the country level decisions can be made when it comes to climate change. Many cities are taking it upon themselves to make themselves more sustainable. About 74% of Europe’s population live in cities, and urban settlements account for 60-80% of carbon emissions – so it makes sense to plan at an urban level.
The good news is that 66% of EU cities have a mitigation or adaptation plan in place. The top countries were Poland- where 97% of cities have mitigation plans – Germany (81%), Ireland (80%), Finland (78%) and Sweden (77%). Perhaps more importantly cities and states in America are shunning Trump’s decision to leave the Paris Agreement and are striving towards a more sustainable future. New York City, Houston, Miami, San Francisco and California have all taken steps to mitigate the risks associated with rising sea levels and global climate change.
New York City mayor Bill De Blasio said in regard to Trumps decision “This is a dagger aimed straight at the heart of New York City,” De Blasio said, raising the spectre of rising seas and storms bearing down on Manhattan and Brooklyn. “We have to understand that if climate change is not addressed, one of the greatest coastal cities on the earth will be increasingly threatened. It’s very painful to reflect the fact that Donald Trump is from New York City. He should know better”. New York has already earmarked billions of dollars to retrofit one million buildings to make them more energy efficient, electrify its municipal vehicle fleet, plant thousands of trees and coat rooftops in solar panels. There is simply too much at stake for the world’s cities to go their separate ways when it comes to climate change, and so these moves are great to see.
Moving on, climate change is a global concern and so too should be the effort to protect the planet from this disaster. In the eastern world the countries with two of the world’s biggest populations are now doing what they can to stop climate change. Firstly, India has set an ambitious goal of getting 20 gigawatts of solar power online by 2022. A gigawatt of electricity is enough to power a small city. In 2012 the country started levying a carbon tax on coal to help subsidise renewable energy projects. As solar power has become cheaper than coal in India, the nation is leading a significant energy and economic transformation. Consequently, the nation is on the path to becoming the third-largest solar market in the world.
Furthermore, the country who is perhaps causing the most damage to the climate is now striving to slow down its destruction. In China pursuing green practices makes good business sense, especially as the world awakens to the imperative to reduce greenhouse gas emissions after Paris. China’s energy market is rapidly shifting towards renewables and Chinese companies are starting to invest large sums of money into the advancement of green technologies.
When Western economies were trying to reduce their carbon emissions, many clean-tech solutions were not yet commercially viable. Now, more and more of them are viable business models. These new, high-tech sectors such as electric vehicles, cutting-edge solar panels, wind turbines, batteries, high-tech recycling and waste management systems are boosting the economy and creating high quality jobs. Last year China was the world’s largest renewable energy investor amounting to $32 billion and employs 40% of the sectors global workforce. It will soon have the world’s largest solar farm in Qinghai province and the largest wind farm in Gansu. Five of the six largest solar manufacturing firms globally hail from China, where the cost of solar panels dropped 30% this year. China is stepping into the whole left by America when it comes to environmental movement.
As the world is moving towards more sustainable development, what about the UK? The government have announced they will commit to ‘net zero’ emissions but this comes as the UK appears unlikely to meet even its current climate targets. Without substantial policy changes such as an earlier ban on new petrol and diesel cars, progression will be slow. Thankfully the falling cost of wind and solar will unlock £20bn of investment meaning onshore wind and solar will both be viable without subsidies by 2025. But for this to happen the UK needs to lift its ban on subsidies in the renewable sector that was put into place in 2015.
In other areas electric vehicles share of new UK registrations has risen to 2%, still falling far short of Norway’s 48%, but a good step forward. E-vehicle sales reached 14,084 units in the first quarter of 2018 for the UK as people are starting to think more sustainably. In China 142,445 electric vehicles – private cars, Lorries and buses- were sold, a 154% increase on the previous year. It would seem that the transport sector is finally shifting now we must work on other sectors like that of the livestock industry.
When it comes to climate change, government leaders and politicians must begin to think beyond their term limits and lifetimes. They must ask themselves not how they can serve their voters, but rather how they can contribute to our species’ progress. They must think beyond the short term economic benefits of fossil fuels, and consider the long term costs to our planet.
The core of the problem is that we still rely on carbon-based fuels for 85% of all the energy we consume every year. But as Al Gore points out, there is a case for optimism “We’re going to win this. We are going to prevail,” he says. “We have seen a revolutionary breakthrough in the emergence of these exponential curves.” We are seeing an exponential decrease in the costs of renewable energy, increase in energy storage capacity and increase in investments in renewables”. In order to make these changes the world’s nations must join forces. Individual people, companies, governments and nations need to band together and do all they can to halt the destruction that is going to come from increased climate change.