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Green Planet

The Last call for Humans

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An Extinction Level Event is a likely Event that will cause the extinction of the human race. Various Hollywood movies have depicted the different types of ELEs and how they came about. Extinction by viruses, zombies, nuclear winter, computer malware, aliens, solar flares, asteroids, climate change has all been depicted on the silver screen, mostly in a gory and ghastly fashion.

The cinematic fashion in which some of the topics were handled made the word ELE, a figment of the writers’ imagination and hammered into the general populace a Rambo-like image of the humankind which will survive and stand tall, no matter what will come their way. We have come to believe that no matter what happens, Humanity will survive and grow in face of all adversity. We have never been more wrong.

With the advent of the 21st century, a major Extinction Level Event (ELE) that have arisen before the humankind is that of the Environmental Pollution. Unlike other ELEs, this one is of our own making and we know of its coming. The seeds of the destruction were sown way back when the first human was born. Back then, the population of humans was less, their technology unsophisticated and their ecological footprint too small. Nature was able to sustain the Chopping down of a few trees, hunting a few animals and burning some easily available fuel. The first step in controlling environmental pollution is the dispersion, followed by degrading action and decomposition after which it is status quo. Since the after-effects were small, it was easy for dispersion and decomposition. It was with the population explosion of the industrial age and the advent of the era of coal that we started to do some serious damage to the environment. Cities with the booming population like Paris and London which generated a tremendous amount of pollutants and become cesspits of filth and diseases. Forests were leveled to provide for fuel and wetlands were drained to settle cities and provide for agricultural land. Guns made it possible for humans to hunt even the biggest of the animals and man became the apex predator. Then came the era of fossil fuels and we hammered a final nail in our coffins. Cars powered by fossil fuels made transportation easier, allowing for larger cities with more suburbs, which turn required more land and led to concretization of the land. Burning fossil fuels generated, even more, air pollutants than the chimneys of coal did. Advanced ships allowed humans to reach greater depths in the oceans and disturb their sanctity too. Waste management technology evolved but so did the amount of waste and population skyrocketed. Polythene appeared and has now clogged most of our river bodies and is starting to accumulate in the oceans too. Worst of all, Plastics are non-biodegradable and will now remain in the environment for very long. The amount of pollutants which we emit every day is mind-boggling and more so is the environmental degradation committed by us. Forests are being leveled, the soil is being eroded, pollutants are being introduced in the system, water is being contaminated and land is being layered with concrete. Species are being exterminated at an alarming rate and there is a lot of ignorance among the scientists and policymakers on the same. Most think that reducing the rate of pollution can heal the Nature. Others believe that improving standards for emissions will be of some use. No way, the amount of pollutants in the environment is just too much and it will take hundreds, if not thousands of years for the Earth to revert back to its pre-industrial age state. These steps can only slow the damage, not stop it entirely.

Most scientists and policymakers combine Global Warming and Environmental Pollution in one. This is correct to a certain extent. Pollutants like Carbon dioxide, methane, and water vapor increase the greenhouse effect leading to global warming. The global warming is disrupting weather patterns, agricultural practices and increasing the rate of glacial meltdown. This can lead to massive food and water shortfalls “in the future”. Global warming and its effects have been debated and discussed several times and several facts and data in its favor are not yet verified. Global warming is a major crowd puller for the Hollywood. Movies like Waterworld, Day after Tomorrow and several documentaries have earned a lot of cash and won many accolades.

On the other hand, Environmental Pollution comprises of the entire gamut of ecologically degrading effects of humans. The effects of environmental pollution have already started to show on the humankind. Large increases in the instances of lung cancers, eye problems, hearing losses, premature weakening, high fatigue, severe skeletal problems have been observed in the humans while declining productivity, the change in behavioral patterns, low fertility and mutation has already appeared in the flora and fauna. The effects are causing real losses to the global economy and are a major challenge for heavily polluted countries like India and China, the powerhouses of global growth. There is no debate on the ill effects of the pollution on us. The results are before our eyes, in our bodies and on the beds of hospitals. Unlike Global Warming, Environmental Pollution is yet to have a major movie title based on it. For a problem of its magnitude, awareness in the general populace is shockingly low. Most school children and even many adults are unable to quantify Environmental Pollution and Global Warming and mostly, think of the two as the same.

In simple terms, Earth can no longer sustain the number of people living this ecologically degrading type of lifestyle anymore. It is not the time of shortcuts or quick fixes. The truth is Environmental pollution is an incurable disease and with its effects evident and multiplying by every passing day. It can only be prevented by a grand scale overhaul of us all if we are to survive and not be relegated to the pages of history. Environmental pollution is a ticking time-bomb and we must hope that we may have not yet passed the point of no return.

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Green Planet

Reducing Carbon Emissions, Let Soil and Trees Do the Dirty Work

MD Staff

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By now, most of us are familiar with the role forests play in absorbing carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that are accelerating climate change around the world. But forests are just one part of a broader landscape that often includes water resources and farming that can also play an important role in climate change mitigation.

Climate-smart approaches to reducing emissions from forestry, agriculture and energy, among other sectors, have the greatest potential to improve sustainable livelihoods while limiting the impacts of climate change. The challenge, however, is how to systematically measure emission reductions across a landscape, in order to unlock results-based payments. And how can this be done in a straightforward way?

That’s where the BioCarbon Fund’s Initiative for Sustainable Forest Landscapes (ISFL) comes in. In addition to the country programs it supports, the Initiative has pioneered a way to report and account for emission reductions across a diverse landscape. ISFL’s Emission Reductions Program Requirements show countries what they must have in place to receive payments from the ISFL for emission reductions generated by a range of sustainable activities across a landscape. The requirements are part of the BioCarbon Fund’s broader support to countries rewarding them for smarter land use planning, policies and practices.

In recent years, tropical forest countries have significantly improved their reporting and accounting methods for measuring emission reductions in the forestry sector, but many countries find it difficult to accurately report emissions data in other sectors. To respond to this challenge, ISFL built into its requirements a phased approach to emission reductions accounting. This approach allows a country to begin accounting, and receiving payments, for emission reductions from a limited set of land use categories that meet ISFL requirements. Countries can then add data from other sectors into their ISFL accounting, and receive payments for emission reductions from these sectors, as they become available.

These ISFL requirements are a significant new tool not only for countries, but also for the broader climate change community, as they will help test approaches to comprehensive landscape emissions reporting and accounting that could be expected of future emission reductions programs. It is hoped they will form the basis for countries to pilot innovative approaches to emissions accounting at the landscape level, and foster programs that change the trajectory of land use across jurisdictions over the long term. More than 100 countries included forests and land use in their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), which spell out how they commit to reducing their emissions.

World Bank

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Green Planet

Building a Climate-Resilient South Asia

MD Staff

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Ms. Aisha Khan, Executive Director for Civil Society Coalition for Climate Change (CSCCC) and CEO of Mountain and Glacier Organization (MGPO) in Pakistan, Mr. Anand Patwardhan, Professor of Public Policy at the University of Maryland, USA, Ms. Idah Pswarayi-Riddihough, Country Director for Sri Lanka and the Maldives in the South Asia Region, World Bank Group

Last summer’s monsoon hit South Asia particularly hard and left nearly 1,400 people dead and displaced millions of others.

In the last sixty years, such weather extremes have become more common in the subcontinent and, without urgent action to limit carbon emissions, their impact on communities will likely get worse.

In addition to these extremes, average weather patterns are also changing with each year turning out to be warmer than the previous year and monsoon rainfall patterns are getting more and more erratic.

Eight hundred million South Asians to be exact – or half the region’s population—are at risk to see their standards of living and incomes decline as rising temperatures and more erratic rainfalls will cut down crop yields, make water more scare, and push more people away from their homes to seek safer places.

This worst-case scenario and relevant adaptation strategies underpin the upcoming report South Asia’s Hotspots, whose main findings were presented yesterday at a panel on building climate change resilience in South Asia at the World Bank Spring Meetings.

Its main author, World Bank Lead Economist Muthukumara Mani detailed how specific geographic areas across South Asia or “hotspots” which –until now—were relatively immune to climate change threats could be badly affected by 2050.

Most hotspots, Mani remarked, are located inland, already poor, have fewer roads and are isolated from main economic centers. And with many residents subsisting on farming, higher incidences of droughts or floods combined with extreme heat could further drive down their fragile wellbeing and force more people into poverty.

And while other manifestations of climate change such as sea level rise or natural disasters and their impact on economies have been well documented, less is known of the long-term effects of higher temperatures and unpredictable rainfalls on local communities.

It’s urgent to develop this understanding as most countries in South Asia have already passed their optimal temperature tipping points, beyond which standards of living and consumption are only expected to drop irreversibly.

To build resilience, the report recommends that South Asian countries better prioritize their financial resources where they’re most needed and target the most vulnerable individuals and families.

Mani noted that diversifying jobs beyond agriculture, investing in education and skills, and improving access to electricity can ease the expected decline in living standards caused by long-term climate impacts. Such actions, he argued, must be tailored to address the specific climate impacts and local conditions found in South Asia’s hotspots.

In the end, the cost of inaction—that is, if carbon emissions continue unabated—could be huge as countries with severe hotspots, Mani concluded, would see income in these areas drop by 14.4 percent in Bangladesh, 9.8 percent in India, and 10 percent in Sri Lanka by 2050.

Following the presentation, government, civil society, and academia elaborated on concrete climate actions and adaptation strategies to build a more resilient South Asia.

The panel included Ms. Mahmuda Begum, additional Secretary in World Bank Wing at Economic Relations Division at the Bangladesh’s Ministry of Finance, Ms. Aisha Khan, Executive Director for Civil Society Coalition for Climate Change (CSCCC) and CEO of Mountain and Glacier Organization (MGPO) in Pakistan, Mr. Anand Patwardhan,  Professor of Public Policy at the University of Maryland, USA, and Ms. Jaime Madrigano associate policy researcher at the RAND Corporation, USA. Ms. Idah Pswarayi-Riddihough, Country Director for Sri Lanka and the Maldives in the South Asia Region, World Bank Group moderated the discussion.

Noting that Pakistan’s soaring population coupled with shrinking arable lands present a challenge to the country’s environment sustainability and food security, Aisha Khan emphasized that building climate resilience should go hand in hand with better –that is, more open and inclusive—governance. Involving civil society, including women-run organizations, will bring greater accountability to climate change policies that will later impact the entire population. And that sense of co-ownership and shared responsibility, Khan added, is critical to civil society.

Such collaborations are key to building strategic climate resilience and, to be successful in the long term, should extend to partnership between countries. Water presents such an opportunity. “We in South Asia are the third pole…with the densest glaciers outside polar regions in the world,” she said. “Water being a common problem for all of us, we need to do more work together.”

When it was his turn to speak, Anand Patwardhan noted that the conversation about climate resilience would have to go beyond risks and be reframed around opportunities to further advance the development agenda. In India, large national programs such as Smart Cities or Swachh Bharat projects are two examples of how climate action can help achieve greater development outcomes. In South Asia, Patwardhan later remarked, a lot of infrastructure still needs to be put into place. There lies an opportunity to invest in natural infrastructure [that benefits both the economy and the environment] and ecosystem adaptation to advance resilience across the region.

World Bank

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Green Planet

New Satellite Animations of Earth Show How Quickly Humans Are Changing the Planet

MD Staff

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A new website that combines dramatic images from space with expert analysis of how humans are changing the planet will launch on World Earth Day (22 April).

EarthTime ties together diverse data layers to show the patterns and connections behind some of the major social and political trends of the past two decades – and how they are inscribed into fast-changing landscapes.

The platform has already been used in public outreach in schools and museums, and to inform world leaders at World Economic Forum events of major environmental and geoeconomic shifts, from air pollution to inequality. It uses images captured by NASA satellites since 1984.

The vision, and long-term goal, is to better inform everyone – including individuals, business heads and policy-makers – about the lives we lead, the decisions we make and the impact we have on the planet.

Nine expert analyses on global challenges will be launched on World Earth Day (22 April): deforestation, city growth, coral bleaching, fires at night, glaciers, renewables, sea-level rise, surface-water gain and loss and urban fragility. Other layers will be added in the months and years ahead. You can see them at www.earthtime.org.

EarthTime was developed by CREATE Lab (the Community Robotics, Education and Technology Empowerment Lab) at Carnegie Mellon University, in partnership with the World Economic Forum. It draws on the Forum’s network of experts to give analyses and to tell stories. Users will soon be able to create their own stories.

EarthTime uses more than 300 free, open-source, geospatial datasets – an unprecedented number for visualizations of this kind. Expert opinions make sense of the data and the connections between them allowing a layering of narratives (e.g., how did rise in the global demand for meat trigger deforestation, a major contributor to climate change?). These stories are combined with images from space captured by NASA satellites between 1984 and 2016.

Current datasets come from the World Bank, the UNHCR, NASA, Berkeley Earth, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, Climate Central, S&P Global, Kudelski, the International Renewable Energy Agency and WWF, to name a few. New data providers are being added constantly.

“EarthTime tries to build the common ground that we believe is essential to the discourse that we all must have as stewards of our planet and our joint future,” said Illah Nourbakhsh, Professor of Robotics, Carnegie Mellon University, and Director, CREATE Lab.

“The Earth is changing dramatically. No single discipline can make sense of all that is now happening and no citizen is free from the consequences of what we all do next. We all must be involved in understanding Earth’s changes and how we can work together to bring about our desired sustainable future into reality.”

Nourbakhsh also serves as a Global Future Council member at the World Economic Forum. His research focuses on human-robot collaboration.

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