The world faces economic crises and challenges, ranging from population growth, climate change, water scarcity and pollution, food crises, soil depletion, erosion and desertification. There is, also the extra need to tackle urbanisation and slum development, rural–urban and international migration, physical and structural violence, gender, race and ethnic discrimination, youth unemployment and an increasing loss of ecosystem services.
These crises may result in extreme outcomes, especially for vulnerable people living in risky places, and may reduce human, gender and environmental security. Indeed, mankind uses the equivalent of 1.6 planet earths to provide resources for consumption and to absorb waste. If we continue with the same pattern, in 2030 we will need two planets.
The extinction rate of species is today 1,000 times higher than the pre-fossil age and if humankind continues with the present unsustainable system of production and consumption it will be 10,000 times greater on average; affecting amphibians and birds, collapsing fisheries, diminishing forest cover, depleting fresh water systems and increasing Green House Gas emissions.
Both water and carbon cycles together with other external parameters for the planet – position and activity of the sun – have changed atmospheric conditions. Nevertheless, climate change is currently associated with human impacts on Earth.
Thus temperature in the troposphere, over land and in the sea rises, water vapor increases, sea ice, glaciers and permafrost lose volume, oceans maintain heat and energy, and sea level rises due to the expansion of water and melting glaciers.
Linked to the interaction of these natural and human factors, extreme weather events (cyclones, droughts, landslides) occur more frequently and with stronger effects on many regions. Changes in the natural system are the result of modifications in agricultural production, rapid urbanisation, and population growth—the human population tripled during the last century, but water consumption increased sixfold.
Energy, transportation and production sectors have polluted heavily due to their use of fossil fuels. In addition, land-use change and deforestation are reducing the capture of carbon dioxide (CO 2). Hence, the emissions from greenhouse gases (GHG) have increased exponentially. Moreover, scientists have warned that the earth will enter into the sixth largest extinction event – the first caused by human activities.
Eighty per cent of CO 2 in the atmosphere now comes from energy used in transportation and industrial, economic and consumer activity; the rest is related to deforestation and destruction of ecosystems. Two key indicators of a changing climate are temperature and sea level rise with changes in precipitation.
It will not be possible to promote efficient mitigation and adaptation actions without the involvement of exposed people, transparent support by governments and investment by the business community.
Regional and local dual vulnerabilities may increase threats, and a collaborative interplay from bottom up and top down can reduce risks, especially when they are reinforced by international, national and local knowledge, global projections and multilateral and bilateral support.
In 2008, food price hikes increased hunger worldwide. Between 800,000 and a billion people currently suffer from hunger. Forty-four per cent of the world’s population depends directly on ecosystem services for rain-fed agriculture and in 2014 two billion people were affected by flooding.
The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) estimate that, as a consequence of extreme climate events, environmentally induced migration will increase substantially. The presence of disease is likely to rise.
Malaria, dengue, chikungunya and other tropical diseases are increasing with the higher temperatures and spreading to higher altitudes. Mitigation and adaptation are becoming embedded in planning processes. Engineered and technological options are commonly implemented adaptive responses, often integrated within existing programmes such as disaster risk management and water management.
There is increasing recognition of the value of social, institutional, and ecosystem-based measures and of the extent of constraints to adaptation. Global policy must limit the temperature increase to below 2°C above pre-industrial levels by the end of the century.
This signifies a gradual shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy, promotion of energy efficiency and restoration of destroyed ecosystems. These actions should imply the dematerialisation of production, recycling of waste and adjustments to the existing model of civilisation and consumerism.
Global proactive policies of mitigation can change the direction towards a sustainable transition, which may prevent an increasing number of disasters. Additionally, adaptive processes, precautionary learning, and resilience in communities exposed to environmental change allow developing capabilities needed to effectively protect people from future climate events. —The writer is a climate change consultant at The Fog and director Poseidon Group