You just need to turn on the news to see how climate change is affecting the world we live in. From severe droughts and flash floods to devastating hurricanes and melting glaciers, the effects are becoming more and more prevalent across the globe. However, there is more than just global warming threatening our planet. Other key issues, including the use of plastic and overuse of natural resources are having a huge impact on our environment too.
It’s no surprise then that, against this backdrop, recent UN climate talks in Poland delivered a damning message to world leaders — to act now and drive down greenhouse emissions before it’s too late. Speaking at the summit, Sir David Attenborough reinforced this message, warning that climate change is now the greatest threat to humanity and could lead to the collapse of civilisations, and the extinction of much of the natural world.
The good news is that there is a growing public awareness in the issue. The likes of environmental charities, popular broadcast programmes (e.g. Blue Planet), influential celebrities and a whole host of media are all making a major impact too – educating the masses and inspiring action on a global scale.
It’s noticeable that there is still a lot of work to be done, but that good news is that we are making process. Leaders from across the globe are stepping up efforts to ensure marked changes are being made to dramatically reduce emissions and change behaviours – and fast. Here, business gas suppliers, Flogas Energy, look at some of the most influential environmental laws and regulations in play today, and how they’re helping to save the planet.
The Paris Agreement
This is the first deal of its kind and brings together the world’s nations in a single agreement that will help tackle climate change from 2020. Nearly 200 countries within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) came to a consensus in 2015 to cut greenhouse emissions and have committed to limit temperature rises worldwide by no more than 2C above pre-industrial times. In fact, the aim is to limit this further, to 1.5C if possible. Progress will be reviewed every five years and financial funding from donor nations will go to less developed countries.
Scientists have stated, though, that the Paris Agreement has to be stepped up if it’s going to meet the targets that have been laid out and truly curb the effects of climate change. A recent UN report suggests that the world actually needs to triple its current efforts to meet the 2C target.
The War on Plastic
While it has many positive uses, plastic is still a major pollutant. An estimated 12.7 million tonnes of it ends up in our oceans each year (the equivalent of a truck load every minute). This has led many countries to introduce bans or taxes to try and limit the exponential rise in plastic usage. Denmark started levying a charge on plastics bags as early as 1993, and the 2002 ‘bag tax’ in Ireland resulted in a huge 90% drop in demand for single-use plastic bags. More recently, Environment Secretary Michael Gove announced a ban on plastic straws, cotton buds and stirrers could be in place in the UK by late 2019. Looking ahead, the European Union has voiced its intention to ban a range of plastic items (including straws, plates and single-use cutlery) completely by 2021, justifying that these can be replaced with more sustainable materials.
Thanks to the abundance of media attention in recent years, plastic pollution has risen to the forefront of public consciousness. This has led a number of major companies to make significant changes to their operations by ditching plastic (or pledging to do so rapidly). This includes food outlets such as McDonalds and Pizza Express, all Four Seasons and Hilton hotels, as well as pub chain Wetherspoons and sandwich shop Pret a Manger – to name but a few.
Clean Air Strategy
May 2018 saw the UK government release their Clean Air Strategy to cut air pollution and human exposure to particulate matter pollution – the fourth biggest health risk behind cancer, obesity and heart disease. The new strategy is part of a 25-year plan to leave the environment in a better state and is an addition to the £3.5 billion scheme already in place to reduce air pollution from road transport and diesel vehicles, set out in July last year.
The end goal is to be able to halve the number of people that are living in areas where concentrations of particulate matter are above the guideline limits by 2025. What’s more, it pledges to ensure only the cleanest domestic fuels are available, to tackle ammonia from farming, to address non-exhaust emissions of micro plastics from vehicles, to empower local government with new primary legislation, to invest in scientific research and innovation in clean technology, and much more.
Ban on Coal
In the UK, there are eight active coal-fired power stations. However, a ban on coal introduced this year (which will come into force in October 2025) has presented energy companies with an ultimatum: adapt your existing assets to generate greener energy or close your power station. This rule has already set in motion the change, with some stations adapting or building infrastructure for cleaner energy generation, whilst others have decided to remain active right up until the ban.
During climate talks in Bonn (COP23), the decision was made to phase out coal power plants and replace them with cleaner technologies. It was Canada, the UK and the Marshall Islands who led the way, forming a global alliance called ‘Powering Past Coal.’ One year on since its launch, the alliance now has 75 members who are committed to replacing unabated coal-fired electricity with cleaner alternatives.
Road to Zero Strategy
Transportation accounts for a greater overall share of greenhouse gas emissions than economy sector. This means that changes are vital if the UK is to hit its carbon reduction targets. The Department for Transport’s 2018 ‘Road to Zero Strategy,’ sets out that at least 50% (and as many as 70%) of new car sales will be ultra-low emission by 2030, and up to 40% for new vans. This policy also addresses reducing emissions from vehicles already on the roads and plans to end the sale of conventional petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2040.
A major expansion of green infrastructure across the country will come about as we move towards zero emission cars. A major focus will be on increasing the availability of charging stations for electric vehicles (EVs). The Road to Zero strategy sets the stage for what the government has hailed ‘the biggest technology advancement to hit UK roads since the invention of the combustion engine.’
Sources: Guardian, BBC, The Sun, Greenpeace, Reusethisbag, DEFRA, Climate Action, Poweringpastcoalalliance, Gov.uk