The Earth’s climate has undergone multiple phases of change throughout history, alternating between ice ages and warm periods. There is no denying, then, that climate change is a natural and historical phenomenon. However, the words ‘climate change’ in this day and age tend to appear as a flashing warning in bold red letters, bringing to mind disturbing images of melting ice caps, floods, cyclones, and droughts. While climate change may be natural, the direction and accelerated pace at which we are experiencing it today are not.
According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s report on global warming of 1.5 degrees, the unprecedented changes in the last fifty years are a direct consequence of excessive human activities and the resultant greenhouse gas emissions. It is this new artificial character of climate change, driven by human industrial activities, which poses an imminent threat.
The beginning of this change can be traced back to the Industrial Revolution of the 18th century. The unabated burning of fossil fuels like coal and oil ever since has resulted in a 40% increase in CO2 levels, 30% more acidic oceans, and an unparalleled global temperature rise. This adversely impacts and alters the marine and terrestrial ecosystems, threatening the very survival of all the organisms on the planet, including humans.
While climate change is a multifaceted problem that would affect all social, political, and economic systems, its impact will not be uniform across different regions and among varied groups of people. The fact is that climate change will prey upon the vulnerabilities of people, further neglect and marginalize the minorities and result in the creation of a society more unequal than before.
While there is a consensus that climate change is a devilish threat, the question is, what are we doing about it? This is where the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) come into the picture. Adopted as part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development of the United Nations in 2015, they aim at capacity building and focus on the three dimensions of sustainable development: economic, social, and environmental. They represent a promise for a global partnership to work towards and implement a plan for a sustainable present and future.
Among these, SDGs 13, 14, and 15 (climate action, life below water, and life on land, respectively) strive to mitigate the detrimental effects of climate change and preserve marine and terrestrial life. Considering the profound threat that climate change poses, the youth possess the right and responsibility to push for a more secure future.
Keeping this in mind, two groups of the Campus Captains Program were tasked with researching and presenting these SDGs. While the first group tackled all three SDGs, the second focused on climate change and climate action. However, both groups supported their research with compelling statistics and case studies.
Group one discussed issues like deforestation, land degradation, desertification, and preservation of biodiversity. Interestingly, they also shed light upon the issue of cryptocurrency and how its mining requires exorbitant amounts of energy resulting in excessive carbon emissions. This was accompanied by unique yet simple ideas that can be implemented at the individual level to ensure a sustainable lifestyle along with macro-level institutional solutions.
Concerning SDG 14, they discussed the various zones of the oceans, the creatures and plants inhabiting them, their role in the overall marine ecosystem, and their threats due to human activities like overfishing and pollution.
The second group did a more in-depth presentation about the effect of climate change on flora and fauna. While examining these, they brought forth overlooked consequences like changes in the sex ratios and reproductive patterns of animals and the altered pollination cycle of the plants.
Further, they adopted a three-pronged approach while discussing the effects of climate change on humans, focusing on health, home, and food. The increased vulnerability to respiratory diseases like asthma and mental health issues like anxiety and PTSD disorders were among the many concerns they highlighted regarding human health.
In terms of the impact on homes, they brought to light the issue of climate gentrification, whereby disadvantaged groups would be displaced from their homes. Finally, they warned against the change in food composition due to increased CO2 levels resulting in less nutritious crops.
Both groups discussed the real-life consequences of industrial activity, as evident in the accelerated destruction of the Amazon rainforests and the recurrent Australian wildfires. They traced the history of climate change, its causes, and its effects to illustrate the various political responses aimed at tackling it. Starting from the Rio Earth Summit of June 1992, they culminated their presentations by reviewing the most recent effort – the Paris Agreement of 2015.
Through their comprehensive and enlightening presentations, they emphasized that climate change is not a myth or a political tool, as many climate deniers would contend, but a grave, self-inflicted reality, against which urgent and united action is the need of the hour.