Just over a year ago, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change published a report stating that we have just 12 years to make the changes necessary to limit the catastrophic effects of climate change. The debate is no longer: human-induced climate change is real and causing deadly affects to vital natural systems around the globe, threatening the lives of all live things – plants, animals, and yes, humankind, too. Efforts to combat the climate crisis must involve drastic changes at government, business and societal levels. Here we explore some of the top ways for governments to take action against the impending risks of climate change:
- Invest in natural resource protection. The value of our natural environments are priceless; it provides us with food and material resources – in fact a healthy environment keeps us healthy. While rainforests are responsible for creating about 28% of the earth’s oxygen, marine plants are, in fact, responsible for creating up to 70% of our atmospheric oxygen. Protecting our forests and oceans is an incredibly valuable way for governments to mitigate the impact of climate change, as natural resources absorb carbon dioxide, one of the greenhouse gases responsible for warming our planet, in order to produce this oxygen.
- Promote green, clean energy. The shift away from fossil fuels is an extremely important part of reaching net zero carbon emissions by 2050 – which is the legally-binding commitment that the UK Government agreed to earlier this year. Around the globe, countries have committed to reducing their carbon emissions drastically and in order to step away from coal and oil, governments need to invest more in solar, wind and hydropower.
- Support small, independent agriculture. The need to feed a growing global population has driven our food industry to be mass-scale, industrialized farming, that is extremely detrimental to our planet. The rearing of meat for consumption is one of the most environmentally damaging industries for our planet – it’s water intensive, highly polluting and responsible for four-fifths of the deforestation of the Amazon rainforest, among other invaluable natural habitats. Supporting small, independent agriculture businesses following sustainable practices, is a great way to help increase their market share and transition people away from a destructive industry of imported goods.
- Combat air pollution. Air pollution is one of the biggest killers worldwide; claiming about 7 million deaths per year – nearly 9,500 of which are in London. There are several ways in which governments can help reduce air pollution:
- Making cities more pedestrian and cycling friendly
- Providing adequate public transportation, ideally electric
- Subsidizing the switch to electric vehicles for personal transportation, when needed
- Switching power stations to solar, wind and hydropower from coal, gas power stations and diesel
- Improving home energy efficiency to minimize heating needs
- Support waste reduction schemes in homes and businesses to reduce the need for incineration
- Invest in more green spaces which help clean air and remove pollutants
- Shift away from a linear economy. Currently, the majority of goods consumed – from food to clothes to technology – follow a linear economy. Items are bought new, use them until they break or are outdated and then disposed of. Only a small percentage of materials from these items are repurposed or reused; the majority ends up in landfills, adding to our waste imprint and the greenhouse gases that landfills emit. Governments can help reduce goods waste by supporting the mainstreaming of a circular economy, where materials from everyday items are repurposed and recycled into the manufacturing process. The Ellen Macarthur Foundation is working with both governments and mass corporations to help reduce the creation of goods from new materials, and increase the circularity of these items.
Its clear that there are several initiatives that governments can take to reduce a country or city’s carbon contribution to climate change. These programs can – and should – be implemented in both local government offices, as well as regional and national areas. They must incorporate and work in an interdisciplinary manner – with businesses and individuals – to create a positive spin on the changes, but one policy at a time, governments can be the leaders of change.