“Forget about net-zero, we need real zero,” said environmental activist Greta Thunberg.
We are now living in the ‘century of man-made (or anthropogenic) climate change’. The ecological balance is completely disturbed. Nature is under stress. The environment, biodiversity, and habitats are being destroyed by human activities. Human activities result in tropical storms, typhoons, floods, drought, ocean warming, rising sea level, pandemics, health issues, global warming, climate change, poverty, food insecurity, pollution, deforestation, and pest challenges and loss of agriculture production. There is a complete ‘Climate Emergency’.
Due to global warming, vector-borne diseases will spread at a faster rate. Shortly, many more diseases like COVID-19 will spread as pandemics. Our preparedness to control environmental degradation and emerging diseases will decide our future. For all this, we have to reduce our greed towards nature. It’s our responsibility to take steps to make Earth a habitable planet.
In earlier times, the balance among sustainability, ecosystem, biodiversity, and cities was maintained due to ponds, wetlands, lakes, trees, forests ecosystems, biodiversity, the slow growth rate of population, clean rivers, drainage system, least pollution, slow urbanization, slow industrialization, sustainable development, eco-friendly transportation, and tourism. But now, in the 21st century, the situation is adverse.
The UN Emissions Gap Report 2019, says that global greenhouse emissions would need to fall by 7.6% every year between now and 2030 to stop severe climate crisis in the coming decades. Countries need to take urgent climate action. Carbon Neutrality is a ray of hope to cope with Climate Change. Carbon neutrality refers to achieving net-zero carbon dioxide emissions by balancing carbon emissions with carbon removal or simply eliminating carbon emissions. It is used in the context of ‘carbon dioxide releasing’ processes associated with transportation, energy production, agriculture, and industrial processes.
The concept may be extended to include other greenhouse gases (GHGs) in terms of their ‘carbon dioxide equivalence’. Climate neutrality can be achieved if the emission of climate change-encouraging greenhouse gases is completely stopped or saved elsewhere. Greenhouse gas carbon dioxide accounts for 82% of global warming, and the rest comes mainly from two other greenhouse gasses, namely methane and nitrous oxide.
Achieving ‘Carbon Neutrality’ is very important for all of us because it will help to make an eco-friendly, sustainable, and carbon-negative future. Carbon negativity will be achievable when humans can remove more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than emission. It is upon us, i.e., the current generation, to choose a future, for better or worse. If we want to cherish every precious moment in the future, then following urgent ‘climate action’ for a ‘sustainable future’ should be taken into account:
-Reduce our dependence on fossil fuel-based energy. Increase the use of renewable sources of energy.
-Ban on unsustainable logging.
-Forested areas should not drop below 33%.
-Alternative sources of energy, like solar energy, should be a priority.
-Conservation of parks and wetlands. -Promoting Green and sustainable schools and buildings.
-Water Conservation to save every drop of water, especially through rainwater harvesting, soak pits, and renovation of water bodies like ponds and lakes.
-Water Budget should be an essential part of everyday life and planning. -Plantation of local species should be our priority; it will be helpful in biodiversity protection.
-Care After Plantation (CAP) should be ensured at the grassroots level by officials and citizens.
-Pond Forests and Micro-Forests should be promoted.
-Pooling, Cycling, and Walking should be part of our daily life.
-There should be a Pollution Emancipation Force in every school, village, urban area, municipality, and office. This force will help in sanitation and cleanliness.
-A good Traffic management system to reduce air pollution.
-Promote awareness through the non-political ‘Climate Movement’ at the grassroots level.
-There should be a provision of compulsory plantation in new societies because these are built by destroying the ecosystem of the area. Plantation in urban areas will help reduce at least 5°C temperature and help to cope with the ‘urban heat island effect’.
-Health and medicine departments should be made advanced to cope with epidemics due to climate change.
-Every household and office should be encouraged for energy conservation. The IPCC 2018 report said that global emissions must be reduced by 45% by 2030, and net-zero by 2050 to have a 50% chance of limiting temperature rises to 1.5°C in the 21st century. The global average concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere reached 410 parts per million (ppm) in 2019, up from 400.1 ppm in 2015.
Global efforts to change climate change are being carried out by each nation. People’s movements, like Fridays For Future, Extinction Rebellion, 350.org, Red Tape Movement, Mission Shikshan Samvad., are making people aware of their dark future due to environmental degradation.
Here are some examples of climate actions taken by some cities to control environmental degradation:
According to WHO estimates, around 7 million people die every year (19178 per day) from exposure to fine particles in polluted air that lead to stroke, Heart Disease, Lung Cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases (COPD) & respiratory infections like pneumonia. In 1943, in the middle of World War II, Los Angeles was facing the problem of smog caused by the city’s vehicles and factories. Vehicle emissions caused most of Los Angeles’ smog.
Los Angeles took action on-time and reduced the number of cars on the road and made them run more cleanly. The use of the catalytic converter was made compulsory for the vehicles. Due to climate action, air pollution from cars decreased. Now, new passenger vehicles in the US are 98-99% cleaner than those cars from the 1960s, and air quality has improved even as an increasing number of people are driving more than ever. A recent EPA (Environment Protection Agency, USA) study found that every dollar invested in clean air resulted in a $30 benefit.
Los Angeles’ six common pollutants dropped an average of 73%, and the gross domestic product grew by 324%. These steps reduced the loss of workdays due to illness, lowered the medical costs, lowered the premature deaths associated with particulate matter, improved health and productivity, improved the crop and timber yields, and encouraged tourism, recreation, and healthy living.
Worldwide material consumption (material footprint per capita) has expanded rapidly; in 1990, some 8.1 tonnes of natural resources were used to satisfy a person’s need, while in 2017, almost 12.2 tonnes of resources were extracted per person.
The International Resource Panel argues that a transformation from a linear economy (where products, once used, are discarded) to a circular one (where products and materials continue in the system for as long as possible) will contribute to a more sustainable future. Belgium, an European Union nation, is on its way towards a ‘circular economy‘.
Belgium preferred the sustainable use of resources, recycling of materials, and valorization of materials. The “Be Circular, Be Brussels” initiative is setting out a strategy to transition from a linear to a circular economy by 2025. A transition to a carbon-neutral and resource-efficient economy requires a holistic approach; it can not be achieved by addressing challenges in silos (in isolation).
Science, technology, and innovation must be part of this transition process. Belgium is ready to play its role and to lead. One of the circular economy model aims is zero waste, where all materials are kept in circulation. In 2016, Belgium ranked as number two in the European Union in recycling waste; almost 77% of total waste in Belgium was recycled. By 2050, the Flanders region of Belgium wants to have a circular economy where nothing is wasted. The building and construction sector globally accounts for 36% of primary energy use and 39% of energy-related greenhouse gas emissions.
It also uses large amounts of natural resources and generates waste. In the Brussels Capital Region, waste produced by the construction sector amounts to 628,000 tonnes out of 1,325,000 tonnes of waste collected annually. The majority (91%) of this waste is recycled. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations revealed that about one-third of the food produced for humans is wasted every year, globally.
The Belgian city of Ghent in Flanders was one of the first European cities to launch its urban food policy in 2013, called Ghent en Garde. Due to this, local food is now booming. Surplus food has been distributed to people in need, which simultaneously alleviates poverty and reduces CO2 emissions. In 2019, this Belgium city’s initiative was one of the winners of the United Nations Global Climate Action Award.
Paris is taking many climate actions; some of these are mentioned here:
1- During 2016 summer, Paris passed a new law encouraging residents to help Paris go green by planting their urban gardens. The initiative, “permis de végétaliser” (or “license to vegetate”), is part of Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo’s 2020 target of adding 100 hectares (247 acres) of vegetation on the city’s walls and roofs.
To encourage citizens to become “gardeners of the Parisian public space,” any resident can apply for a renewable three-year permit to start their urban garden project. Participants can green the capital in various ways, from planting fruit trees to creating a rooftop garden’s living walls. Upon request, the city will also provide a planting kit that includes topsoil and seeds.
Gardeners are instructed to maintain sustainability and to keep the city’s aesthetics in mind. They are not allowed to use pesticides and can plant only local species. The city has also expressed the need for ‘local honey plants’ to help grow the world’s diminishing bee population. The new urban gardening program of Paris is designed to encourage Biodiversity, green spaces, mitigate the “heat island” effect, change climate change, improve air quality and improve the thermal and acoustic comfort of buildings.
2- The French Parliament’s new law mandates that all new buildings in commercial zones must be partially covered by plants or solar panels.
3- The first Sunday of every month is a car-free day in Paris.
4- France banned plastic plates and cutlery, making it the first country to take this step.
5- Project Oasis, a plan to convert the concrete schoolyards of Paris into “islands of cool,” to provide healthy air during extreme heat, and to bring down temperatures across the city. Compared to other European cities, Paris has the lowest proportion of green areas in parks and schools; London boasts 33% green space and Madrid 35%.
Green walls in Paris have expanded areas of shade and special drainable concrete surfaces that can absorb water when it rains, are essential features. If all goes to plan, all of Paris’s 800 schools will be transformed into green spaces by 2040.
The City of Paris plan is also being facilitated by 100 Resilient Cities (100RC). Paris has taken these steps to save lives from ‘heatwaves’; the heatwaves have killed many more people in France than terrorism has. Paris has unveiled plans to plant trees and gardens alongside four historical sites to improve the air quality and address climate change.
Mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, has announced an “urban forest” planting scheme for the Place de l’Hotel de Ville, the Gare de Lyon, the Palais Garnier, and a footpath along the banks of the River Seine. According to the Mayor, “The IPCC forecasts heatwaves at 50 degrees Celsius by 2050. We have an obligation to act today.“
The Microsoft company has promised to become carbon negative by 2030, and, by 2050, the company will remove all of the carbon it has emitted since it’s birth in 1975.
Earth is transforming into a warmer planet; The greenhouse gases have already raised global temperatures by around 1°C since pre-industrial times. Such a condition is dangerous for all nations. The danger of drowning is looming over the small island nations and coastal areas of the oceans.
If we want to think of Earth as heaven having healthy ecosystems, forests, Biodiversity, and human life, then we shall have to take every step to reduce our carbon footprints, encourage sustainability, transform towards renewable energy, reduce our dependence on fossil energy, implement the circular economy, stop deforestation and stop the loss of ecosystems, Biodiversity, and their habitats. A better future is achievable through climate neutrality. We shall have to achieve zero carbon emission. Every world citizen will have to work as a “messenger of nature” and “green soldier”. Let’s come and make a better world, for nature and for the future.