As individuals, we know about the small actions we can take to help reduce the emissions that cause climate change. But what can and should our governments do, seeing as their large-scale actions are fundamental to the welfare of their people?
Earth, we have a problem: we’re essentially melting.
High rates of greenhouse gas emissions, paired with environmental degradation and the overexploitation of natural resources, have us in a race against time. Ninety-seven percent of scientists agree that climate change is a result of human activities. And if we fail to stop global warming soon, the changes will be catastrophic.
Each year, at the United Nations climate conference, global leaders meet to discuss actions we can take to help prevent, and be better prepared for, climate change. At COP21 the first binding global climate accord, the Paris Agreement, was born. This year, during COP23, delegates seek to establish rules to allow for its proper implementation.
As individuals, most of us understand what we can do to reduce emissions: save energy, use the car less, recycle more, make better consumption choices, and engage in family planning.
But what can our governments do? To discuss their contribution is to talk about large-scale measures that are vital to ensuring a better future for all.
Respect for nature is fundamental. Governments must protect ecosystems key to the fight against climate change: rivers, wetlands, oceans, forests and mangroves absorb large quantities of carbon, slowing warming. Mangroves also serve as a barrier against tropical storms, and wetlands absorb excess water from floods, both extreme weather events exacerbated by climate change.
“Healing the natural system is the most feasible, realistic and fair option, since it would benefit humanity and all species,” said Florencia Ortúzar, an attorney with AIDA’s Climate Change Program. “In terms of conservation and restoration, we’re in a race against time, and we’re already beginning to witness alarming natural phenomena, like forests so degraded they’re losing their ability to absorb carbon.”
According to the FAO, the meat industry is responsible for 15 to 18 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions, exceeding even those of the transportation sector. In addition, it is the most significant source of water use and contamination in the world. Today, 80 percent of all agricultural production goes toward feeding animals not people. The expansion of land for livestock, and the crops to feed them, is the most significant cause of deforestation in the Amazon.
Governments can make a difference by supporting small local producers who, unlike large factory farms, employ sustainable practices, care about land restoration, benefit nearby communities, and make animals and crops more resilient to climate change. It’s less about everybody becoming vegetarians, but more about supporting those who produce our food with a respect for nature.
Thirty-five percent of all global emissions come from energy production. But as countries bet on more development, they’re also betting on more energy production. But as countries bet on more development, they’re also betting on more energy.
While thermoelectric and hydroelectric energies were long considered the cheapest options, technological developments have allowed us to find better, cheaper, more efficient alternatives. With proper long-term planning, nations can avoid old climate-aggravating energy sources (hydropower is not green) and opt for small wind, solar, geothermal, oceanic and other projects that adapt to a place’s unique characteristics.
“When thinking about energy, it’s best to bet on a diversified matrix, prioritizing projects that are close to places where people need energy, saving on losses and infrastructure,” Ortúzar explained. “We must give absolute priority to the protection of nature. Every action, public policy, or strategy should be analyzed with nature in mind, and the production of energy is a good starting point.”
Carbon dioxide (CO2) is the most infamous greenhouse gas. Since it remains in the atmosphere for centuries (even millennia), even if we stopped all its emissions sources today, the effects of climate change would continue. The good news is that other contaminants exist that contribute to climate change and only last a few days or years in the atmosphere. They’re known as short-lived climate pollutants, and they’re responsible for 30 to 45 percent of the emissions that cause global warming.
These pollutants include black carbon (soot), methane, ozone, and the hydro fluorocarbons found in refrigerants. Their effective control, through national policies and regulations, could accelerate the fight against climate change in the short term. In addition, because they cause serious air pollution, measures to mitigate them would directly benefit human health.
In the fight against climate change, work aimed at reducing emissions, stopping their effects and diminishing future consequences is known as mitigation. It is important. However, some communities are already experiencing tragic consequences due to changes in climate over a short period of time. So we also must act to prevent catastrophes, increase resilience, and reduce vulnerability, which is known as adaptation.
Projects to mitigate emissions are more attractive financially than those designed for adaptation, which are generally focused on the most vulnerable communities. But it is important to give adaptation the significance it deserves in recognition of the fact that the impacts of climate change are already a grave reality for many.
At this year’s COP, representatives are discussing a “loss and damage” mechanism, referring to the compensation that developed countries – the main causes of climate change – must make to developing countries, which suffer significant losses due to adverse climate effects, Ortúzar explained. Our governments must support these discussions and commit to the effective use of resources, so all the world’s people can be better prepared for, and help to prevent, greater changes to our climate.