Climate Change: The Good News

As more and more awareness is raised on the issue of climate change, there’s so much information available on the trends of global warming and environmental impact. You only need to check out our post Climate Change: The Low Down to get a grasp of the sheer scale of the issue, with a potential climate catastrophe looming for our planet.

Everywhere you look you’ll find, at best, extremely concerning breakdowns of the worrying situation our environment finds itself in. And at worst, critical analysis of the short timeframe before climate change becomes irreversible, triggering feedback loops which will spiral us into unprecedented environmental damage, habitat destruction and even our own extinction.

But it’s not all doom and gloom! The world is (mostly) uniting behind the fight against climate change and stepping up our collective efforts, responsibilities and obligations to combat the challenge we face before it’s too late. Governments, businesses and leaders of science and innovation are all pitching in and offering solutions to the current problems and weapons to help us tackle global warming going forward.

Notable figures have outlined their own plans for how we dig ourselves out of this rather steep hole. Veteran environmentalist and British national treasure, Sir David Attenborough offers his ideas which you can read up on in our post How To Save The Environment According to David Attenborough. Additionally, with his recent book How To Avoid A Climate Disaster, pioneering technology entrepreneur Bill Gates lays out his suggestions for winning the fight against climate change which you can check out in our post How To Save The Environment According To Bill Gates.

With all of this in mind, we’re going to take a look through some of the good news concerning climate change, global warming and the environment!

CO2 Emissions 

Firstly, let’s take a look at my country, the UK where carbon emissions have been reduced more than any other wealthy nation since 1990. During a two month period over the summer of 2020, no coal was burned to produce electricity in the UK – the first time this has happened since 1882. In fact, the four remaining coal-burning power stations on the British Isles will be closed in a couple of years and most likely never burn coal for electricity again.

The transition to cleaner sources of energy has meant that the UK has reduced its carbon emissions by 44% over the last 30 years, despite the economy growing by two thirds. 

This success has put the UK in a strong leadership position for when it plays host to the UN Climate Conference at COP26 later this year in Glasgow. To find out more about what’s in store for the event, read our post COP26: What To Expect.

By contrast, Germany, where coal is still burned to produce 24% of electricity, carbon emissions are down 29% over the same period.

Science

Mankind has already emitted enough carbon dioxide to blow past internationally agreed limits on warming – that’s the bad news. The good news is that this baked-in heating could take longer than previously thought to take effect, buying us time to adapt and develop technological climate fixes – but only if we reduce emissions fast. 

Those are the conclusions of a report, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, which estimates that baked-in heating (heating we have already committed to through historical CO2 emissions) will push global temperatures to 2.3C above pre-industrial levels. But not, potentially, for centuries.

Another study from research in Madagascar has also found that reforested areas rival mature forests in securing water, meaning reforested areas can boost clean water sources for local communities. To find out more about the impacts and causes of deforestation, check out our article What Drives Deforestation?

Not only is science helping us measure climate change more accurately, allowing us to direct our efforts in a more effective and targeted manner, there’s also countless cases where innovative technology can be used to create tools to combat environmental damage.

In the Spanish city of Seville, famed for its oranges – too bitter to eat fresh, but a classic ingredient for marmalade – the region’s produce is now part of the city’s power grid by being used to generate electricity. 

Another example of green ingenuity comes from a student of Mapua University in the Philippines who has invented solar windows made from rotten vegetables. These windows absorb UV light and convert it into clean, renewable electricity.

It’s innovations such as these that provide optimism that we’re moving in the right direction, and those who have the skillset and ideas are using their talents for the right things.

Solutions

All around the world, new innovative technologies are being developed, trialled and implemented that offer ways to produce power with reduced emissions, extract carbon from the atmosphere and clean up the environment in myriad ways.

Switching carbon burning activities to cleaner alternatives has been a driving factor in reducing greenhouse gas emissions for some time. But with the technologies involved becoming more and more commercially viable, businesses and governments are jumping at the chance to implement them and with a sense of urgency to become early adopters and thus, market leaders.

Norway is a great example of this, with the Scandinavian nation leading the race to remove carbon burning vehicles from its roads. In 2020, the country became the first to sell more electric vehicles than petrol or diesel cars. The rise in electric vehicle popularity in Norway can be partly attributed to the introduction of generous tax breaks for zero-emission cars, with the aim to stop the sale of petrol and diesel vehicles altogether by 2025.

With road transport accounting for 21% of the EU’s total emissions, this poses an optimistic and vital route to tackle the climate rises if similar policies and practices are adopted across the board. 

Electric vehicle growth has the potential to reach a 90% market share by 2030 if sustained, but only if strong policies support this direction. If developed responsibly, we can harness these technologies and potentially scale further unproven ones to reduce about two thirds of potential emissions in 2030. However, we need governments to drive this progress and take us the rest of the way.

Not only powering vehicles, low cost solar, wind, and battery technologies are on profitable, exponential trajectories that if sustained, will be enough to halve emissions from electricity generation by 2030. Wind and solar energy now regularly out-compete fossil fuels in most regions of the world. 

In October 2020, the International Energy Agency, an intergovernmental organisation, concluded that the best solar power schemes now offer “the cheapest source of electricity in history”.

Governments

In 2015, world leaders from 196 countries came together in Paris to sign the first truly global deal to fight the climate crisis. An initial signatory, the United States later announced its intent to withdraw from the agreement in 2017. However, a growing coalition of more than 3,600 leaders from cities, states, tribes, businesses, colleges, and universities came together to ensure America’s continuing commitment to the Paris Agreement as part of the We Are Still In movement. 

This coalition spans all 50 states, represents 155 million people, over 9.46 trillion in GDP, and is growing every day. This type of coalition across sectors, partisan lines, and even faiths was once unprecedented, but they now drive nations toward more ambitious climate action around the world. The Alliances for Climate Action is a global network of coalitions now spanning five continents. They are the new faces of climate leadership around the world and are speeding up the planning and implementation of critical action on climate.

At the UN General Assembly in September, the Chinese President, Xi Jinping, announced that China aimed to go carbon neutral by 2060. Environmentalists were stunned. Cutting carbon has always been seen as an expensive chore yet here was the most polluting nation on earth – responsible for some 28% of world emissions – making an unconditional commitment to do just that regardless of whether other countries followed its lead. 

That was a complete turnaround from past negotiations, when everyone’s fear was that they might end up incurring the cost of decarbonising their own economy, while others did nothing but still enjoyed the climate change fruits of their labour.

Again we look at the UK, where the government is now demanding positive action from the nation’s banks. For decades, banks have been able to use their depositors’ money to invest in the fossil fuel industry without having to worry too much about their customers walking away in protest.

However, a survey of 1,250 UK adults by Deloitte suggests that depositors are becoming increasingly aware and concerned about what banks are doing with their money – with seven in 10 claiming they are more likely to choose a bank that has a positive environmental and social impact. 

Imposing accountability and transparency onto the banking sector could swing huge amounts of capital towards more positive areas, or at the very least – away from negative ones, concerning the environment.

The UK was the first major economy in the world to make a legally binding net zero commitment in June 2019. The European Union followed suit in March 2020. Since then, Japan and South Korea have joined what the UN estimates is now a total of over 110 countries that have set net-zero targets for 2050. Together, they represent more than 65% of global emissions and more than 70% of the world economy.

Businesses

There is a growing movement among the private sector to address the risks that climate change poses while acknowledging and using nature as a solution.

Nearly half of the largest companies in the US now recognise that it is everyone’s responsibility to tackle climate change and preserve our planet for future generations. What’s more, as some of the world’s largest energy users, businesses have a unique opportunity to lead. Businesses also recognise the importance of adapting to climate changes. 

The falling cost of renewable energy and the growing public pressure for action on climate is also transforming attitudes in business. There are sound financial reasons for this. Why invest in new oil wells or coal power stations that will become obsolete before they can repay themselves over their 20-30-year life? Indeed, why carry carbon risk in their portfolios at all? The logic is already playing out in the markets. This year alone, Tesla’s rocketing share price has made it the world’s most valuable car company.

Meanwhile, the share price of Exxon – once the world’s most valuable company of any kind – fell so far that it got booted out of the Dow Jones Industrial Average of major US corporations. At the same time there is growing momentum behind the movement to get businesses to embed climate risk into their financial decision making. 

The aim is to make it mandatory for businesses and investors to show that their activities and investments are making the necessary steps to transition to a net zero world. Seventy central banks are already working to make this happen, and building these requirements into the world’s financial architecture will be a key focus for the Glasgow conference.

Walmart Inc. has cut 230 million metric tons of greenhouse gases out of its supply chain in the past three years. The retailer is putting pressure on suppliers to keep the cuts coming by using more clean energy, shifting toward environmentally friendly product design and packaging, cutting emissions from agriculture, and protecting forests.

Apple Inc. committed in July to become carbon neutral by 2030. Since the $1.6 trillion company’s own electricity needs are already served entirely by renewables, its new climate commitment is about its indirect emissions. Cupertino, California-based Apple said it will ensure most of its suppliers deploy energy efficiency measures and switch to 100% renewables by the end of the decade.

Unilever NV will spend $1.2 billion to eliminate the use of fossil fuels in the production of its cleaning products by 2030. The company said in September it will replace the petrochemicals found in its detergents and household cleaners with renewable or recycled alternatives.

Ride-hailing app Lyft said 100% of its trips will be in electric vehicles by the end of 2030. The pledge comes after California regulators released an analysis in December showing that ride-hailing services emit 50% more greenhouse gas per passenger mile than the average car. Lyft now faces the challenge of persuading its drivers – who aren’t considered employees in most of its operating jurisdictions – to buy EVs.

With pressure from governments and stakeholders – often wishing to avoid negative PR – major companies around the world are being driven to become more green and do more to protect and preserve our environment. If such regulations and initiatives can be adopted on a wider scale, this could present a hugely promising shift in the right direction for the global battle on climate change.

People

A vast amount of the positive changes happening in the fight against climate change are being driven by ordinary people like you and me. Raising awareness, sharing information and ultimately, applying pressure to our leaders to take action are all contributing in meaningful ways.

On September 22, 2019, an estimated 6 million people around the world joined the global climate strike making it likely the largest climate rally ever. While the protests were led by younger people, the event brought together individuals of every age, every walk of life, across cultures, and even party lines. But the strike was just the beginning. It showed that everyone has a voice in our efforts to tackle the climate crisis.

Climate strikes have become more and more common and effective recently, helped in no small part by the inspirational environmental activists leading the charge and coordinating the activities. With more exposure and influence, these climate heroes command more sway over politicians and can effectively act as lobbyists for the environment.

Notable individuals such as Greta Thunberg now have not only the attention of millions around the world, but also the ear of political leaders. As more activists find themselves in positions of influence, more action will be taken by policy makers to meet their demands, policed by social disapproval. 

Animals

Lastly, animals. We often forget the devastating impacts that environmental destruction can wreak on our mammal, reptile, fish and bird friends, too caught up in how the pressing issue will impact humans. 

The consequences for many species, unfortunately, has been too overwhelming, with countless going extinct. However, due to growing awareness and public pressure, more is being done to protect endangered species and in many cases even nurture them back to thriving populations.

Efforts to curb poaching have helped Kenya’s elephant population more than double over the past three decades, the Kenya Wildlife Service said in August. There were just 16,000 elephants in Kenya in 1989, but by 2018 that number had grown to more than 34,000. 

The Kenyan government has stiffened fines and jail terms over the past several years for anyone convicted of poaching or trafficking in wildlife trophies such as lion heads or stools made from elephants’ feet.

The Somali sengi, a molelike mammal that hadn’t been spotted for 50 years, has been discovered to be alive and well. Scientists had feared the creature might be extinct. The sengi is known as an elephant shrew because it sucks up ants with its trunk-like nose. While it wasn’t seen in Somalia for decades, it was found thriving in neighboring Djibouti.

Tasmanian devils returned to mainland Australia for the first time in millennia. These marsupials disappeared from the continent 3,000 years ago, likely because Indigenous hunters killed off most of Australia’s large mammals, on whose remains they’d scavenge. 

Restricted to the island state of Tasmania, the population of Tasmanian devils dropped to 25,000 in the 1990s after the spread of a contagious and deadly facial cancer. In March and September, just over two dozen were taken to a thousand-acre fenced wildlife sanctuary in eastern Australia and are now running wild, adjusting to their ancestral homeland.

In a globally concerted effort to curb the illegal smuggling of endangered species, between September and October of last year, global law enforcement bodies and wildlife officials seized thousands of wildlife products as part of Operation Thunder. 

Included in the contraband were scales representing some 1,700 pangolins and 87 truckloads of timber. Live animals were also recovered, including more than 30 chimpanzees and 1,800 reptiles. The effort, led by Interpol and the World Customs Organization, involved more than a hundred countries and was the fourth annual operation of its kind.

Wrap Up

There’s no getting around it, the situation we find ourselves in is dire. It requires urgent and significant action on a global scale. But there’s hope.

With governments introducing more strict regulations and setting achievable targets for pollution, industry leaders and businesses adopting green initiatives and individuals around the world banding together in a collective force to hold those in power accountable and to take action, we have a chance to limit the impacts of climate change before they become insurmountable and irreversible. 

Every day, the scientific community allows us to be more informed, innovation and commercialised green technologies offer more effective and affordable solutions and individuals become more empowered, with their voices being heard.

Everything we’ve covered here is certainly good news and shows not just baby steps, but strides in the right direction. If we’re to have a shot at tackling climate change, we need to ramp up these efforts and ensure, whenever possible, carbon emissions, environmental destruction and the impacts of climate change are limited as swiftly as possible.

As an optimist, I’m hopeful. And I’m certainly taking the above as signs that the fight against climate change is one which can be won.

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