Where do we stand in our fight against global warming?

by | Oct 13, 2021

The global temperature is predicted to rise to 3.2 degrees by the end of this century. Temperature increases above 1.5 degrees will result in drastic climate impacts such as floods, wildfires and droughts, leading to food insecurity and displacement of populations. This has been established by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which assesses the science related to climate change.

UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) website echoes the same concerns: “At 2 degrees of global warming, there would be widespread and severe impacts on people and nature. A third of the world’s population would be regularly exposed to severe heat, leading to health problems and more heat-related deaths. Almost all warm water coral reefs would be destroyed, and the Arctic sea ice would melt entirely at least one summer per decade, with devastating impacts on the wildlife and communities they support.”

The effect of global warming is evident in these photographs by Aji Styawan. Over the past 20 years, the ocean has engulfed more than thousands of hectares of land in central Java, Indonesia. Hamlets have completely sunk below sea levels. Over 500 households were displaced and more are following.

Sutarti (33) takes a peek into her refrigerator in the kitchen of her flooded home due to rising sea levels. She has not enough money to move to a safe place. Central Java, Indonesia 

The solution, as promoted by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute, is to transition from our current ‘take-make-waste’ linear economy to a circular economy. A circular economy as defined by Het Groene Brein is “an economic system of closed loops in which raw materials, components and products lose their value as little as possible, renewable energy sources are used and systems thinking is at the core”.

Greenhouse gas emissions are the main cause of global warming. The difference between our current gas emissions and what we should be emitting is known as the Emissions Gap. To prevent further rising global temperatures, we need to close the Emissions Gap by 2032.

In 2020, the Circularity Gap recorded 100 million tonnes of material entering the economy – a first ever record. Of this, only a meagre 8.6% is cycled back into the economy.

Syakir (26) is watching TV inside his flooded home due to rising sea levels. Local villagers learn to survive even though their lives are threatened by rising sea levels. Central Java, Indonesia 

The 2021 Circularity Gap Report outlines a few ways in which changes to our system could close the Emissions Gap and go a long way in curbing the effects of climate change. “Global warming shows no signs of slowing and the reality is that certain vulnerable cities and countries will face catastrophes that threaten much of the population” the report states.

The Circularity Gap report encloses changes that would reduce 28.8 billion tonnes of carbon emission, closing the gap by 70%. This strategy predicts a trajectory of a global temperature increase of 1.75 degrees by 2032, well below the 2 degree limit, in accordance with the Paris Agreement.

Children are playing in the flooded yard in front of a mosque due to rising sea levels. Central Java, Indonesia

Providing for society, keeping the planet happy. For a growing economy, the challenge is to satisfy the seven societal needs, housing, nutrition, mobility, communication, consumables, healthcare and services, without putting strain on the earth’s resources.

Below are the societal needs and the circular changes the Circularity Gap suggests.

Housing

Building fewer but better houses that make use of renewable building materials with multi-functional space and decreased floor space as well as banning virgin materials and shifting to renewable technologies would decrease overall emissions.

Nutrition

In reducing excess consumption and waste, changes in diet, specifically that of more plant-based and unprocessed foods, and more sustainable food production with organic farming that reduces use of synthetic fertiliser, we decrease emissions.

Mobility

Reduced travelling with schemes such as working from home, telecommunicating, local hubs and shared virtual offices, improved vehicle designs which are lightweight and small, and shared mobility through public transport and ride-sharing decrease dependence on fossil fuel.

Communication

Increased digitisation reduces reliance on printed materials. Smaller and lighter laptops that consume less energy are preferable over high consumption devices.

Consumables

Eradicating paper use, animal-derived textiles and single use plastic, repair and maintenance for textiles and furniture, and higher quality products with extended end-of-life would keep goods in use longer.

Healthcare

Investment in lasting medical equipment. Development of virtual consultations to reduce consumption associated with space and travel.

Abdul Muid (60) and his wife Muniah (55) pose inside their flooded home due to rising sea levels. Abdul and his family have been living in this house, and living with the floods for about ten years. He doesn’t have the money to move to another house, further away from the sea. Central Java, Indonesia

Different countries, different solutions

Developed nations tend to contribute far more to climate change than developing countries. Yet, lower-income countries are more vulnerable to climate impacts. Almost half of the global carbon emission (48%) are attributed to the richest 10% of the land, whilst the poorest 50% are only responsible for 7% of emissions.

In an assessment of all countries and their current contribution to emissions, three distinct categories emerged, build, grow and shift.

Build countries

Within build countries, emissions are low and very few planetary boundaries are crossed. However, these countries struggle to meet the Human Development Index, resulting in poor healthcare and education. These countries are often resource rich and export finished, or semi-finished products. As these countries mitigate improving the conditions of their populations, certain circular approaches need to be taken.

Grow countries

The grow countries are leading economic and manufacturing growth. Increasing middle-class and industrialisation, grow countries provide improved standard of living. Their societal needs require high levels of emission and material footprints. To improve, these countries need to prioritise sustainable agriculture, resource-efficient and low-carbon materials, utilising renewable resources to sustain energy needs.

Shift countries

Shift countries are the leading emitters, producing the majority of emissions and one third of resource extraction. High consumption and comfortable lifestyles. In their high impact areas of societal needs, nutrition, mobility and housing, shift countries reduce consumption and integrate circular strategies of sharing, waste reduction and increasing lifetime of products.

Where does that leave us now?

While we still depend on production of technologies, fashion and materials, we can find a balance between extraction and recycling that does not drain our planet of its resources and lead to high greenhouse gas emissions. It is important, now more than ever, to find alternative ways of thinking and living that keeps the Earth safe.

The past decade we have experienced catastrophic effects of climate change; we need to ask ourselves what we are going to do for the future of our planet. We need to join the global community in keeping the prospect of holding temperature rises to 1.5 degrees alive.

You can download the report here. 

Images

Photographer: AJI STYAWAN / Getty Images Climate Visuals Grant recipient

Feature image: Nasikin (55) carefully waded from his home to take a look at his abandoned neighbour’s house due to rising sea levels. Over past 20 years, the ocean has engulfed more than thousands of hectares land, along the northern coast of Demak. Hamlets have completely sunk below sea levels. Over 500 households were displaced and more are following. Sayung subdistrict, Demak, Central Java, Indonesia.

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