Climate change might be the big environmental challenge humanity will face over the coming decade. But it isn’t the only environmental problem. This article will focus on some of the world’s biggest environmental concerns, from biodiversity loss and water shortage to waste management. We will discuss the challenges ahead of us in terms of a warming planet and changing climate.
We’ve entered the third decade of the 21st century, and our world’s environmental concerns are many. The United Nations has highlighted most of the challenges that face us in the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The UN adopted this plan of action in 2015. The Agenda puts forward global measures that will ensure a world that is more prosperous, fairer, and respectful of the environment. The UN has already warned that we are falling behind on implementing many of these measures and that time is running out to save our planet.
Below are some of what the UN considers the biggest environmental concerns of today; environmental challenges that we must overcome within this decade to have any hope of securing a healthy planet for future generations.
According to the UN, global warming due to carbon emissions has increased 50% since 1990. Global warming is accelerating climate change. It is threatening the survival of millions of people, animals, and plants by causing weather events such as floods, droughts, and fires. These events are increasingly becoming extreme and frequent. Even if we limit global warming to 2oC, its consequences will last for centuries. This means we need to increase the urgency in implementing climate mitigation and adaptation measures.
2. Pollution and Its Effect on Health
According to estimates by WHO, 90% of the world’s population breathes polluted air.7 million deaths are caused every year due to air pollution. Water pollution is also another challenge. Around 122 million people around the world collect untreated water from the surface of lakes, rivers, streams, and ponds. If the water is polluted, it can cause and lead to the spread of several diseases.
3. Protecting the Oceans
The ocean has today become a giant plastic dump site. Other serious environmental problems related to oceans include damage to marine ecosystems from the dumping of pollutants, global warming, fuel spills from ships, and wastewater. We need improvements in the management of coastal and protected ocean areas. We also need to reduce pollution and overfishing and find ways to combat ocean acidification.
4. The Energy Transition and Renewables
Energy accounts for 60% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Also, 3 billion people over the globe depend on fossil fuels for cooking. With such a large share of the population depending on fossil fuels, greenhouse gas emissions from their activities are enormous. Our situation needs to transition to a cleaner and more efficient model based on the use of renewable energy. By implementing these models, we can build communities that are more sustainable, inclusive, and resilient to climate change.
5. Sustainable Food Models
Industrial agriculture’s method of intensively producing food harms the environment. It depletes the soil and reduces its capacity to store carbon. Food safety is at risk due to the overexploitation of natural resources. We need to change our food production systems and our food habits. Incorporating a plant-based diet with local and fresh ingredients saves energy and reduces CO2 emissions.
6. Protecting Biodiversity
Our activities have destroyed natural habitats. The World Wildlife Fund has said that this destruction of ecosystems has led to 0.1% of all species going extinct every year. 22% of Earth’s species are at risk due to the loss of habitats, poaching, and the introduction of invasive species.
By 2030, cities around the world will have to accommodate a total of 5 billion people. More people mean more pressure on natural resources and more emissions. The growth of cities will be another of this decade’s biggest environmental concerns. Cities in the future will have to be compact, safe, ecological and energy efficient, and inclusive. They will have to have more green spaces, environmentally friendly buildings, and sustainable means of transport.
8. Water Shortage
Clean freshwater is vital for human life to persist. But, 2.7 billion people experience water scarcity for at least one month a year. According to the World Economic Forum, agriculture accounts for nearly 70% of water use in the world’s most arid countries. We need to use hydrological resources to improve food production responsibly. Responsible use of these resources will also protect biodiversity and water ecosystems. Here are the 10 cities that are running out of water.
9. Extreme Meteorological Events
Global warming is causing weather events like floods, droughts, hurricanes, and heat waves to become more frequent and intense. Limiting global warming to the internationally agreed standard is therefore of utmost importance. It will increase our capacity to respond to climate emergencies like these. This is crucial for us to develop the ability to adapt and defend ourselves from them.
10. Overpopulation and Waste Management
The UN estimates that by 2030, the world’s population will reach 8.6 billion. That means the number of resources we use and the waste we generate will considerably increase. Therefore, we need to start reducing our waste today by reducing, reusing, and recycling items. We need to contribute to a circular economy where the waste we generate can be again used as resources. A circular economy will ensure we reduce our impact on the environment and on health.
The Bottom Line
The biggest environmental challenges we’ve listed above might seem overwhelming. You might think there’s no hope left for us and the planet. But that’s not true. Even the small steps we take today to reduce our environmental impact will go a long way in protecting our planet. Bicycle more, recycle that soda can, buy that expensive but organic and local produce, cut down on meat consumption, and you might look silly, but line dries those clothes anyway. Collectively, all these small, silly, and simple activities make a significant impact in ensuring our environment and climate can recover from all the damage done to them.