Earth’s permafrost is thawing, and indigenous communities in the Arctic and scientists around the world say it’s high time this alarming loss of ground ice receives the global attention – and dedicated research – it deserves. As this phenomenon reshapes landscapes, displaces whole villages, and disrupts fragile animal habitats; it also threatens to release dangerous microorganisms and potential carbon emissions that have been locked in ice for thousands of years.
Tuvalu’s Minister of Justice Simon Kofe made headlines during COP26 this past November by addressing the UN climate conference while standing knee-deep in seawater.
“We are sinking,” he said, highlighting the existential danger that climate change fuelled sea-level rise represents to the world’s low-lying island nations.
The video from Tuvalu went viral. The image was impactful, like those coming from fellow Pacific Islands Kiribati and Fiji in recent years, showing entire towns being moved further inland as villages slowly succumb to the sea around them.
A similarly troubling, but much less eye-catching tragedy is occurring on the opposite side of the globe: The Arctic, where rising temperatures are shrinking ancient glaciers, thinning sea ice, and warming and thawing the planet’s permafrost.
Permafrost is ground below the Earth’s surface that has been continuously frozen for at least two consecutive years and in most cases, for hundreds or thousands of years. It extends over a quarter of the Northern Hemisphere, including many regions that are not covered in snow.
This frozen ground is present beneath large parts of Alaska, Canada and Siberia, where people, mostly indigenous communities, have lived, worked, and hunted for hundreds of years.
Displaced by climate change
“In my future and our youth’s future, I picture our community being completely relocated,” Eriel Lugt, a 19-year-old Inuit indigenous activist from Canada’s Arctic region, tells UN News.
Although heartbreaking images of malnourished polar bears struggling to cope with changes of the Arctic landscape might be now embedded in our brains, the thought of entire human settlements having to be relocated or of indigenous communities having to rethink their traditional way of life is not something we hear much about.
“When I first learned about climate, I was in grade 9 and I hadn’t realized that climate change was happening so rapidly in my own community, right in front of my eyes”.
Indeed, for years her hometown, Tuktoyaktuk, has been suffering the consequences of our melting cryosphere.
“Here in Tuk our whole land is on permafrost,” she explains, “The thawing is completely changing our land structure, and with that our wildlife is also being affected.”
The melting of this frozen ground below the surface that covers about 9 million square miles of the north of our planet is barely visible to us, but its effects are not. Roads, houses, pipelines, even military facilities, and other infrastructure are collapsing or starting to become unstable.
Many northern villages such as Tuktoyaktuk are built on permafrost, which when frozen is harder than concrete. But as the planet rapidly warms – the Arctic at least twice as fast as other regions – the thawing ground erodes and can trigger landslides.
Moreover, the reduction and change of sea ice leave coastal villages more vulnerable to storm surges.
“Our community is known for having fierce winds, and every summer there would be days when the wind just makes the sea level rise, so that’s another problem we face… Each winter I notice still that the coast loses about an inch of land,” Eriel highlights.
Some of her neighbors who lived right in the tundra above the beach have already been forced to move inland.
“The ground was basically caving in under their houses,” she said.
Consequences on human health and access to water
Susan M. Natali is a scientist at the Woodwell Climate Research Center*, she has been studying permafrost thawing in the Arctic for over 13 years.
“I can see the changes, it’s devastating. I don’t even know if I can communicate the magnitude of how this is impacting people. They are literally having to prop up and raise their houses (off the collapsing ground). This is something they might have done in the past maybe once a year, and now they’re doing it five times a year because their houses are tilting,” she describes.
Dr. Natali explains that the thawing permafrost is also causing fuel storage units to collapse, and she notes that landfills that had once been in dry areas are now leaking waste and toxic materials such as mercury into lagoons and rivers.
“Rivers are where people get their water and their fish, so there are human health impacts… The thawing it is also causing some river banks to erode making it harder to access clean water,” she adds.
Another problem is that many communities move across the land in the winter using frozen rivers and lakes that are not “freezing” enough anymore.
“This is not only a health risk, but it is also impacting people’s accessibility to food. There are so many things going on… this is a multifaceted problem impacting both natural systems and social systems… This is something that is a reality now for people who are living in the Arctic, and it’s been a reality for a long time.”
Humans and wildlife
Eriel Lugt is no stranger to the scientist’s affirmations, her people have been on their land for hundreds of years, knowing where to hunt and how to travel, but now they are being forced to adapt.
“The ancestors taught generations and generations where we need to go while travelling, like which routes of the ice and land are safe to go by. With the climate changing, the land has become dangerous because our hunters are not so sure anymore what’s the safest route to take.”
The Inuit indigenous communities are not the only ones that have had to learn how to adapt.
According to Dr. Martin Sommerkorn, coordinating lead author of the Polar Regions Chapter of the IPCC Special Report on Oceans and Cryosphere, and Head of Conservation for the Artic Program at WWF, animal habitats and living conditions are also being transformed.
“The Arctic is going to warm two to three times as much as the global average over the course of this century. So, when we’re talking about 1.5C degrees globally, we’re talking about 3 degrees in the Arctic”, he explains.
This means more frequent heatwaves during both winter and summer, with some of what he calls ‘indirect effects” already happening.
“Heatwaves lead to wildfires and insect outbreaks on land and together this weakens the ecosystems, and they basically burn. They get very vulnerable to defoliation from insect outbreaks, which have cascading effects through the entire ecosystem, making it very difficult for the Arctic species to exist in these places,” Dr. Sommerkorn adds.
The expert says that however, there is not an immediate extinction of Arctic species in many places because, just like some human settlements, they are moving further north to escape warming.
“We are seeing desperate accounts of wildlife. For example, Caribou escaping the summer heat and these wildfires. Also, on the sea, we are seeing a complete takeover of previously Arctic marine ecosystems by boreal fish communities. There are impacts that you can see anytime you are up there.”
Dr. Sommerkorn adds that however, the northward migration of species, or in biological terms “range shifts”, has some hard limits in places such as Siberia, where are very few islands north of the coastline.
Why care? The global impacts
But why should the entire world care about what is happening in the Artic? Dr. Natali explains that what is happening there impacts the future of the entire planet.
“There’s so much carbon stored in permafrost, and it’s frozen now. It’s locked away, and when that thaws, it then becomes vulnerable for being released into the atmosphere to exacerbate global climate change,” she tells UN News.
Plant and animal material frozen in permafrost – called organic carbon – does not decompose or rot away. But as the permafrost thaws, microbes begin decomposing the material and release greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere.
“Permafrost contains organic soil that’s been building up for thousands and thousands of years. It’s a fossil carbon pool that it hasn’t been part of our earth system for many thousands of years,” Dr. Natali emphasizes.
Dr. Sommerkorn adds that even under low levels of global warming, permafrost thawing could represent the emissions of a medium-sized country.
“And they could grow much more… that is what we know. What we don’t know is how much of that will be compensated on-site. So how much more new plants will be growing on permafrost soils? Taking that carbon back in? But these emissions will be coming,” he explains.
He gives the example of peatlands in Scotland, the host of the latest UN Climate Conference COP26 and a country working to reduce its emissions by more than 50 percent before 2030.
Peatlands are terrestrial wetland ecosystems in which waterlogged conditions prevent plant material from fully decomposing (and releasing carbon).
“They are fighting big time and don’t have a solution yet for the legacy emissions from drained peatlands that were made available for farming and forestry. Once you drain them it’s basically what will happen to permafrost soils once they start thawing deeper in many places: you just commit to centuries of emissions and there’s nothing you can do about it.”
Right now, emissions coming from peatlands drained decades ago are almost one-fifth (18 per cent) of Scotland’s emissions. The country is now in a race trying to restore these vital carbon sinks.
“It is a strong and steady contribution at a time when we are desperately trying to keep within our atmospheric budget for Scotland… permafrost carbon will (also) come at a very, very inconvenient time to us.”
But unlike drained peatlands, thawing permafrost cannot be reversed in a human’s lifetime while the global temperature keeps increasing.
Moreover, when permafrost thaws, so do ancient bacteria and viruses in the ice and soil. These microorganisms could make humans and animals very sick.
According to NASA, scientists have discovered microbes more than 400,000 years old in thawed permafrost.
The need for science and adaptation
Back in 2019, the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) called the thawing of permafrost one of the top 10 emerging issues of environmental concern. At that time, the southern permafrost boundaries in the Artic had receded northwards by 30 to 80km, a significant loss in coverage.
In 2020, UNEP supported a study on Coastal and Offshore Permafrost Rapid Response, where residents of Inuvik and Tuktoyaktuk in the western Canadian Arctic participated.
Hundreds of people attended a call for a community science day in “Tuk.” The study concluded that people living along the Arctic coast generally appreciate the efforts of the scientific community to better understand permafrost processes and change.
However, they have rarely been directly involved in the science, provision of logistics support, or, most importantly, guiding scientific research towards issues of importance for Arctic peoples.
UNEP called for incorporating traditional ecological knowledge of coastal environments and processes in research programmes wherever possible.
“It’s amazing to me how people are dealing with this. Because you know, there’s not a support system. I can only speak for the United States, but there is not a support system in place to deal with climate change adaptation. It’s almost as if climate change is happening faster than science can keep up and happening faster than policy can keep up. There are people dealing with this almost on their own and piecing together support to deal with this, there’s no governance framework,” highlights Dr. Natali, who recently testified on the issue before the US Congress.
Newtok, a village in Alaska, became one of the first communities in North America to be displaced due to climate change.
Its residents, the Yup’ik tribe, have seen their town crumble little by little due to thawing permafrost, with water taking over to the point they had already decided to move.
Since 2019, they have been progressively relocated to the new village of Mertarvik, which is nine miles away.
A lack of visibility
Meanwhile in Canada, in September 2021, Tuktoyaktuk residents were told that protecting their town from climate change would cost at least $42 million and that any such protective measures could only be “guaranteed” to last until 2052.
In an effort towards adaptation, engineers have undertaken different options to protect the coastline, one of them, putting down layers of Styrofoam insulation and geotextile to protect the permafrost from rising temperatures.
Tuktoyaktuk is eroding away at an average of two metres per year. At the current rate, the entire island will be gone by 2050 unless mitigation is put in place. Other North American and Siberian communities could see a similar fate.
Eriel Lugt and her people know this. For two years now, she has been working in a climate monitoring programme where she goes with other locals to retrieve samples of the land and register any changes.
“I personally think that if enough people worldwide really knew the situation of climate change and if leaders acknowledged it more, then it would be dealt with.”
Ms. Lugt and three other young Inuit activists had the opportunity to tell the story of how their town is dealing with a changing climate during COP25 in Madrid in December 2020.
They shared a trailer of Happening to Us a movie they made in collaboration with their Community Corporation, as well as Canadian filmmakers and academics.
Is there a solution?
Dr. Natali explains that while we can’t now reverse permafrost thaw – because it has already started – ambition is key to avoid the worst of it.
“I think even under our most ambitious scenarios (for reducing global carbon emissions and subsequent warming), we’re going to lose, you know, probably 25 per cent of surface permafrost, and then some of the carbon that’s in there will go to the atmosphere. But this is much better than less ambitious scenarios which could take us to 75 per cent thaw. Permafrost is a climate change multiplier and so it needs to be an ambition multiplier,” she stresses.
For Dr. Sommerkorn, there still is not enough general understanding of the long-term effects of changes in the cryosphere (frozen elements of the world) at the decision-making levels.
“These changes have a direct link to the ambitions for 2030. The IPCC said it clearly: We have to reduce emissions by 50 per cent by 2030 compared to 2010 levels if we want to stay below 1.5C (warming) without overshoot, and cryosphere doesn’t grant us the luxury of overshoot… We will trigger thresholds of melting that cannot be undone. It is very, very hard to regrow glaciers. It is basically impossible to grow back permafrost under raising temperatures”.
The expert explains that by reducing emissions and rates of warming, we are also reducing rates of melting and sea level rise, and giving people time and methods to adapt.
“We have to urgently make decisions now when we plan for infrastructure, cities etc., and we can in parts of the world that have technical help and the funding…others need global help in adaptation funding,” Dr. Sommerkorn adds.
An urgent call on world leaders to act
The Head of Conservation of the WWF was part of a group of scientists and polar and mountain communities who called on leaders at COP26 to devote more attention to the dire global impacts of glacier and ice sheet loss.
“For too long, our planet’s frozen elements have been absent from the climate debate at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) even though their crucial role in determining the future for more than a billion people and our climate is becoming even more clear,” he said at the time, asking the COP organizers to create a dedicated space to discuss actions to be taken in response of the cryosphere crisis.
According to permafrost expert, Dr. Natali, not incorporating important Earth system feedback such as greenhouse gases resulting from frozen ground thaw, makes reaching the 1.5C target of the Paris Agreement nearly impossible.
“It’s a big enough challenge to get nations to make the commitments and take action. But imagine that we’re not even aiming for the right target, which is essentially what’s happening right now because we’re not even doing the math right, because permafrost is not properly and fully accounted in the bookkeeping, and because people aren’t thinking about it,” she warns.
She adds that while physically controlling the emissions from permafrost in the ground is not feasible, getting the science to the place where it needs to be and getting that information in the hands of the public and policymakers is.
“Actions we take elsewhere have a multiplying effect, right? The more we reduce fossil fuel emissions, the more we protect forests… this way we are also, in turn, reducing the emissions that will come out of permafrost and the impact on northern communities,” she says.
No longer an early warning
Scientists are asking that a thematic day be set aside during the next round of UN climate talks, COP27, for a dedicated dialogue on cryosphere, to discuss with leaders the impacts and consequences of the changing landscape.
“It is not enough to look at previous IPCC reports and to carry over our understanding that the melting of cryosphere and its effects in the polar regions are an early warning signal. No, at this point there are actually no longer an early warning signal, they are driving climate change and impacts globally,” Dr. Sommerkorn highlights.
The expert notes that the preamble of the COP26 final outcome text reads: We need to guarantee the intactness of ecosystems, including the cryosphere.
“Just saying that is already showing that the matter has not been fully taken into account and fully understood, so we will be asking for such communication to go forward,” he adds.
For Dr. Sommerkorn, Glasgow left the world an increased possibility of ramping up the contributions through the Paris Agreement, and this forward momentum should be used to achieve the 50 per cent reduction in emissions by 2030.
“I think the happy message here is that it is actually in our hands. We made some advances on good global governance at COP26. It’s not all disastrous, but we must find ways to actually translate that into urgent action. And that’s the key to the cryosphere crisis”.
Towards Climate Justice: Unmasking Climate Colonialism and the Hidden Costs of Green Capitalism
“The climate policies of wealthy nations are colonialism in green. Pursuing climate ambitions at the expense of the world’s poorest people is not only hypocritical but also immoral, unjust, and a prime example of egregious green colonialism.”
The present era, known as the Anthropocene according to geologists, acknowledges the significant influence of human activities on the Earth’s land, atmosphere, and oceans. This term recognizes that human actions have had a major impact on the climate and natural ecosystems. However, some scholars argue that it assumes the climate crisis is a result of inherent human nature, rather than the actions of a specific group of individuals, such as colonialists, capitalists, and patriarchs. Furthermore, the term implies that the Earth was stable until recently, around 1950, when the ‘Anthropocene’ is believed to have begun.
This perspective overlooks the history of exploitation experienced by marginalized communities over centuries under these systems. Indigenous scholars have also raised concerns about how the term represents colonialist ideologies that sever the profound connections between humans, plants, animals, and the soil. Instead of valuing the Earth as a precious entity that sustains life, Western colonial legacies often operate within a framework that assumes unlimited extraction of natural resources, with the expectation that the Earth will replenish itself.
Climate colonialism is an increasingly discussed phenomenon which has come to prominence due to the current climate crisis. It involves countries and corporations, mainly located in developed countries, imposing policies on African or other developing nations that damage their environment for economically motivated advantages such as resource extraction or generating cheap labor opportunities abroad. This not only increases inequality but also entrenches existing colonial relationships between global North and South even further. By perpetuating extractive economic practices, environmental exploitation through carbon-intensive industry operations intensifies both historic injustice (e.g., slavery) and ongoing neoliberalism of our world’s most vulnerable regions.
There are two main perspectives to consider when examining the intersection of climate change and colonialism. Making this connection involves understanding that historic injustices are not confined to the past – their impacts are still felt in the present day. The first perspective focuses on the historical causes of climate change. It emphasizes that the Global North, comprising developed nations, bears the primary responsibility for the current climate crisis. In fact, Global North countries are responsible for emitting over 92% of carbon emissions. However, it is the Global South nations, which also bear the brunt of poverty resulting from exploitative colonial activities, that suffer the most severe consequences of climate change, particularly in the form of extreme weather events.
A 2022 report from Greenpeace UK aptly stated, “The environmental emergency is the legacy of colonialism.” This injustice has sparked a growing movement calling for climate reparations. Essentially, it calls upon wealthy countries in the Global North, who have played a significant role in causing climate change, to financially support the countries in the Global South that bear the least responsibility for its causes but suffer the most from its impacts. This call for reparations has its roots in the recognition that the effects of colonialism continue to persist.
A commitment was made by wealthy nations in 2009 to provide $100 billion per year in climate finance to developing countries by 2020 through 2025. Regrettably, as of 2023, this promised funding has yet to be fully delivered in any given year. This delay raises concerns and frustrations, as it hampers the ability of the most vulnerable countries to respond effectively and address the consequences of climate change.
Climate colonialism is taking another form through the exploitation of resources in the Global South by countries of the Global North in order to advance their own climate agendas. The University of Oxford describes this as occurring under the guise of “development projects” and “carbon offsetting,” enabling Western countries and corporations to continue polluting while disproportionately affecting BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) communities in both developed and developing countries. Moreover, many of these solutions involve displacing Indigenous populations from their lands, leading to widespread violations of human and land rights.
A clear example of this exploitation can be seen in Global North-supported afforestation and reforestation projects, which have been found to involve human rights abuses, land seizures, and violence in various regions of Africa, Latin America, and Indonesia. As Vijaya Ramachandran, director for energy and development at the Breakthrough Institute, emphasized in 2021, pursuing climate ambitions at the expense of the world’s poorest people is not only hypocritical but also immoral, unjust, and a prime example of egregious green colonialism.
The acceleration of carbon emissions began with the process of colonization and the subsequent industrial revolution it spurred. However, ecological destruction did not come to an end with the decline of colonialism. The current global production system, still dominated by imperial powers and former colonial nations, continues to play a significant role in driving climate change and environmental degradation. The promotion of the so-called ‘green revolution’ in many former colonies, intended to enhance agricultural yields, heavily relied on the intensive use of chemicals that have had detrimental effects on soil quality and freshwater sources, leading to pollution.
While many world leaders are quick to criticize the populist government in Brazil for its thoughtless destruction of the Amazon Rainforest, it is important to recognize that large-scale clearances and burnings have been primarily driven by the logging industry and the clearing of land for livestock breeding, both of which cater to exports destined for Europe and the United States. Similarly, in Southeast Asia, extensive deforestation has been directly linked to the palm oil export industry. This reckless extraction of natural resources to supply raw materials to wealthier nations may benefit local elites monetarily, but it worsens the issues of food and water insecurity while exacerbating the marginalization of disadvantaged communities.
Scholars have highlighted the historical connection between colonialism and the mindset that allows land and oceans to be used as dumping grounds, regardless of their location. Although there are regulations in place to control pollution levels, certain levels of pollution are still permitted. In Canada, for example, the oil and gas sector, which extracts tar sands on Indigenous reservations, is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions. Unfortunately, this results in tribal communities losing access to clean water and facing high levels of air pollution. These commercial activities rooted in colonialism continue to encroach upon Indigenous land.
Furthermore, the extraction of oil and gas is driven by the production of plastics and other disposable products consumed primarily by the United States, the United Kingdom, and the European Union. The burden of dealing with plastic pollution, through recycling or incineration, is often placed on developing Asian countries. Such practices stem from the inequitable international trade set up by former colonial empires, which exploit developing nations by compelling them to dispose of hazardous waste at a low cost. This unjust arrangement is commonly referred to as waste colonialism. Curiously, despite its reputation as the world’s largest plastic waste exporter, Germany has been hailed as the top recycler by the World Economic Forum. Each year, Germany exports more than one million tons of plastic waste, surpassing any other EU country. This contradiction raises questions about true recycling practices and underscores the need to address the systemic issues perpetuated by waste colonialism.
The climate policies of wealthy nations are colonialism in green. It is worth mentioning that during COP26, Nordic and Baltic countries proposed that the World Bank should fund clean energy solutions in developing nations, including technologies like green hydrogen and smart micro-grid networks. However, it is contradictory that Norway, one of these countries, continues to produce petroleum despite advocating for clean energy solutions.
Green hydro energy is often regarded as one of the most intricate and expensive technologies in the energy sector. In contrast, northern industrialized nations continue to prioritize the production of natural gas for Europe. To address price concerns, the United States has recently increased its oil production.
China and India frequently face criticism for their high emissions and reliance on coal to generate electricity for their populations. On the other hand, countries like Canada and the United States have the highest per capita emissions globally, primarily due to their heavy dependence on fossil fuels for personal luxuries such as private jets, yachts, and cars. Interestingly, the demand for private jets is soaring to the point where there is now a shortage, as evidenced by recent media coverage.
In a moment of great significance in 2022, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) made a notable inclusion in its sixth report, addressing the impact of global warming on our planet. For the first time ever in the history of the IPCC, the term “colonialism” found its place in the report summary. The IPCC highlighted that both past and present forms of colonialism have played a direct role in intensifying the vulnerability of particular communities and locations to the consequences of climate change.
Instead of challenging the flawed logic of excessive accumulation and commodification, the global environmental agenda has been overshadowed by the idea of green capitalism, which lacks the transformative capacity to effectively tackle the escalating climate changes that now pose a threat to the very existence of our planet. As we approach the forthcoming climate negotiations at COP28, it is crucial for nations to recognize that climate change is a problem that has been largely shaped by the industrialized north and the ongoing influence of imperial economic patterns on our way of life.
Merely continuing to pursue economic dominance through the same imperial industrial powers that contributed to the climate crisis will not address the monumental challenge of global warming. Unless we address the persistent legacies of imperialism and colonialism, we can hold little hope for achieving environmental justice and effectively mitigating climate change.
It is imperative that we collectively engage in a process of re-education centered around decolonization, in order to gain a comprehensive understanding of how our world operates.
Only then can we begin to envision and work towards a future that breaks free from the exploitative structures and institutions that currently bind us.
Sustainability in the Age of Climate Change: Demography, Resources, and Action
The effects of climate change are no longer theoretical; they pose a real and immediate danger to our world. We have reached a pivotal juncture as temperatures rise owing to the persistent growth in greenhouse gas emissions, especially carbon dioxide. Climate change has farreaching effects, disrupting ecosystems and threatening human populations across the world. This article examines how climate change, population growth, and the availability of resources all play a role in bringing about this dilemma. We’ll break down everything from the growing world population and fossil fuel use to the looming water problem and stress the need for decisive action on all fronts.
Climate change, fueled by the continuous increase in greenhouse gas emissions, is at the center of the environmental catastrophe. As with many other gases, carbon dioxide (CO2) contributes to global warming by trapping heat above Earth’s surface. The consequences of global warming are starting to show. The track of Earth’s average temperature rises from 2011 to 2030 is concerning, with a 1°C increase already seen. Without fast and serious action, it is predicted that global temperatures would climb by an alarming 3 to 5 degrees Celsius between 2046 and 2065. A frightening 8-10°C temperature increase between 2080 and 2099 is possible, and may throw our world into anarchy.
Climate change is exacerbated by the rapid increase in the world’s population. The exponential increase in the global population is putting enormous strain on the Earth’s limited resources. This stress is made worse by urbanization since cities are the most voracious consumers of limited resources. This population transition will have far-reaching consequences, many of which are linked to the effects of global warming. Rapid population expansion is a key driver of current demographic trends, which in turn influence global warming. When people live in cities, they use more resources like food, water, and electricity. This urban expansion, in which large swathes of land are constructed to house the increasing population, is harmful to the environment and cannot be sustained.
The effects of globalization on climate change, which is defined by the interdependence of economies and cultures across boundaries, are mixed. One positive effect of globalization is that information about and access to renewable energy sources and environmentally friendly methods of production have spread more quickly and widely than ever before. However, technology has also facilitated increased consumption and the globalization of trade, both of which add to greenhouse gas emissions and environmental deterioration. Greenhouse gas emissions have been worsened by the fast growth of energy-intensive businesses brought about by the urbanization and industrialization associated with globalization.
The disappearance of glaciers is one of climate change’s most spectacular aesthetic effects. Glaciers are melting at an alarming pace as temperatures increase throughout the planet. There will be severe consequences for coastal and delta populations as a result of this phenomena. When glaciers melt, they help drive up river and ocean levels. Many people all around the world live in coastal areas, which are especially at risk. Extreme weather like hurricanes, typhoons, and tornadoes become more likely due to the higher water levels, which in turn causes more extensive damage and human casualties. Current rates of sea level rise are around 1 mm per year on average. There is a possibility that global sea levels might increase by 0.8 m to 2 m by the turn of the century (Jacob et al., 2012). The coastal settlements would be devastated, thus urgent and extensive adaptation and mitigation measures are needed.
The Albedo effect is an important concept in climate science because it demonstrates how effective reflecting surfaces are at maintaining a comfortable temperature. Reflection of sunlight by snow and ice helps to keep Earth’s surface cool by reducing the amount of energy absorbed by the planet. Because of its thin snow covering, Arctic Sea ice actually absorbs more sunlight than it reflects. As a result, Arctic Sea ice is melting fast, adding to the effects of global warming. Antarctica, on the other hand, reflects over 90% of incoming sunlight due to its huge glaciers coated in reflecting snow. There is no mistaking the implications: less Arctic Sea ice means more heat is absorbed, speeding up global warming. It is imperative that ice sheets be protected because of the vital function they serve in maintaining the planet’s average temperature.
Temperature increases are just one aspect of climate change, which has far-reaching effects on Earth’s ecosystems and biodiversity. Satellite imagery shows that plant cover in the Arctic is “greening,” with trees becoming higher, tundra giving way to shrubs, and mammal populations shifting as they adapt to new circumstances. Due to these shifts, native species are being pushed out of their habitats and replaced with species from warmer areas. The greater white-fronted geese of Japan and the brown hare of Sweden, for instance, have both begun to invade mountain hare habitats. The extinction of arctic foxes has been exacerbated by the spread of red foxes.
Water is a crucial resource for human existence and agricultural production, and climate change is having a direct influence on its availability. (Peterson et al., 2002) contend that 97% of the water on Earth is ocean salt, making it unfit for human consumption or agricultural use. About 2.5% of the water on Earth is drinkable. The decrease in groundwater levels in extensively irrigated areas is a particularly worrying trend. Groundwater levels in some regions of the Indian subcontinent were found to be declining at an unsustainable pace of 4 to 10 centimeters per year in 2009, threatening the lives of around 600 million people.
The Ogallala Aquifer is an important supply of groundwater in Texas, and it was the subject of an in-depth research headed by Kelvin Mulligan, a professor of economics and geography at Texas Tech University. Their research revealed disturbing trends, including a yearly reduction of 1 foot in the aquifer’s water table on average and a shocking 3-foot decline in certain regions. The rapid depletion of fossil fuel reserves highlights the critical need of making the switch to renewable energy sources (Mulligan et al., 2014).
The rising water shortage situation may be resolved via the use of virtual water trading. Virtual water is the unseen quantity of water used in the manufacturing and distribution of commodities. Countries may reduce their demands on their local water systems by importing items that need large amounts of water (Varis et al., 2013). The idea that countries may work together via commerce to lessen their own water footprints and better adapt to shifting climates is illustrative of the interrelated nature of global sustainability. Water-poor Middle Eastern nations like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates purchase wheat from water-rich places like the United States, providing a real-world example of virtual water commerce. This helps these countries cope with the difficulties of water shortages brought on by climate change while also relieving demand on their precious freshwater supplies. Likewise, nations that have an abundance of water might use virtual water commerce to spread the word about the benefits of sustainable water management and build global resilience in the face of increasing environmental risks.
Nations must hasten their shift to renewable energy sources to counteract the persistent use of fossil fuels. Because they don’t rely on flowing water to produce electricity, renewable sources like wind and solar power provide an attractive alternative to hydropower. While hydropower is renewable, it uses quite a lot of water in the process. For illustration’s sake, one megawatt-hour of energy generated by hydropower requires around 30,078 gallons of water. This level of water use is really worrisome, especially in areas where water is limited to begin with.
The artery of hydropower, the Colorado River provides life-sustaining water to 27 million people in seven U.S. states and Mexico. The Colorado River’s flow, however, is expected to decrease by 10-30 percent due to climate change brought on by human activities. There is already a problem with the river’s water being overused, and this frightening drop in flow just makes it worse. Lake Powell and Lake Mead, two enormous reservoirs that get their water supply from the Colorado River, have been significantly below capacity since 1999. By 2005, Lake Powell had lost around two-thirds of its water and was dangerously close to being declared a “dead pool.” It was believed that Lake Powell may dry up totally within four years, which would be disastrous for future water supplies and sustainability.
Despite being written off as a minor political issue, climate change might spark dangerous confrontations. The “water war theory” argues that vulnerable areas may resort to war if upstream governments obstruct the supply of water to downstream ones.
Due to climate change different states are now working on construction of dams to store water many of the dams are being constructed on disputed water, like india’s new dam project on the Chenab river.
The agricultural economy of many states would collapse without access to water, which is necessary for human survival. Tensions may rise as a result of water shortages or supply outages, which can cause economic downturns and food poverty. Diplomatic engagements and conversations between governments to address disputes over water resources are essential to preventing crises from escalating. Particularly in areas prone to water-related disputes, it is crucial to get down and speak about how to share water resources fairly.
A whole new way of thinking about how to generate and use energy is needed to combat climate change. Policy initiatives that help nations become less reliant on fossil fuels and more open to sustainable alternatives must be given top priority. Particularly promising are wind and solar power. These power plants are perfect for places where fresh water is scarce since they produce energy without using any. The Canadian province of Prince Edward Island is notable for having converted to 100% wind-generated power. Biofuels are another feasible alternative to traditional fossil fuels. Major progress has been made in using biofuels as a mainstream energy source in places like the USA, the EU, and Brazil. Brazil grows sugarcane on a massive scale for biofuel production, whereas the US and EU use maize and sugar beets respectively. One of the most widely used biofuels, ethanol, has recently attracted attention across the world. The United States and Brazil are the two major ethanol producers in the world. In recent years, ethanol use in Brazil has even overtaken that of gasoline. To slow global warming, technological progress is essential. The transportation industry is on the brink of a transformation because to developments like vehicle-to-grid (V2G) technology. V2G technology enables electric cars to both recharge from and contribute to the power grid. By using fewer fossil fuels, this invention lessens its impact on the environment.
Reservoirs, lakes, canals, and dams are all examples of infrastructure that governments should invest in to combat the problem of dwindling water supplies. These facilities provide for the safekeeping and control of water resources, protecting against water shortages and guaranteeing a steady water supply. In the western region of Xinjiang, China, for example, the government is making preparations to build 59 new reservoirs to store water from glacier-fed rivers. In areas where glacial meltwater is a major source of water, such measures are essential for the long-term supply. The benefits of technology extend beyond the realm of energy. They cover a broad spectrum of technological advances made to lessen the effects of climate change. Through its Recharge IT programme, Google Inc. is working hard to advance vehicle-to-grid (V2G) connectivity. As a result of this innovative technology, electric cars may now both recharge from and contribute to the grid. This breakthrough has the potential to drastically cut the transportation industry’s reliance on fossil fuels, cutting down on emissions and pollution.
Combating climate change is an international undertaking that calls collective cooperation. Some of the most influential worldwide organizations in the fight against climate change include the United Nations, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Greenpeace, Earthjustice, and the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF). Sustainable practices are promoted, awareness is raised, and governments and companies are held responsible via the work of these groups, which includes research, lobbying, and policy formulation. Their work is crucial to global climate change prevention and adaptation initiatives.
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by the United Nations in 2015 give an all-encompassing framework for dealing with the effects of climate change and its accompanying difficulties. Clean energy, climate action, water resources, and ecosystem protection are just few of the many areas that are addressed by the SDGs. These targets provide a guide for nations and businesses to follow in order to achieve global sustainability goals. The SDGs stress the value of working together across borders to combat climate change and build a more just and sustainable global society.
In conclusion, the interaction between climate change, population growth, and sustainable use of resources is a complex and multidimensional problem that calls for swift and thorough response. The globe is already feeling the effects of climate change, from increased temperatures and melting glaciers to decreased water supplies and disrupted ecosystems. To overcome these obstacles, we must drastically alter our energy system, moving away from fossil fuels and toward renewables like wind and solar. There are some encouraging answers to the problem of emissions and pollution, and these include the use of biofuels and technical advances like V2G technology.
Moreover, nations throughout the world need to work together to find solutions to climate change. Resolving water issues and avoiding confrontations over scarce supplies need diplomacy and open communication. When it comes to pushing for climate action and bringing governments and companies to account, international organizations are indispensable. Global cooperation in climate change mitigation is emphasized by the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, which offer a road map for nations to match their efforts with global sustainability goals.
The stakes are tremendous; the future of our planet is at risk. Leaders and governments throughout the world, as well as ordinary individuals, have a responsibility to address and work toward mitigating non-traditional security concerns. The call to action is all the more urgent given the millions of lives, ecosystems, and our planet’s future that are at stake.
Dire Consequences in Failing the Climate Change Goals
It is not as if they have closely missed their goals; it is as if they have not even been trying. The new Oxfam report on climate change places the blame squarely on the rich countries , the US being the worst offender.
The goal has been to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 45 percent before 2030. Instead, they are headed for an increase of 10.6 percent. As might be expected, these world’s largest economies, the G20, produce the most pollution.
On average, they emit between 7.4 and 7.7 tons of CO2 per person per year. To keep global mean temperature rise below 1.5 C above preindustrial levels as has been the goal, they need to come down to 2.9 to 3.8 tons.
The G20 and other countries will be submitting their nationally determined contributions or NDC’s at the UN Climate Summit in Dubai this November. These assessments there will reveal whether or not they are on track for achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement, namely to limit temperature rise to 1.5C.
Researchers accessing G20 plans using three different methodologies found these will reduce emissions only to 6.7 to 6.9 tons per person per year on average. That is nearly double what is required.
Oxfam’s work on emissions produced by the rich and the poor find them influenced by wealth and inequality — the 125 billionaires themselves produce through their investments and activities a colossal 393 million tons each year at a 3 million ton per person average — a half million times higher than the average G20 person and a million times higher than the bottom 90 percent by global wealth.
The US leads the high income countries with the largest deficit in not meeting the goals planned emissions reduction. Its shortfall is up to 24.6 tons of CO2 equivalent per person per year. Middle income countries are led by Russia at 10. China has a high of 3.4 and India merely 0.7.
If the world is serious about global warming, it has to persuade rich countries, particularly G7 the richest, and the rest of the G20 to ramp up spending to move to low-carbon alternatives, and also increase climate finance for the poorer countries. It is the only way as these countries simply do not possess the resources otherwise.
What happens if the rich countries ignore the possibilities? Well, we have seen the news within the last year — the latest being the catastrophic floods in Libya killing at least 5,300 while an estimated 10,000 remain missing. What is unusual will become the norm as the air heats up absorbing more moisture from the oceans.
Extreme weather like hurricanes and typhoons will increase with extended seasons. Recent examples are the wildfires in Australia and Canada and the Atlantic hurricane season. The latter runs from June 1 to November 30. Closely before or after would not be exceptional but this year we experienced a named storm in January.
So if no one is doing much about climate change except talk, batten down the hatches or move away from the coast, nice as it usually is.
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