IoT Marketing is organizing its third sustainability event on April 27, 2023. And a fair question to ask is: "what is the status of sustainability?". The definition of sustainability is very broad, feel free to check the definition that the United Nations is using, which leads to a broad range of sustainability drivers.
Since we are at the UN, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change just released its 2023 report, and it provides the most comprehensive scientific assessment of climate change; is that the driver for sustainability?
Climate change is a significant driver of sustainability, but it is not the only factor. There is a range of environmental and social challenges that are driving the sustainability trend, including:
1. Climate Change
The warming of the planet due to greenhouse gas emissions is causing sea levels to rise, weather patterns to change, and natural disasters to become more frequent and severe.
2. Resource Depletion
The overuse of natural resources, including water, land, and minerals, is leading to environmental degradation and social conflict.
3. Biodiversity Loss
The loss of plant and animal species due to habitat destruction, pollution, and climate change is having a significant impact on ecosystems and human well-being.
So, while climate change is a critical driver of sustainability, it is important to recognize that sustainability is a broad and complex concept that encompasses a range of environmental and social issues. However, the IPCC Climate Change report doesn’t paint a rosy picture and it will dominate the discussions around sustainability so let’s take a deeper dive into the report. The World Resources Institute has created an excellent overview of the 2023 Climate Change Report.
Top Findings from the IPCC Climate Change Report 2023 | World Resources Institute
- Human-induced global warming of 1.1 degrees C has caused unprecedented changes to the Earth's climate system, such as rising sea levels, more extreme weather events, and disappearing sea ice. Further warming will increase the frequency and severity of heatwaves, heavy rainfall events, and regional droughts. Rising global temperatures also increase the likelihood of dangerous tipping points in the climate system, which can trigger self-amplifying feedbacks that lead to substantial, abrupt, and irreversible changes, such as melting ice sheets and rising sea levels.
- The impacts of climate change on people and ecosystems are more severe and widespread than expected, according to the United Nations. The spread of vector-borne diseases, water scarcity, agricultural productivity, and extreme weather events are already affecting millions of people. These impacts will intensify with even small increases in global temperature. Even limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius will not be safe for all, as 950 million people in drylands will experience water and heat stress, and the global population exposed to flooding will increase by 24%.
- Adaptation measures can effectively build resilience to climate change, but more finance is needed to scale solutions. While climate policies in many countries now consider adaptation, efforts have yet to progress from planning to implementation, and funds for adaptation are limited. Developing countries alone will need billions of dollars per year to adapt to climate change, but funds for adaptation account for only a small percentage of tracked climate finance. The IPCC finds that proven and readily available adaptation solutions, such as ecosystem-based adaptation, can build resilience and deliver broader sustainable development benefits. Collaboration with Indigenous Peoples and local communities is critical to the success of this approach.
- Some climate impacts are so severe that they cannot be adapted to, leading to losses and damages. Highly vulnerable people and ecosystems are already struggling to adapt to climate change impacts, with some facing "hard" limits to adaptation where existing strategies cannot fully avoid losses and damages. Examples include coastal communities in the tropics where rising sea levels have forced them to abandon cultural sites, and entire coral reef systems have experienced widespread mortality, impacting livelihoods and food security.
- The IPCC states that to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, greenhouse gas emissions must peak before 2025 in 1.5 degrees C-aligned pathways. Without significant emissions reductions, the world could surpass 1.5 degrees C of warming between 2021 and 2040, leading to potentially catastrophic consequences. To achieve the 1.5 degrees C goal, GHG emissions must peak immediately and decline rapidly, with reductions of 43% by 2030 and 60% by 2035 relative to 2019 levels.
- To limit global warming to 1.5 degrees C, the world needs to move away from burning fossil fuels rapidly. To achieve this goal, only a net of 510 GtCO2 can be emitted before carbon dioxide emissions reach net zero in the early 2050s. However, existing and planned fossil fuel infrastructure alone could surpass that limit by 340 GtCO2, reaching 850 GtCO2.
- To combat the climate crisis, deep emission cuts are necessary across all of society, not just in the fossil fuel industry. Urgent, systemwide transformations are needed to secure a net-zero, climate-resilient future. Power generation, buildings, industry, and transport are responsible for close to 80% of global emissions, while agriculture, forestry, and other land uses account for the remainder.
- The IPCC states that achieving global climate goals will require more than deep decarbonization and building resilience. All pathways to limit warming to 1.5 degrees C will require some degree of carbon removal, including natural solutions and emerging technologies.
- The IPCC report states that climate finance for both mitigation and adaptation need to increase significantly in the coming decade. The current public and private finance flows for fossil fuels are much higher than those directed toward climate mitigation and adaptation. Developing countries, especially those struggling with debt and poor credit ratings, will require the most financial support. To achieve the Paris Agreement's goals, finance for agriculture, forestry, and other land use needs to increase by ten to 31 times. Developing countries will need $127 billion per year by 2030 and $295 billion per year by 2050 for adaptation and loss and damage.
- Climate change will disproportionately impact vulnerable and marginalized communities, and efforts to mitigate climate change can also exacerbate inequity. However, the IPCC identifies measures to support a just transition to a net-zero-emissions, climate-resilient future. Reconfiguring social protection programs, designing mitigation strategies to distribute costs and benefits, and inclusive decision-making processes can all help ensure that no one is left behind in the transition.
In general, the IPCC report shows that while the window to address the climate crisis is rapidly closing, we can still secure a safe, livable future. But that means that a lot of work needs to be done. So, let us look at the status of sustainability.
What Is the State of Sustainability In 2023: It’s Complicated
Assessing where we are on the road to a sustainable future is a complex and ongoing process. While progress has been made in some areas, there are still significant challenges that need to be addressed in order to achieve sustainability on a global scale.
These challenges include reducing greenhouse gas emissions, increasing access to clean water and sanitation, addressing global inequality, and ensuring that economic development is sustainable and does not contribute to environmental degradation.
In addition to that, the ongoing influence of fossil fuel industries, the lack of political will to make necessary changes, and the challenges of coordinating global action on environmental issues are some of the significant obstacles that need immediate actions.
On the positive side, there have been several significant developments in recent years that point toward progress. These include the increasing adoption of renewable energy sources, the growth of sustainable agriculture practices, and the expansion of public awareness and political action on climate change and environmental issues.
Generally, while progress has been made in some areas, there is still much work to be done to achieve a sustainable future. The road ahead will require continued effort and cooperation from governments, businesses, and individuals around the world.
Net Zero Energy Technologies
The World Economic Forum moderated a panel discussion at Davis 2023 called The Age of Net Zero Energy Technologies, where the speakers discussed various topics related to climate change, including the impact of fossil fuels, the potential of nuclear energy, and the need for policy changes and incentives to transition to zero-emission industries.
The event started with a discussion about the impact of fossil fuels on climate change, arguing that the continued use of fossil fuels is unsustainable and harmful to the environment. It emphasized the need for renewable energy sources and suggested that investing in green energy could create new jobs and stimulate economic growth.
The potential of nuclear energy as a zero-emission alternative to fossil fuels was also discussed during the event. They acknowledged the concerns around nuclear energy, such as safety and proliferation, but argued that advancements in technology have made it possible to design nuclear systems that are completely safe and sustainable. As a side note, several countries are extending the lifetime of their nuclear reactors, the drivers for these lifetime extensions are war and climate change.
They have also touched on the policy obstacles and incentives required to transition to zero-emission industries. The speakers argued that it is not just the mining industry that needs to make this transition, but every industry, including shipping and transportation. They suggested that the lack of belief in the possibility of change is a major obstacle and emphasized the need for strong leadership and policy shifts.
Finally, the need for large-scale policy shifts to address climate change was also highlighted at the event. The panelists emphasized the urgency of the issue and argued that without significant policy changes, the world is headed for disaster. They suggested that policies such as subsidies for green hydrogen and incentives for manufacturing in poverty-stricken areas could help stimulate the transition to zero-emission industries.
Renewable Energy Sources Have Become the World's Top Source of Electricity
The World Economic Forum issued a report in February 2023 discussing how renewable energy sources have become the world's top source of electricity in the year 2023, overtaking fossil fuels. The data is based on research conducted by the International Energy Agency (IEA), which predicts that by 2030, renewable energy sources will be responsible for more than half of the world's electricity generation.
The report highlights that the cost of renewable energy sources has fallen significantly in recent years, making it more competitive with traditional fossil fuels. Furthermore, the increasing demand for energy and concerns over climate change have led many countries to shift towards renewable energy sources in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve energy security.
Renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power are becoming more efficient, and advances in battery storage technology are improving the reliability of renewable energy sources, as mentioned in the article. The shift towards renewable energy sources is seen as a positive step towards meeting the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement, which aims to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius.
With the continued innovations in technology towards sustainability, there are still challenges that need to be dealt with, in order to fully transition to a renewable energy system, such as the need for grid upgrades and energy storage solutions, as well as the need for policies and regulations that support the growth of renewable energy sources.
Despite the challenges, renewable energy sources are the bright spot on the road to a sustainable future and there is potential for further growth in the future.
Sustainable Agriculture — Case in Point: Precision Agriculture
Precision agriculture is crucial for sustainable agriculture as it offers an efficient and effective means of optimizing crop production while minimizing resource use and environmental impact. By using advanced technologies such as GPS, sensors, and drones, farmers can monitor crop growth, soil moisture, and nutrient levels with high precision, allowing them to apply inputs such as fertilizers and pesticides only where and when needed. This reduces waste, lowers costs, and minimizes the risk of runoff, pollution, and soil degradation.
Furthermore, precision agriculture can help farmers adapt to changing weather patterns and mitigate the effects of climate change, contributing to the long-term sustainability of the agricultural sector. Therefore, the adoption of precision agriculture is essential for achieving sustainable agriculture goals and ensuring food security for future generations.
Despite a big technology push stood in precision agriculture by the United States Department of Agriculture's National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), through its Precision Geospatial and Sensor Technologies Program acceptance by the agricultural community has been hesitant and weak, although most producers admit they will have to adopt site-specific management (SSM) technology eventually.
The program provides grants for research, education, and extension activities that promote the development and adoption of innovative technologies to improve agricultural productivity and sustainability. Through this program, farmers and agricultural researchers have been able to adopt new technologies such as unmanned aerial vehicles, global positioning systems, and remote sensing to improve crop yields, reduce environmental impacts, and increase profitability. The diffusion of (new) technology follows its own rules. As much as we need precision agriculture, it needs a broader adoption, specifically by the smaller producers.
Overall, the state of sustainability in 2023 is complicated, with progress being made in some areas while significant challenges remain. Breakthroughs are seen through the rising adoption of renewable energy sources, the expansion of sustainable agriculture practices, and the growing public awareness and political action on climate change and environmental issues. However, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, access to clean water and sanitation, addressing global inequality, and ensuring sustainable economic development are still significant challenges that need to be addressed.
The shift towards renewable energy sources and the adoption of precision agriculture are positive steps towards a sustainable future, but more needs to be done. Urgent action and cooperation from governments, businesses, and individuals around the world are necessary to overcome the obstacles and achieve a sustainable future.
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