Two important sets of data released this week point to the urgency of radically cutting the use of fossil fuels and to the way environmental damage affects the globe unevenly. Fighting climate change requires climate justice and resource allocation.
The new Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report outlined what needs to be done and spelled it out: the world has 30 months for global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to start falling. Emissions growth must end before 2025 to keep global warming below 1.5°C. Otherwise, the chance to avoid the worst impacts of the climate crisis is lost. Reversal requires immediate and deep cuts in emissions everywhere.
Protecting and restoring nature can deliver large-scale cuts in emissions by ending the destruction of forests, and it must involve traditional populations, who are its best guardians, but it does not make up for the delay in cutting fossil fuel burning or dubious shortcuts such as , for example, switching to natural gas.
The IPCC also points out the inequality of global warming. Just 10% of households with the highest emissions per capita contribute up to 45% of global consumption-based emissions. Americans have a CO2 footprint of almost 20 tons a year, while Africans have less than five tons.
A net zero future can be achieved, says the IPPC, but policies that lift people out of poverty are needed. And for that, climate investments would have to be three to six times what they are today.
The World Health Organization has also just released the most extensive survey ever done on air pollution, with terrible results: 99% of the world’s population breathes polluted air, an increase of almost six times what was recorded at the beginning of the measurement, in 2011. WHO estimates that more than 13 million deaths annually result from preventable environmental causes, with 7 million due to air pollution.
For the first time, the research made terrestrial measurements of concentrations of pollutants that derive from the burning of fossil fuels: nitrogen dioxide (NO2), a common urban pollutant, and fine particulate matter, with particles with diameters equal to or less than 10 ?m (pm10 ) or 2.5 µm (pm2.5). Particulate matter reaches the bloodstream and causes cardiovascular, cerebrovascular (stroke) and respiratory impacts. Nitrogen dioxide is associated with respiratory diseases, especially asthma.
Disgrace, of course, is uneven. In all, 117 nations monitor air quality. In high-income countries, particulate parameters are acceptable in 17% of cities. In low- and middle-income households, air quality is as recommended in less than 1% of cities.
Last year, the organization had already tightened the Air Quality Guidelines. Now, at the launch of the report, she advocates that countries implement national quality standards, improve their monitoring and identify sources of pollution. The WHO also warned of the urgency of reducing the use of fossil fuels, accelerating the transition to cleaner and healthier energy systems and promoting controls and actions to lower levels of air pollution.
To contain the advance of pollution, the WHO lists some measures:
- exclusive use of clean domestic energy for cooking, heating and lighting;
- investment in energy efficient housing and power generation;
- safe and accessible public transport systems and paths for pedestrians and cyclists;
- stricter vehicle emission and efficiency standards, with mandatory inspection and maintenance;
- improve industrial and municipal waste management;
- reduce agricultural waste incineration, forest fires and agroforestry activities such as charcoal production.
Both the IPCC report and the WHO annual survey show that there is no shortage of data, scientific knowledge or technological options for acting on the climate crisis. There is a lack of political will and investment aimed at cutting the use of fossil fuels, which have one of the most powerful lobbies on the planet, and bringing well-being to the entire population.