The year 2019 has clearly shown another crisis point for climate. With the rising engagement of the young population, deeply concerned by the abnormally high number of alarming climatic events throughout the year, climate change was put forward on the political scene. To be true, a number of technological breakthroughs could have left us hopeful about the future of sustainability in the decade to come. Yet powerful symbols, such as US President Donald Trump officially quitting the Paris Agreement and the disappointing outcome of COP25, have sent the exact opposite message. Your Public Value decided to reflect on the highlights of 2019 in terms of climate and sustainability.

Crisis point for climate

In 2019, a rising number of natural disasters has considerably affected the ecosystem of our planet.  Wildfires especially marked the news in Latin America and in Siberia, and kept being a burning topic early January 2020, with the tragic Australian fires. A situation that is the immediate consequence of global warming with temperatures around the world getting so much hotter and drier, releasing a significant amount of carbon dioxide in the air. These wildfires, not only killed billions of animals on our planet, but they also contribute to reducing the vital oxygen that forests produce. The year 2019 can therefore be considered as a crisis point for climate, as the destruction of forests will lastly impact our global climate system.

Scientists have issued alarming reports on the destruction of the biodiversity, the acidification of oceans and the dramatic rise of temperatures in the Artic that warms up twice as fast as the rest of the planet. Overall, 2019 illustrated the concrete consequences of global warming for humanity, but also its effects on the fauna and flora. If we still needed evidence to act, these events showed how urgently should measures be adopted and how crucial innovative solutions are to handle the problems linked to the climate crisis.

Critical lack of consensus

Even though the political agenda aimed at tackling environmental challenges, the international community faced clear cohesion problems in 2019. The UN Conference of the Parties COP25, gathering up to 200 participants, failed to deliver an international carbon trading system and a fund for poorer countries stroke by natural catastrophes as the UN community had previously committed to. Political observers note that the divide between the richest (such as Brazil, the USA and Australia) and the poorer countries had even deepened, preventing for an ambitious agreement to be found.

In November 2019,  US President Trump formally notified the UN of the US withdrawal from the Paris Agreement signed in 2015 by President Obama. This decision, along with the opposition of US negotiators at COP25 in Madrid, sent a powerful negative signal from one of the strongest economies. The US used to be seen as a key partner to set economic measures and tackle climate change. Interestingly, climate negotiators are now changing their strategies and turning towards China to assume this role.  

The EU also stands at the front line as a climate champion and is now presented with opportunity to assume a greater role on the international stage. It can also be noted that, even though the biggest polluters have shown signs of disinterest regarding the question of climate and sustainability, room is left for concrete actions on a smaller scale such as states, provinces, businesses and civil society.

Some hope looking forward

If 2019 clearly set another crisis point for climate and marked a greater gap between countries on how and how fast they handle climate change, some progress is also worth noticing with sustainability offered a greater place in our societies.

In response to the apparent failure of politicians to answer climate challenges, civil society seized the opportunity to act and the global demand rose from the people to improve and foster solutions. This will to change was particularly well illustrated by the Fridays for Future movement.

In such crisis climate, technical progress also pushed towards increased sustainability. As noted by the UN in the 2019 SDG Progress Report, renewable energy can be seen as an example for the progress made worldwide. The share of renewable energy was globally increased, as well as economic supports to cleaner energy and global primary energy intensity.

Other technology examples, such as carbon dioxide catchers that soak up greenhouse gas emissions, can be used to argue that we will indeed operate in a much more sustainable way very soon. If it is still unclear what to do with carbon dioxide once it is caught, this innovation is nevertheless a good first step to contain global warming as much as possible. Progress was also made in 2019 in the field of bioplastics produced out of plants waste, offering a less polluting option to classic plastic used to pack products. Finally, maglev trains also appear as the green future of transportation, answering both the rising demand for transportation means and the need to find a way to respect the environment and reduce global warming.

We call for urgent action

Looking at the year 2019 with hindsight and protection lenses for our planet, it is obvious that sustainability strategies have made considerable. The global narrative on the need to act to protect our planet is widely shared. The need to protect both society and the environment in an equal way is also largely understood.  What is needed today is the urgency to act. The Australian wildfires and the way this issue was handled by politicians illustrates the forthcoming challenges.

It is urgent to remain clear and loud on the climate crisis, as politicians and corporations react to public opinion. It is urgent to request that business takes its part in implementing the most ambitious sustainability strategies. And it is urgent to understand the link between the climate and migration crises to prepare for the challenging decade to come. 

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