Following a lawsuit by Urgenda (an organization for innovation and sustainability in the Netherlands) against the Dutch government in 2018 the Netherlands was forced to pledge a 25% reduction in emission of greenhouse gases by 2020. However, following a report by the Planbureau voor de Leefomgeving (the planning center for the environment, or PBL), it is evident that further reduction is highly unlikely in the coming year. Indeed, while there has been a 21% reduction in emissions since the 1990s, the Netherlands has not only lagged in making progress, but emissions have actively increased since 2017, according to Nu.nl.
Evidently, for world leaders, climate change is background noise. With the spectacles presented by hyper-nationalistic world leaders and the ongoing drama in the United Kingdom with Brexit, it is understandable that an issue without a loud leader is easily ignored.
However, it is imperative that our destructive behavior towards the environment ends.
Regardless of the extent to which climate change is a radical and hip conversation topic, it concerns everyone. We have, however, in recent years, seen spurs of momentum which have given some hope for adjustment in the future. In 2015 in Paris, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) facilitated talks that lead to 195 countries signing, and 179 countries ratifying the Paris Agreement. In these agreements, signatory countries pledged to make significant changes in order to keep the average global temperature below 2 degrees celsius, in addition to striving to limit the increase in global temperature to 1.5 degrees celsius. This ‘limiting’ of further emissions to the 1.5-degree celsius threshold may not even be enough.
Consider, that at an increase of 1.5 degrees celsius will still amount to an annual average of 1.1 months of heatwaves as opposed to 1.5 months of annual heat waves at an increase of 2 degrees celsius. Likewise, the anticipated sea level rise in 2100 compared to 2000 at 1.5 degrees celsius is expected to be a devastating 40 centimeters, whereas the expected sea level rise at a 2-degree increase in temperature is 50 centimeters. Regardless of whether the global temperature increases by 2 degrees or 1.5 degrees, the resulting impact will be catastrophic.
Climate Action Europe is a nonprofit that measures the willingness of EU member states to meet the Paris Agreement, compared to actions actually taken. In June of 2018 the nonprofit refused to award a ‘top spot’ to any EU member state due to their dismal score. The journal CAN Europe opens with the statement that EU countries are all “off target”. As can be observed in the graphic above, Sweden is predicted to come closest to fulfilling their internal goals. In its report, CAN cited only two countries doing well: Sweden and Portugal, who are expected to achieve their internal 2020 climate goals.
Often, this kind of information is overwhelming. If 26 out of 28 countries in the EU cannot meet their climate goals, what can the average individual do to create change?
Within the SciencesPo community, various organizations are working to advocate for the environment and facilitate sustainable consumption. SciencesPo Environment for example, recently posted an exhaustive list suggesting environmentally positive new year’s resolutions. They included purchasing local and seasonal products, using a reusable water bottle, reducing your meat intake, and many more. If you are unconvinced, consult PETA’s ‘How many animals have you saved’ calculator, which is a stark reminder of the massive impact meat consumption has on the environment. One meat-free year is equivalent to roughly 300+ animal lives saved. Thus, if four of your friends decide to cut out meat for this year, you will be saving over 1000 lives. That is change. Likewise, if cutting out meat from your diet feels too impossible, consider cutting out meat once per week. If you and seven of your friends do this, you will be saving 300 lives per year. Small decisions can make significant changes.
However, what is the precise correlation between meat consumption and pollution? As can be seen on the graph below, while a tremendous amount of land is resigned only to the maintenance of livestock for consumption, it only amounts to a negligible fraction of daily human consumption.
Between 1.6 and 2.7 billion tonnes of greenhouse gasses are produced by livestock, a shocking proportion considering the above graphic which demonstrates the degree to which this livestock consumption fuels our diets.
Regardless of the decisions you make to reduce your ecological footprint, I would like to use this platform to urge as many people as possible to consider making at least one change that will improve your relations with the earth. Buying a reusable water bottle may seem like a small feat for you, but it will contribute to changing the dangerous do-now-worry-later culture that we have developed around climate change.
Changing our climate for the better starts with you.