This is a guest blog post from Curtin University’s Environmental Studies: A Global Perspective course team.
Last year was a major win for environmentalists across the globe, with the Paris Agreement acknowledging that climate change has been influenced by human activity and setting a goal to limit the global average surface temperature increase to 1.5°C above the baseline average.
In spite of this step forward, the reality is that these challenges – including human-influenced climate change, natural resource depletion, energy consumption, overpopulation, pollution, deforestation and loss of biodiversity – won’t disappear overnight. More needs to be done to address these challenges right now.
Why We Need to Act
Economic, environmental, political and social factors are inherently linked, and, like strands on a web, tension placed upon one factor can reverberate through to others.
Here are some of the reasons why we need to take action:
- The world is changing. The past few decades have been some of the hottest in recorded history as a consequence of human expansion of the “greenhouse effect”, with the global average surface temperature in 2015 reaching a milestone increase of 87°C above the baseline average in 1951. This increased temperature is already affecting once-pristine environments around the world, such as Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, where scientists are recording evidence that the increasing sea surface temperatures are causing mass-bleaching events.
- People are being displaced. It’s commonly known that a rise in temperature has led to the melting of the Arctic polar ice cap, which is causing sea levels to rise. These rising sea levels are impacting low-lying islands and displacing communities who live there. In 2005, the first “climate change refugees” came from the island of Tegua in Vanuatu. In the future, if nothing is changed, such refugees are expected to come from locations including the Marshall Islands, Torres Strait Islands and the Maldives.
- Our health is at risk. Climatic changes leading to weather events such as heatwaves, long-term droughts and floods, will have a strong impact upon human health. Furthermore, air pollution created from the burning of fossil fuels causes a range of illnesses including lung disease and lung cancer. In China, it’s been estimated that 1.6 million deaths per year are being caused by air pollution, which is approximately 17 per cent of all deaths in the country.
- Our economies are at risk. Our failure to properly address climate change is threatening the global economy. In the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report, failure to mitigate climate change jumped from fifth among the world’s risks in terms of impact in 2015 to first in 2016. In the US, it’s been stated that climate change poses a major challenge to the agricultural industry, because of its potential impact on crop and livestock production.
- Responsibility is being shifted. It has been suggested that certain communities are becoming more environmentally friendly at the expense of others. In 2014, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reported that some richer countries are outsourcing their carbon pollution to China and other rising economies – meaning carbon dioxide emissions are increasing in these economies because they are producing goods that are being exported to the US and Europe.
- Our rights to a healthy environment are at risk. Damaging environmental practices, which may result in outcomes such as a lack of access to food, clean air and water, are considered to infringe upon human rights. As suggested by political theorist Dr Kerri Woods: “If human rights are claimed in defence of human security, and that security is threatened by environmental degradation resulting from unsustainable economic practices, then there would seem to be a prima facie case for considering the environment to be a human rights issue.”
Let’s Work Together
It’s going to take as many of us as possible – working together in areas as varied as arts, law, philosophy, politics, science and technology – to make a difference.
Enrol now to study Curtin University’s free online course, Environmental Studies: A Global Perspective, and learn the fundamentals of environmental studies and determine solutions to some of the biggest environmental challenges of our time.
Additional environmental courses are starting soon.