We have a long way to go, but it would be amiss to say that no progress is being made on our collective fight against environmental degradation. Scientists, environmentalists and concerned stakeholders from all walks of life are striving towards helping to create a sustainable human society.
words Aaryaman Aashind
The biggest obstacles are still ahead of us, such as global heating, clean energy, and waste management. However, another decade has passed, and we should not let it slip by without hailing the significant achievements that have taken place. Since they are so few and far between, this is going to be a short list, and yet they give us hope for the days to come. So, without further ado, here is a list of victories on the environmental front from the 2010s.
Conservation of Biodiversity
To gain perspective on how grave the situation is, we should remember that species around the world are going extinct at a rate of approximately ten per day. Yes, you read that right. For each day that passes, 10 distinct species are lost forever. Even though the extinction of species is a natural phenomenon, the current rate at which species are going extinct is one thousand times higher than the natural rate.
To fight the menace, global enforcement agencies have been taking stern action. In 2019 itself, the Interpol, World Customs Organisation and Europol conducted twin operations named Thunderball and Blizzard. Operation Thunderball was the largest sting against wildlife crime to date, spanning 109 countries and involving almost 2,000 seizures of protected animals. Operation Blizzard aimed to identify and neutralise small-scale illegal reptile traders and succeeded in making upwards of 4,000 seizures as well as 12 arrests. In the long run, these governmental bodies hope to dismantle the criminal networks which facilitate such trades.
Separately, due to active conservation efforts, a few species have been brought back from the brink of extinction. These species include the panda bear, the yellowstone grizzly bear, the chatam petrel, the gray wolf, the gray whale, the stellar sea lion, the southern white rhinoceros, the arabian oryx, the northern brown kiwi, and the snow leopard.
The Paris Climate Accord
The Paris Climate Agreement or the COP 21 was a landmark international treaty aimed towards reducing the global emission of greenhouse gases. Since the nature of environmental problems is such that it requires cooperation on a global scale, international treaties such as the Paris Climate Agreement serve as a bedrock on which national governments can take action and simultaneously work towards shared goals.
The 2016 Paris Climate Agreement builds upon and replaces the earlier Kyoto Protocol which was signed in 1997 and the Montreal Action Plan in 2005 which extended the life of Kyoto Protocol and deepened the commitment. Notably, the United States, which is now planning on backing out of the Paris Climate Agreement, also never ratified the Kyoto Protocol. The Kyoto Protocol laid out goals for each country to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions to a certain limit. The adoption of the Kyoto Protocol saw limited success because certain regions such as the European Union not only met their goals but exceeded it. However, the gain was nullified overall by the two largest emitters: the USA and China.
The Paris Climate Agreement is significant not only because it aims to limit the rise of global temperatures to 2 degrees but also because it envisages an oversight system which allows countries to be held accountable and helps keep track of the progress being made.
Plastic Bans Across the Globe
Many countries have come around to acknowledging the dangers of plastic. Mostly this is because Governments are typically responsible for the handling of waste and disposing of plastic is a massive problem. Plastic is not bio-degradable, which means that almost every piece of plastic ever produced is still out there. Plastic began to be mass-produced around six decades ago, which has led to around 8 billion metric tons of waste that we have no clue how to deal with. The most horrifying aspect of this problem is that most the plastic ends up in the ocean, where it can accumulate and endanger aquatic life. Once plastic enters the ocean, it becomes a permanent problem because we do not have any means to retrieve it.
Looking at the scale and ubiquity of the problem, combined international efforts are necessary. However, failing that, we will take whatever national measures come our way. Various countries have implemented a partial ban on the production and use of plastic, in one way or another.
In Kenya, the production and use of plastic bags was completely banned in 2017. The law has been widely enforced and anyone found violating it can expect a hefty fine or even imprisonment. In Morocco, plastic was completely banned in 2016, despite certain sections of society continue to illegally smuggle and use plastic. In Taiwan, the use of plastic was restricted including plastic bags, straws, cups and utensils. Other countries which have at least partially banned plastic include France, Rwanda, New Zealand, and South Korea.
Shift Towards Renewable Energy
The dangers of reliance on non-renewable energy are so well-known that they hardly bear repeating. They are susceptible to exhaustion in the coming decades and they cause air pollution at an unprecedented scale, including greenhouse gas emissions.
Countries are realising the fact that the sooner they shift to renewable energy, the more cost-effective it will be. Currently, almost one-third of the world’s total energy comes from renewable sources. Renewable energy production is growing at an incredibly fast pace of around seven to eight percent every year. Developing and emerging economies are playing a large role on this front with the majority of renewable power installations coming from these countries. The generation of electricity from renewable sources is likely to be cheaper than non-renewable sources in the near future, further impacting the pace at which renewable energy is adopted globally.
Hearteningly, the US produced more energy from renewable sources than from coal-based sources in 2019; while in the same year the UK achieved something even greater, with renewable energy production surpassing not only coal-based sources but all forms of non-renewable energy. In India, 2017 marked the first year in which renewable energy installations surpassed new coal-based installations. India currently produces approximately 80 GW of electricity through renewable sources with plans to achieve 175 GW by 2022.
“Technology has caused the problems and technology will bear the solutions,” is the old adage when it comes to the relation between technology and the environment.
Indoor air pollution can be more hazardous to human health than outdoor air pollution, and a brand called Clairy may have found a bandage to the problem. In 2016, the brand received funding for its flowerpot air purifier, which draws air towards itself and filters it with the aid of the respiratory action of plants.
Companies have discovered how to engineer foods. It is possible to artificially create dairy products such as milk and eggs, as well as meat. This could potentially reduce our dependence on animals and improve their welfare.
Drones have become so cheap that they are now being used to monitor large swathes of wildlife areas. These drones act as moving security cameras to help identify and capture illegal poachers.
It’s not enough that present trends continue, these trends have to greatly improve upon themselves if we are to leave our kids with a planet at least as healthy as the one we inherited. Even though we are still far from the tipping point, we can take heart from the fact that efforts are being made, people and organizations are working on these problems, there are still many ways that each of us can help, and that the last decade has had enough positive news for us to reserve hope for the future.
Aaryaman Aashind is a writer and concerned global citizen. When he isn’t researching stories, you can usually find him marvelling at the passage of time or complaining about the weather.