DiscourseAugust 3, 2021 11:14:40 AMT
In 2019, more than 11,000 researchers declared a global climate emergency. They set up a comprehensive series signs of life which affect or reflect the health of the planet, such as deforestation, fossil fuel subsidies, glacier thickness, ocean acidity, and surface temperature.
In the new paper published today, we show how these vital functions have changed since the original release, including with the COVID-19 pandemic. In general, although we have seen a lot of positive talk and commitments from some governments, most of the time our vital functions are not moving in the right direction.
So let’s see how things have progressed since 2019, from the growing number of livestock to the meager impact of the pandemic.
Is all the bad news?
No, fortunately. Fossil fuel sales and fossil fuel subsidies have improved in record ways, which could mean an economic transition to the future of renewable energy.
However, most of the other vital signs reflect the consequences of the hitherto relentless “business as usual” approach to climate change policy worldwide.
Of particular concern is the unprecedented rise in climate-related disasters from 2019 onwards. This includes devastating floods South Kalimantan Province in Indonesia, save the heat southwestern United States, unusual storms in India and of course 2019-2020 megapalos in Australia.
In addition, three main greenhouse gases – carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide – set record levels of atmospheric concentrations in 2020 and again in 2021. In April this year, carbon dioxide concentrations reached 416 ppm, the highest monthly global average concentration ever.
Last year was too the second hottest year in history, and the history of the five hottest years has happened since 2015.
There are now more ruminants than cattle, buffalo, sheep and goats. four billionand their total mass is greater than the total mass of all humans and wild mammals. This is a problem because these animals are responsible for influencing biodiversity, releasing huge amounts of methane emissions, and the land is still being cleared to make room for them.
Better news, recent meat production per capita refused about 5.7 percent (2.9 pounds per person) in 2018-2020.
Tragically, the annual deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon increased in both 2019 and 2020. It reached a 12-year high of 1.11 million hectares of deforestation in 2020.
Marine acidification is also close to an all-time record. Together with the load caused by warming waters, acidification threatens coral reefs, on which more than half a billion people depend on food, tourism and storm protection.
What about a pandemic?
The numerous economic disruptions of the COVID-19 pandemic had a side effect that provided some climate change, but only short-term.
But all of these are expected to rise significantly as the economy opens up. World GDP fell 3.6 percent in 2020, it is projected to reach an all – time high.
The great lesson of a pandemic, then, is that while the consumption and transport of fossil fuels will fall sharply, it will still not be enough to combat climate change.
There is growing evidence that we are close or have already crossed turning points is associated with important parts of the Earth’s system, including warm-water coral reefs, the Amazon rainforest, and the glaciers of Western Antarctica and Greenland.
OK, so what do we do about it?
In our 2019 paper, we called for six critical and interrelated steps that governments – and the rest of humanity – can take to reduce the worst effects of climate change:
- prioritize energy efficiency and replace fossil fuels with low-carbon renewable energy
- reduce emissions of short-term pollutants such as methane and soot
- curb land grubbing-up to protect and restore the earth’s ecosystems
- reduce our meat consumption
- move away from unsustainable thoughts of ever-increasing economic and resource consumption
- stabilize and preferably gradually reduce the human population while improving people’s well-being, in particular by educating girls and women worldwide.
These solutions are still valid. But in our updated 2021 document, we go further and highlight the potential of a three-step approach to short-term policy:
- globally implemented carbon price
- phasing out and banning the use of fossil fuels
- strategic environmental resources to safeguard and restore natural carbon sinks and biodiversity.
The global price of coal must be high enough to cause decarbonisation throughout the industry.
Our proposal to create strategic environmental resources, such as forests and wetlands, reflects the need to stop treating climate emergencies as an independent problem.
By halting the unsustainable exploitation of habitats in areas such as creeping urbanization and land degradation in mining, agriculture and forestry, we can reduce animal disease risks, protect carbon stocks and protect biodiversity – at the same time.
Is this really possible?
Yes, and there are still many opportunities to translate pandemic financial support measures into climate-friendly measures. At the moment, only 17% of such funds was distributed in this way worldwide in early March 2021. This percentage could be increased by a serious coordinated, global commitment.
Greening the economy could also address the long-term need for major change to reduce emissions and, more broadly, over-exploit the planet.
Our planetary vital functions clearly show that we need urgent action to combat climate change. As governments around the world have made new commitments, we hope that the curves in the charts will soon change in the right direction.
Thomas Newsome, Academic Researcher, University of Sydney; Christopher Wolf, Postdoctoral Researcher, Oregon State University and William Ripple, Distinguished Professor and Director, Tropic Cascades Program, Oregon State University