“Humanity is at a crossroads”, to quote Greta. Will we now act?
Yes, we can: and yes, we must. We know with abundant clarity what needs to be done; we just need to do it, fast. There is not a moment to lose.
Here are ten paths to a hopeful future.
Leave the fossil fuels in the ground and move headlong to renewable energy
The world cannot – under any circumstances – burn the remainder of the fossil fuels at its disposal. Some of the world’s most influential financial institutions reminded us of this fact in the past week. Fortunately, the economics of renewable energy are becoming more favourable by the day. It is high time to leave those fossil fuels in the ground and transition, fast, to smarter, more energy efficient, renewable systems.
Protect and restore the world’s forests and ecosystems
The World Resources Institute’s 2018 global forest loss numbers have just been released. The world is still losing 30 football fields’ worth of rainforest a minute, including vitally important primary tropical forests in Brazil, Colombia, the DRC and elsewhere. Enough! Not a tree more. It is possible to reduce deforestation: Indonesia is showing how. And let’s plant trillions of new trees and restore all the world’s other valuable ecosystems, while we are at it.
Agriculture is the primary driver of deforestation. And we are depleting our soil at an untenable rate. Around the world, new forms of better, more productive and more regenerative agriculture are showing that this trend can be reversed. And we are restoring degraded land through these better practices, including in China, India, Niger, Ethiopia, the US, Australia and the UK. A sustainable food future is within our grasp.
Cherish fresh water
Next, let’s manage the world’s finite fresh water as if our life depends on it – which it does. Transboundary water diplomacy is critical here: in the 21 Century, and beyond, we must ensure that nations do not enter into conflict over water. Traditional approaches to fresh water management also have a lot to teach us: in some of the world’s most parched areas, including Rajasthan and the Middle East, communities have relied on these methods for millennia.
A new push for biodiversity protection
China will host a critical global meeting on biodiversity in Kunming in October 2020. A new Global Biodiversity Framework (or ‘Global Deal for Nature’) is under negotiation, setting ambitious targets and mobilizing political leadership behind the conservation of the natural world, both on land and sea.
Save the ocean
In particular, we must not forget the ocean. More investment in marine protected areas, better marine fisheries management, greater governance of the high seas, and a concerted international push to prevent illegal fishing and the further entry of plastic in to the ocean are all urgent priorities for the marine environment. (Friends of Ocean Action are leading on this agenda, with a compelling set of priorities and political champions).
70% of the world’s population will live in cities by 2030. There is an amazing opportunity to make these cities green, inhabitable, smart and efficient. This is good economics as well as good politics. A number of Scandinavian cities have shown the extent of what is possible. And here in London, campaigners are leading a push for the city to become a National Park City – as well as for better air quality and more provision for cyclists.
The circular economy
All of these paths require a pivot to a circular economy, regenerative by design, which leads to zero waste – whether in industrial processes, the fashion industry, or agriculture and food. The circular economy has taken off around the world – now it needs to go to scale.
Population, diet and consumption
There are 7.7billion people in the world today; we are due to be 9.8billion by 2050, and 11.2billion by 2100. These increasing numbers will place additional strain on the planet’s finite resources. Greater access to girls’ education and reproductive health rights around the world – a fundamental human right – will also lead to slower rates of demographic growth. But population is not the full story here: many billions of the world’s people can also have a significant impact by reducing the intake of meat and dairy in our diets, and by consuming less overall.
A Global Marshall Plan for the Environment
Above all, the world needs a global partnership to deliver concerted action across these areas. After the Second World War, across a ravaged European continent, the Marshall Plan delivered ambitious and far-sighted reconstruction. Now, we need a Global Marshall Plan for the Environment for our times, spanning politics, economics, civil movements, media, businesses, faith groups and the law.
Finally, and above all, we need political leaders around the world to respond to the call that Greta and others have so compellingly made. Every head of state needs to make this set of issues their top priority and defining legacy.
Edward Davey is Director of the Geographic Deep Dives of The Food and Land Use Coalition at the World Resources Institute, and author of ‘Given Half a Chance’