There’s a vaccine (or three) on the way, Christmas is coming and we’ll actually be allowed to meet people that we don’t share a house with.
Unfortunately, there are still plenty of environmental reasons to keep anxiety levels ratcheted up. But there are signs of hope that 2021 might be a year of, sorry here’s that word again, unprecedented climate action. It needs to be.
We’ve had a few stinging environmental reports and speeches recently. The UN Secretary General Antonio Guetteres laid it out bluntly last week, saying: “Humanity is waging war on nature. This is suicidal. Nature always strikes back — and it is already doing so with growing force and fury.
“Biodiversity is collapsing. One million species are at risk of extinction. Ecosystems are disappearing before our eyes … Human activities are at the root of our descent toward chaos. But that means human action can help to solve it.”
Guetteres was speaking at a virtual conference called ‘The State of the Planet’. The week before, Ireland’s Environmental Protection Agency launched its ‘State of the Environment Report’. Carried out every four years, this, the seventh report, doesn’t make for comfortable reading. The Irish environment is in a right state.
Director General of the EPA, Laura Burke, said: “The overall quality of Ireland’s environment is not what it should be, and the outlook is not optimistic unless we accelerate the implementation of solutions across all sectors and society.”
Almost 90% of our energy comes from fossil fuels, air quality in some urban areas doesn’t meet WHO standards, raw sewage is being discharged to water from 35 towns and villages, and the number of Ireland’s pristine rivers has fallen from 500 sites to 20 sites in 30 years
The report “calls for better implementation and delivery of existing legislation and policies. Many plans and programmes are already in place which, if fully implemented, would go a long way towards resolving persistent environmental issues.”
Basically, get on it with it. We have plans, programmes, legislation — carry them out!
This laggard behaviour is costing us money. At the end of October the government paid €50 million to other EU nations because we missed our renewable energy targets. That’s on top of €100 million in other fines/offsets that we’ve paid because we couldn’t get our act together.
So, instead of having €50 million to spend on insulation or heat pump grants (or student nurses and midwives’ pay) we are handing over money to countries like Denmark who managed to get it together.
Frustrated? Me too.
With a comparable population to Ireland and a big agricultural sector, New Zealand plans to have net zero carbon emissions by 2025.
But before you start rolling your eyes at New Zealand and those faultless Scandi countries with their high quality of life and falling carbon emissions, it’s not just rich developed countries who are getting it together.
Take Costa Rica. (Yes please, I hear you say, a week on a beach would be just the ticket 4— but think of the carbon footprint of your air miles!) Costa Rica aims to be carbon neutral next year! In 2021, not in 2050 like Ireland is uninspiringly aspiring to.
Costa Rica is a developing country in Central America with a population of five million. After a civil war in the 1940s it abolished the military and spends money on free education and healthcare.
In the 1980s and ’90s it made critical decisions to not follow the pattern of economic development progressing hand in hand with environmental degradation.
According to the World Economic Forum, 55% of Costa Rica is forest cover, reversing a deforestation trend in the 1980s from expansion of farming and logging.
A quarter of the country is protected as nature reserves and Costa Rica enshrined the right to a healthy environment in its constitution in 1994. 99% of its electricity comes from renewable sources —hydro, geothermal, solar, wind and biomass.
It’s a small country with big ideas and it is electrifying its entire transport sector, the sector responsible for 70% of its carbon emissions.
The president, Carlos Alvarado Quesada was named by TIME magazine as the ‘Next 100 Most Influential’ because of his status as a climate leader. He has said: “No house is more shared than the planet that we live on. No cause is more global than fighting the climate crisis.”
Costa Rica is not a perfect country. It has poverty, unemployment, a looming financial crisis. It’s grappling with Covid-19 and November’s Hurricane Eta killed two people and caused major damage.
Incidentally, there were so many hurricanes in the 2020 hurricane season that meteorologists ran out of Roman letters to name hurricanes and had to move onto the Greek alphabet — hence Eta!
A recent World Meteorological Organisation reports shows 2020 is on track to be one of the three warmest years on record, with the past decade the hottest in human history.
Which are all unfortunate but perfect examples of why humanity needs to stop global warming.
Costa Rican diplomat, Christiana Figueres, was pivotal in negotiating the Paris Agreement — the legally binding, international UN treaty that aims to avoid dangerous climate change by limiting warming to well below 2°C and pursuing efforts to limit it to 1.5°C.
This week is the 5th anniversary of the Paris Agreement and global carbon emissions have yet to fall.
In November, 2021 Glasgow is, hosting a big climate meeting (COP 26). It was postponed due to the pandemic but is seen as a critical juncture point as to whether humanity can really implement the necessary change.
Like Ireland’s environmental record, the world has been doing a lot of talking and planning about climate action.
We really need to get on with it.