Climate change is causing disasters from severe droughts and flash floods to devastating hurricanes and melting glaciers
However, it is not just global warming that is harming the planet we live on. There are many other major issues, including the use of plastic and our overuse of natural resources that are having a big impact on our environment.
This year’s UN climate talks in Poland delivered a pressing message to world leaders on this backdrop – this was not a surprise. They were told to act now and drive down greenhouse emissions before it is too late. Speaking at the summit, Sir David Attenborough reinforced this message, warning that climate change is now the greatest threat to humanity and could lead to the collapse of civilisations, and majority extinction within the natural world.
However, there is good news.
Public awareness on the issue is growing and it is not just because of legislation. Environmental charities, popular broadcast programmes (e.g. Blue Planet), influential celebrities and a whole host of media are all making a major impact too – educating the masses and inspiring action on a global scale.
Yes, it’s evident that there is still a long way to go if we are to combat climate change, but we are making progress. Leaders from across the globe are stepping up efforts to ensure marked changes are being made to dramatically reduce emissions and change behaviours – and fast. Here, gas installers, Flogas Energy, look at some of the most influential environmental laws and regulations in play today, and how they’re helping to save the planet.
The Paris Agreement
This was a landmark deal and the first of its kind. It unites the world’s nations in a single agreement to tackle climate change from 2020. Nearly 200 countries within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) came to a consensus in 2015 to cut greenhouse emissions and have committed to limit temperature rises worldwide by no more than 2C above pre-industrial times. In fact, the aim is to limit this further, to 1.5C if possible. Progress will be reviewed every five years and financial funding from donor nations will go to less developed countries.
However, scientists have commented that this agreement must be stepped up if it’s going to hit the set targets and realistically curb the effects of climate change. A recent UN report suggests that the world actually needs to triple its current efforts to meet the 2C target.
It is worth noting that at the time of writing, the Paris Agreement is in some jeopardy in its current form, with President Trump preparing to withdraw the commitment of the USA. This isn’t something that can legally happen until after the next presidential election so at the moment, it’s a case of ‘watch this space’.
The war on plastic
For all the uses it currently has, plastic is a dangerous pollutant. An estimated 12.7 million tonnes of it ends up in our oceans each year (the equivalent of a truck load every minute). This has led many countries to introduce bans or taxes to try and limit the exponential rise in plastic usage. Denmark started levying a charge on plastics bags as early as 1993, and the 2002 ‘bag tax’ in Ireland resulted in a huge 90% drop in demand for single-use plastic bags. More recently, Environment Secretary Michael Gove announced a ban on plastic straws, cotton buds and stirrers could be in place in the UK by late 2019. Looking ahead, the European Union has voiced its intention to ban a range of plastic items (including straws, plates and single-use cutlery) completely by 2021, justifying that these can be replaced with more sustainable materials.
The subject of plastic pollution has been widely covered in the media recently, making it rise to the forefront of public consciousness. This has led a number of major companies to make significant changes to their operations by ditching plastic (or pledging to do so rapidly). This includes food outlets such as McDonalds and Pizza Express, all Four Seasons and Hilton hotels, as well as pub chain Wetherspoons and sandwich shop Pret a Manger – to name but a few.
Clean Air Strategy
The UK government published the Clean Air Strategy in May 2018. The State is attempting to cut air pollution and human exposure to particulate matter pollution – the fourth biggest health risk behind cancer, obesity and heart disease. The new strategy is part of a 25-year plan to leave the environment in a better state and is an addition to the £3.5 billion scheme already in place to reduce air pollution from road transport and diesel vehicles, set out in July last year.
The idea is to cut the amount of people living in areas where concentrations of particulate matter are above guideline limits by up to 50% by 2025. What’s more, it pledges to ensure only the cleanest domestic fuels are available, to tackle ammonia from farming, to address non-exhaust emissions of microplastics from vehicles, to empower local government with new primary legislation, to invest in scientific research and innovation in clean technology, and much more.
Ban on coal
In the UK, there are currently eight coal-fired power stations in use. However, a ban on coal introduced this year (which will come into force in October 2025) has presented energy companies with an ultimatum: adapt your existing assets to generate greener energy or close your power station. This rule has already set in motion the change, with some stations adapting or building infrastructure for cleaner energy generation, whilst others have decided to remain active right up until the ban.
The decision was made to phase out coal power plants and replace them with cleaner technologies at climate talks which took place in Bonn (COP23). It was Canada, the UK and the Marshall Islands who led the way, forming a global alliance called ‘Powering Past Coal.’ One year on since its launch, the alliance now has 75 members who are committed to replacing unabated coal-fired electricity with cleaner alternatives.
Road to Zero Strategy
Transportation has the highest share of greenhouse gas emissions in the economy sector. This means that changes are vital if the UK is to hit its carbon reduction targets. The Department for Transport’s 2018 ‘Road to Zero Strategy,’ sets out that at least 50% (and as many as 70%) of new car sales will be ultra-low emission by 2030, and up to 40% for new vans. This policy also addresses reducing emissions from vehicles already on the roads and plans to end the sale of conventional petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2040.
With a big push towards zero emission cars, a huge expansion of green infrastructure across the country is required, as is a major focus on increasing the availability of charging stations for electric vehicles (EVs). The Road to Zero strategy sets the stage for what the government has hailed ‘the biggest technology advancement to hit UK roads since the invention of the combustion engine.’
Sources: Guardian, BBC, The Sun, Greenpeace, Reusethisbag, DEFRA, Climate Action, Poweringpastcoalalliance, Gov.uk, National Resource Defence Council