Is it too late to save the planet? | The Tylt
In May of 2019, the U.N. released a report announcing 1 million of an estimated 8 million plant and animal species are at risk of going extinct. In October of 2018, the U.N. released a separate report warning that the world will need to make unprecedented changes in the next decade in order to save the planet. The Paris Climate Agreement aims to bring countries together to combat global climate change by limiting greenhouse gas emissions, but with countries like the U.S. backing out of the agreement, many wonder whether it's all too little too late. As morbid as the thought might be, what do you think?
Is it too late to save the planet?
The United Nation's latest report paints a bleak picture for the planet's future. NPR's Bill Chappell and Nathan Rott refer to Sir Robert Watson, chair of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, which compiled the U.N. assessment. According to Watson:
"The health of ecosystems on which we and all other species depend is deteriorating more rapidly than ever," Watson says. He emphasizes that business and financial concerns are also threatened. "We are eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide," he says.
As stated in the report, pollution, direct exploitation of organisms, and climate change are all complicit in butchering the planet's biodiversity. Chappell and Rott highlight a few of the numbers from the report:
- 75% of land environment and some 66% of the marine environment "have been significantly altered by human actions."
- "More than a third of the world's land surface and nearly 75% of freshwater resources" are used for crops or livestock.
- Since 1992, the world's urban areas have more than doubled.
With these numbers in mind, it's clear to imagine how habitat loss, contamination and more are creating an unwinnable battle for the plants and animals of the world.
It's never a good sign when the U.N. sounds the alarm, but the world is better off when it does. In October of 2018, the U.N.'s IPCC released a report that not only sounded the alarm but called for immediate and major reinforcements. According to the report:
...pledges from the world's governments to reduce greenhouse gases, made in Paris in 2015, aren't enough to keep global warming from rising more than 1.5 degrees Celsius....
But NPR's Christopher Joyce spoke with one of the authors of the report, Jim Skea. And according to Skea, there's hope:
'Limiting warming to 1.5 C is possible within the laws of chemistry and physics...but doing so would require unprecedented changes.'
The report expands upon these "unprecedented" changes, saying the 1.5-degree Celsius goal would:
...require a 40-50% reduction in emissions by 2030 (global emissions are currently rising). It would mean a carbon-neutral world—one with no net additional greenhouse gases in the atmosphere—by 2050.
There's no question that implementing these changes in time would be an enormous accomplishment, but the IPCC is clear: The world has to collectively move now in order to make it happen.
Another co-author of the report, Natalie Mahowald, puts it simply:
'We have a monumental task in front of us...but it is not impossible.' In 50 years, she says, 'it's going to be very different. This is our chance to decide what that road will look like.'
Some believe the gap between politics and science prevents any necessary, immediate action. In June of 2017, President Trump announced the withdrawal of the United States from the Paris Climate Agreement. And after Brazil's October election, experts say it might be next, which could put the Amazon rainforest at risk.
The politicization of climate change on a global scale will thwart progress, and by the time the world realizes it, it will be too late. According to The Guardian's Jonathan Watts:
The report will be presented to governments at the UN climate conference in Poland at the end of this year. But analysts say there is much work to be done, with even pro-Paris deal nations involved in fossil fuel extraction that runs against the spirit of their commitments. Britain is pushing ahead with gas fracking, Norway with oil exploration in the Arctic, and the German government wants to tear down Hambach forest to dig for coal.
Most importantly, Watts points out:
At the current level of commitments, the world is on course for a disastrous 3C of warming. The report authors are refuseing to accept defeat, believing the increasingly visible damage caused by climate change will shift opinion their way.
Meaning, the authors of the IPCC have no choice but to be hopeful. Regardless, governments are typically slow-moving entities on their own, and when every government in the world must work together, the task at hand becomes impossible.
The Kigali amendment, which was agreed on 15 October 2016 and comes into force on 1 January , will drastically reduce hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). These heat-trapping gases are the byproduct of industrial processes such as refrigeration and can be eliminated from those processes by re-engineering. The amendment comes under the Montreal Protocol, the world’s most successful international environmental treaty, which aims to stop the depletion of the ozone layer.
Experts estimate that cutting down on SLCPs could reduce global warming by as much as 0.5C. That would not be enough to avoid the worst effects of climate change if we continue to burn fossil fuels, but it could buy humanity some much-needed time while carbon emissions are brought under better control.
Perhaps world leaders have acted in time.