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[Future Report] Sustainable Development and Climate Change

Global Challenge 1. How can sustainable development be achieved for all while addressing global climate change?

(c) 2021 The Millennium Project

Brief Overview:

The 2022 IPCC report concludes that if GHG annual emissions are not cut in half by 2030, then global warming will not be limited to an increase of 1.5 °C (2.7°F). The 2021 UN Climate Change Conference in Scotland included the pledge to reduce methane by 30% by 2030/ This methane pledge increases attention to agriculture in addition to CO2 reductions from energy and transportation. GHG emissions have decreased from an average annual growth of 2.6% during first decade of this century to 1.1% during 2012 to 2019. The Covid Recession did reduce emissions by 6-7%, but the emissions are expected to be larger in 2022 than 2019; hence, we are not on a path to achieve net zero emissions by 2050. The year 2020 tied 2016 for the warmest year on record; the last decade was the hottest in recorded history, and we continue to emit more carbon each year than nature can sequester. It rained on the summit of Greenland’s Ice Sheet for the time ever recorded. Even when net-zero emissions are achieved, rising temperatures and ocean levels will likely continue to rise for several decades before a new environmental equilibrium is achieved. The public is not prepared for the severity of future climate changes.

Some 252 million years ago, global warming due to increased atmospheric CO2 led to ocean changes that increased growth of a micro-organism that emits hydrogen sulfide (H2S) when it dies, that, in combination with ozone depletion, killed 97% of life during the Permian extinction. This event could happen again unless we learn how to turn around the growing GHG, fertilizer run-off in the oceans, and reduce the volume of GHG already in the atmosphere. Along with energy, transportation, and agriculture, warming the atmosphere can also reduce cloud cover further heating the earth, along with melting ice reducing solar reflection and melting tundra releasing methane. If trends continue, then sometime after 2100 atmospheric CO2 could reach 1000 ppm leading to something like the Permian extinction; however, adding ocean pollution from agricultural waste could make this happen earlier.

“The top environmental problems are selfishness, greed and apathy,” says Gus Speth, former Administrator of UNDP; however, a recent study showed a global trend of financial institutions increasingly investing into sustainability priorities. It is estimated that it will cost $116-142 trillion between 2020 and 2030 to achieve the SDGs. About 85% of the world’s more than $400 trillion of liquid assets is managed or allocated by financial institutions, while only 15% is held directly by the ultimate owners, mainly nation-states. Hence, the UN Member States alone are not able to provide the financial investments needed to achieve the SDGs, but individuals and the financial institutions are and should become a financial force for good as part of the UN strategies to achieve the SDGs.

Turning around GHG emissions will require unprecedented global efforts since today’s 7.9 billion world population is expected to grow by another 2 billion by 2050 and the global economy is expected to triple during this same period. Transportation CO2 emissions could increase by 16% by 2050 without major changes. For the world to achieve net-zero greenhouse emissions by 2050, it is estimated that an addition $3.5 trillion should be added per year.

According to NASA the global temperature has already increased by 0.94°C (1.7°F) since 1880 and sea levels have risen 8–9 inches during the same period. If current trends continue, the 2021 IPCC report projects a 2.1–3.5°C (3.78–6.3°F) increase in average global temperature by 2100. This is a decrease from the 2017 US Climate report projection of 2.8–4.8°C (5–7.5°F) by 2100. Meanwhile, sea levels has risen at a rate of 3.0 to 3.5 millimeters per year since 1993 and ocean acidity is projected to increase 150% over pre-industrial levels by the end of this century.

Although the CO2 equivalent of 450 ppm is the politically acceptable cap, some argue it should be 350 ppm since we already see massive impacts today with 410 ppm, so why would 450 ppm be sustainable? We have to reduce not only GHG emissions but also the volume of GHGs already in the atmosphere today. Country climate change pledges should be enforceable through boycotts, sanctions, and other means. Global citizens should understand that Earth does not possess infinite resources; that the Earth is a Closed-Loop System which should be applied to various economic, political, and environmental management systems; that consumption and waste management will have to change; and that environmental sustainability is a top economic, social value, and political priority.

An estimated 350,000 different types of manufactured chemicals in our environment have exceeded the ability for nature to manage. The continued proliferation of manufactured chemicals in the air, on land, and in rivers, lakes, and the oceans is beyond the ability to assess. As a result, the ability of nature to support life is decreasing. Microplastics are increasingly found in food, water, and our bodies leading to the UN Environmental Program Agreement on plastics to turn around this global hazard.

World leaders have agreed to achieve 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals with 169 sub-goals by 2030.

Actions to Address Global Challenge 1:

  • Establish a U.S.-China Apollo-like goal, with a NASA-like R&D program to achieve it, that other countries, corporations. and universities can join.

  • Major financial institutions should create financial instruments for massive investments that will accelerate technological solutions.

  • Accelerate research in carbon capture, storage, and reuse.

  • Disseminate AI processed satellite imaging that monitors GHG emissions worldwide in near-real-time.

  • Produce meat, milk, leather, and other animal products directly from genetic materials without growing animals: Saves energy, land, water, health costs, and greenhouse gases.

  • Replace animal hides in the production of leather products with mushroom/sawdust-based alternatives.

  • Invest into seawater/saltwater agriculture.

  • Increase vegetarian diets, including plant-based meat-like foods

  • Businesses should develop ESG (environmental, social, and governance) goals that will attract financial investors.

  • Retrofit older cities to Eco-smart Cities and build new additions as Eco-smart Cities.

  • Establish consistent or comparable data taxonomy, standards and structures for accountability for public monitoring of national and corporate commitments.

  • Continue policies that reduce fertility rates in high population growth areas.

  • Reduce energy per unit of GDP.

  • Accelerate tree planning with innovative methods such as drone-fired tree planting.

  • Facilitate the transition from fossil to renewable energy sources (see Global Challenge 13 for more detail).

  • Divest into fossil fuels in proportion to growth of replacements.

  • Expand cap-and-trade systems.

  • Establish carbon taxes.

  • Engage arts/media/entertainment to foster work/lifestyle changes.

  • Train community resilience teams.

  • Make long-range coastal evacuation and migration plans.

  • Evaluate geo-engineering options.

  • Develop digital and green economy (mobile payment, virtual reality, digital manufacturing plants, and tele-everything).

  • National Academy of Sciences Ocean (CDR) CO2 removal strategies

  • Extend the measure of economic health beyond GDP to include nature and social values in the accounting, and internalize externalities.

  • Remineralize to soil to sequester carbon, improve agricultural production, and use fewer fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides.

Source: NOAA Earth System Research Laboratory, with Millennium Project compilation and forecast

Regional Considerations

Africa: Among ten countries estimated to become the most affected by climate change are in Africa: Sierra Leone, South Sudan, Nigeria, Chad, Ethiopia, the Central African Republic, and Eritrea. Since Africa contributes little to GHGs, its focus should be more on adaptation to climate change than on mitigation. It is getting about $1-2 billion per year now for adaptation, but needs $7-15 billion per year for adaptation by 2020, and $50 billion per year by 2050. Financial flows for adaptation, however, only amounts to $1-2 billion a year today. Introduction of drought resistant seeds, more eco-friendly farming, closed environmental agriculture, seawater farming along the coasts, reforestation, reduction of slash and burn agricultural practices, will be needed to avoid the IPCC forecast that climate change could reduce rain-feed Sub-Saharan agriculture by 50% by 2020. Price and weather-indexed insurance schemes will help Africa stabilize prices in domestic markets and help farmers adapt to climate change. If agricultural practices don’t change and global warming exceeds 3°C, virtually all of the present maize, millet, and sorghum cropping areas across Africa could become unviable.

Solar energy in the Sahara is strategic for African sustainable growth. Africa needs about $675 billion by 2030 to achieve low-carbon sustainable growth; the current carbon market for mitigation is not sufficient to address this. The Clean Development Mechanism, the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation program, and the voluntary offset program are not fully utilized. Africa’s total ecological footprint is set to double by 2040. Ethiopia is implementing it’s climate-resilient green economy plan to become carbon neutral by 2030. Mayors in Mali are now required to have couples plant trees as part of their marriage registration process. Ten African nations have pledged to include the economic value of natural resources in their national accounts. Meanwhile, West Africa is losing $1.3 billion a year due to illegal and unregulated fishing, and criminal groups take up to 1.3 billion worth of natural resources such as gold, timber and ivory from DRC every year. Militia and terrorist groups in and around Africa may earn up to $289 million annually from illegal or unregulated charcoal trade.

Asia and Oceania: China is the largest GHG polluter in the world, plans to begin to reverse the amount of its GHG emissions by 2030, and have 20% of its energy from zero emissions sources by that year.The region has half of the world’s megacities and the majority of the world’s poverty, many of which live in densely populated slums vulnerable to climate change. Rapid applications of urban systems ecology will be vital for sustainable development of the region. India loses $80 billion per year, or nearly 6% of its GDP due to environmental degradation, and more than half the damage is attributable to air pollution. Particulate matter pollution reduces life expectancy by 3.2 years for 660 million Indians in polluted urban cities. Meanwhile, lung cancer has doubled in Beijing over the last decade and pollution increasingly becomes a cause of protests and lawsuits. Chinese government banned the anti-air pollution documentary “Under the Dome” after it attracted 200 million viewers within a week. China’s solid waste will grow from about 573,000 tons a day in 2005 to 1.5 million tons in 2025. It has pilot emissions trading systems (ETS) in seven provinces and cities and will launch national ETS in 2016. US$320 billion worth of investment will be needed annually to meet China’s environmental targets.The effects of deforestation in south and south east Asian climate needs to be better understood. Due to the affects of global warming the 103,000 citizens of Kiribati are expected to become refugees; and hence, the government has bought 6,000 acres of land in Fiji for a reported $9.6 million to resettle this population. Bangladesh will need new agriculture to save farming from ocean level increases of salt water incursions and housing adaptations. Australia repealed the Carbon Tax which was introduced in 2012, but WWF says it could achieve net zero emission by 2050 at a cost of 0.2% of GDP.

Europe: EU is on track to achieve its 2020 climate/energy objectives (GHG emissions 20% lower than 1990; 20% of energy from renewables; 20% increase in energy efficiency). EC adopted a low-carbon roadmap that would cut emissions by 80-95% by 2050. The EU-28 committed in 2014 to the 2030 framework policy to reduce GHG emissions by 40% from 1990 levels by 2030, and increase both energy efficiency and share of renewable energy by 27% from 1990 levels. Member States will have flexibility to set national objectives and policies. The sectors covered by EU ETS have reduced their emissions by 13 % from 2005 to 2013, but incentives for low-carbon investments are too low today due to excess of allowance and sluggish economy. The EU carbon price is around €7 euros per tonne in mid-2015, down from its peak of over €30. Reforms to strengthen the EU ETS will be introduced in 2018, which could push carbon prices up to €20 per tonne by 2020. In 2013, fiscal revenues from auctioning allowances in the EU ETS amounted to EUR €3.6 billion (of which, around € 3 billion will be used for climate and energy related purposes). France introduced a carbon tax for supporting the transition towards renewables and promoting energy efficiency. Spain’s total greenhouse gas emissions fell by 20% to 344 million tonnes in 2012 from 432 million tonnes in 2007; however, subsidy cuts for renewable energy could change this picture. Russia aims to reduce GHG emissions by 22–25% by 2020 compared to 1990 (which is still an increase in absolute terms, since Russia’s emissions plunged sharply after the collapse of the Soviet Union). Nitrogen pollution from farms, vehicles, industry, and waste treatment costs the EU up to €320 billion per year. The EC is preparing a circular economy strategy to increase resource-efficiency by 30% by 2030 which is expected to boost GDP by nearly 1% and create 2 million additional jobs. Air pollution in Europe cost $1.6 trillion, or nearly one-tenth of the EU’s GDP, in premature deaths and diseases. At the end of EU’s ‘Year of Air’, the EU proposed a new strategy toward 2030, which would avoid 58,000 premature deaths and save as much as €140 billion per year. The UK plans to have its own “GDP-plus” national accounts by 2020. Russia has the world’s second largest total biocapacity reserve and is the only major economy not facing a growing dependence on other nations’ ecosystems. Between 1992-2009 its reserve has further improved from 0.9 to 2.6 gha (global hector area a measure of biocapacity) per capita. Norwegians generated the greatest volume of e-waste in per-capita basis (28kg), followed by Switzerland, Iceland, Denmark and UK. Latin America: The region faces a $100 billion annual loss by 2050 if the global temperature rises 2°C over pre-industrial levels. Mexico and Colombia are implementing sector-wide crediting mechanisms that reward low emission activities. Chile approved a carbon tax to start in 2018. South America has 40% of the planet’s biodiversity and about half of the world’s carbon stored in tropical forests. Brazil has the world’s largest total biocapacity reserve (about 9.6 gha per capita), but unless more environmentally-friendly policies are successful, it could cross into deficit within the next 50 years. Deforestation rate in Brazil went down for several years, but the annual deforestation rates increased 28% for the period August 2012-July 2013. The demand for hydropower and biofuels may reduce Latin America’s forests as a carbon sink. The dieback of the southern part of the Amazon rainforest is expected to be greater than expected because the forest is drying faster than the IPCC models assumed. 40% of Brazilian businesses reported emission reduction targets in 2012. Recycling in Brazil generates $2 billion a year while avoiding 10 million tons of GHG emissions. According to IICA, Latin America holds 43% of the world’s potential for agricultural growth. It is rapidly expanding this potential while trying not to damage vital ecosystem services. Mexico’s new climate change law sets legally binding emission reduction goals: 30% below business-as-usual levels by 2020, and by 50% below 2000 levels by 2050. In Peru, more than 50% of forest cover on the coast was already lost, and more than 150,000 hectares of forest are lost annually by agriculture and mining. North America: US CO2 emissions fell 3% during 2016. It pledged to cut GHS emissions by 26-28% by 2025 from from 2005 levels. Methane production in the US could be 50% or more than previous EPA estimates due to fossil fuel production and livestock industries, not previously considered. Cities and states initiate and implement more policies for sustainable development and reducing GHGs than the federal government. California and Québec linked their carbon markets in 2014; with the inclusion of the transport sector in January 2015, their linked ETS is the world’s third largest.U.S. oil companies are beginning to plan for carbon taxes. Bank of America announced its 10-year, $50-billion green investment program. A U.S. National Academy of Sciences panel called for better government coordination to implement an abrupt [years to decades faster than expected] climate change early warning system, while the U.S. Congress refused to end oil subsidies. Honey bee keepers have reported that bee population has been falling about 30%per year since 2006. Air pollution and exposure to toxic chemicals cost U.S. children $76.6 billion in health expenses. The U.S. will invest $880 million to clean up Florida Everglades. Permafrost temperature in northern Alaska increased about 4–7°C during the last century, almost half of it during the last 20 years. Boy Scouts of America created Sustainability Merit Badge.

Canada’s tar sends exploitation continue to raise environmental concerns. The Alberta government introduced legislation to create a new environmental monitoring agency focused on the oilsands. The new Alberta government promises new climate change strategy. Canada’s intended nationally determined contribution is committing Canada to reduce GHG emissions by 30% below the 2005 levels by 2030. Ontario committed to reduce its GHG emissions by 37% below 1990 levels by 2030, while British Columbia’s carbon tax system is considered one of the most significant in the Western Hemisphere.


Writer: The Millennium Project of USIA Council Member Jerome C. Glenn


NOTE: USIA People have their own views and opinions that are not necessarily the USIA, and vice versa.


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