1. How can sustainable development be achieved for all while addressing global climate change?
CO2emissions are increasing faster—and the world is warming faster—than the IPCCestimated. Atmospheric CO2 is now 387 ppm, with increasing impacts around theworld; hence, making targets like the EU’s for 550 ppm, which could beovershot, may be insufficient to prevent effects beyond human control. A topNASA climatologist and others now suggest a 350 ppm target is needed instead.Average annual atmospheric CO2 increases rose from 1.5 ppm 1970–2000 to 2.1 ppmsince 2000. The rate of glacial melting has doubled over the past two years.The Arctic summer ice pack could be gone in 5–32 years. And 2007 was the secondhottest year on record, next to 2005, leading some to warn that climate changehas reached the point of no return, yet 800–1,000 coal plants are planned with40-year life spans. Even if emissions can be stabilized, heat generated byenergy consumption could also further the warming.
It is timefor a U.S.–China global strategy to address climate change with an Apollo-like10-year goal that might support electric cars, saltwater agriculture, carbonsequestration, solar power satellites (a Japanese national goal), animalprotein without animals, enhanced hot-rock geothermal, urban systems ecology,and a global climate change collective intelligence to keep track of it all.These would be in addition to the usual suggestions for a carbon tax, carboncap and trading, conservation and recycling, reduced deforestation, industrialefficiencies and co-generation, and switching government subsidies from fossilfuels to renewable energy. (It is estimated that industrial countries subsidizefossil fuels with $200 billion a year.) Scientists are studying how to createsunshades in space, adding iron powder to the oceans to absorb CO2, and how tosuck CO2 from the air. Sir Richard Branson offered a $25 million prize fortechnology to clean CO2 from the atmosphere. ISO standards to reduce consumers’environmental impact are improving. The nuclear industry is gaining momentum,although the risk of accidents, waste management, and terrorist usage are notwell addressed.
Without aglobal strategy to address climate change, the environmental movement may turnon the fossil fuel industries. The legal foundations are being laid to sue for damagescaused by greenhouse gases. Large reinsurance companies estimate the annualeconomic loss due to climate change could reach $150–300 billion per yearwithin a decade. Coastal urbanization is increasing the numbers of peoplevulnerable to coastal flooding. The value of intact ecosystems far outweighsthe cost of protecting them, but human consumption is 25% larger than nature’scapacity to regenerate. One in four mammals, one in eight birds, one-third ofall amphibians, and 70% of the world’s assessed plants on the 2007 IUCN RedList are in jeopardy.
Themajority of the 50 million tons of e-waste produced annually is dumped indeveloping countries. The environmental damage caused by the richer countrieson the developing nations is more than the entire Third World debt of $1.8trillion. To help developing countries leapfrog unsustainable practices to moresustainable ones, the Global Environment Facility provided $7.4 billion ingrants and $28 billion in cofinancing since 1991 and an additional $3 billionto 2010; more funds are being established by the World Bank ($5.5 billion),Japan (a five-year $10 billion), and the Asian Development Bank ($1.2 billion).The UN estimates that developing countries will need $100 billion annually tofinance climate change mitigation and $28–67 billion for adaptation by 2030.
Othersuggestions include: raising fuel efficiency standards 5% a year relative toGDP, an environmental footprint tax for using more than 1.8 global hectares perperson, a 1% tax on the $1.5–2 trillion of international financial transactionsper day, and mandating improved car mileage one mile per year. Taxes oninternational travel, carbon, and urban congestion should be considered. Suchtax income could support an international public/private funding mechanism forhigh-impact technologies. Massive public educational efforts via film,television, music, games, and contests should stress what we can do. Thesynergy between economic growth and technological innovation has been the mostsignificant engine of change for the last 200 years, but unless we improve oureconomic, environmental, and social behaviors, the next 200 years will bedifficult. Yet without sustainable growth, billions of people will be condemnedto poverty and much of civilization will collapse. Challenge 1 will beaddressed seriously when GDP increases while global greenhouse gas emissionsdecrease for five years in a row.
Africa:Africa will be hit hardest by climate change, though it contributes least tothe problem. Southern Africa could lose more than 30% of its maize crop by 2030due to climate change. Forest loss accelerates desertification and soilerosion, making the continent even more vulnerable to climate change. Saltwateragriculture along the coasts of Africa and solar energy in the Sahara could bemassive sources for sustainable growth.
Asia andOceania: China’s CO2 emissions were approximately 8% higher than the U.S.’s in2007. Only 1% of China’s urban residents live in cities with air quality levelsrecommended by WHO, and air pollution causes 750,000 premature deaths eachyear. At current rates, emissions of nitrogen oxide will increase 2.3 times inChina and 1.4 times in East Asia by 2020. China and India lose 12% and 10%respectively of their GDP due to environmental damage. Four Arab Gulf stateshave pledged a total of $750 million to a new fund for cleaner petroleumtechnologies. Australia begins carbon trading in 2010.
Europe:EU-15 emissions in 2010 are projected to be 7.4% lower than the 1990 level,just short of the 8% reduction target for 2012. Iceland plans to becomecarbon-neutral by 2025. London introduced the world’s largest low-emissionzone. Climate change may benefit Russian agriculture. Over 50% of Europe’shazardous waste shipments could be illegal.
Latin America: Brazil plans zero deforestation by 2020, butcurrent trends in agriculture and livestock expansion, fire, drought, andlogging could eliminate or severely damage nearly 60% of the Amazon rainforestby 2030, with the release of 55.5–96.9 billion tons of CO2. Farming forbiofuels versus food is debated in Brazil while new oil reserves arediscovered. The EU will provide ?100 million for Latin American projects inforest management, governance, and climate change adaptation. Attacks on landtenure and the breakup of farms into smaller parcels are generating irreversibleecological damage in most countries.
North America: U.S. carbon emissions fell 1.3% in 2006 butincreased 1.6% in 2007. Local Canadian and U.S. governments in the WesternClimate Initiative are creating cap-and-trade and other programs to reduce GHGemissions. During the last five years, the U.S. spent $37 billion onclimate-related programs, compared with $3.5 trillion on the military. Al Gorelaunched a new $300-million campaign to create bottom-up pressure onlegislators to tackle climate change. Technological efficiencies in nanotechand solar research from this region should help sustainable development aroundthe world. U.S. Patent and Trademark Office applications with “green” in themmore than doubled from 2006 to 2007.
Figure 2.Global surface temperature anomalies (°C)
Source: NOAA National Climatic Data Center with Millennium Project estimates