These days, we have gotten used to reading articles and watching programs about the impact people are having on the health of our planet. From global warming caused by burning fossil fuels to the Texas-sized plastics island floating out in the Pacific Ocean, it seems like everything is bad news regarding how we treat our environment.
However, 2016 will be regarded as a milestone year full of hope-building headlines in the areas of climate change, marine sanctuaries, ecological protection, species rescue, and renewable energy. This Thanksgiving week, we would like to highlight five significant events that occurred this year for which we can be thankful.
Nations Sign the Two Largest Agreements Ever Limiting Greenhouse Emissions
Just three weeks ago, on November 4, the Paris Agreement entered into force and became binding for the record 197 countries who signed it. This agreement is designed to get serious with a global response to a threat we all face: climate change. The aim of this historic treaty as put forth by the United Nations is to “Keep a global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius.” The road to signing this historic treaty was not easy, as the goals of countries at different levels of industrialization presented serious challenges. (You can read our blog post on it here).
The Paris Agreement was matched by another landmark treaty in October: the Aviation Deal signed in Montreal by representatives of dozens of countries at the International Civil Aviation Organization. The backbone of this deal is that after 2020, any increase in carbon emissions by aircraft needs to be offset by initiatives that “soak up” CO2. This is significant because “even if the aviation community does its best at reducing its carbon footprint, it is estimated that aircraft could still contribute up to 25% of the 2050 carbon emissions goal, which is necessary to limit the increase in global temperature rise to less than 1.5° Celsius.” (You can read our blog post on it here).
World’s Largest Marine Reserve Created Off Antarctica
Another positive step towards sustainability in 2016 was the creation of the largest marine reserve ever. The international body that oversees the Antarctic waters, the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, which includes the U.S. and the European Union amongst 22 other countries, voted unanimously to create a 598,000 square-mile protected area. To give some perspective on the impact of this agreement, National Geographic wrote, “16,000 species are thought to call the Ross Sea home, many of them uniquely adapted to the cold environment.” The article further stated, “A 2011 study in the journal Biological Conservation called the Ross Sea ‘the least altered marine ecosystem on Earth,’ citing intact communities of emperor and Adelie penguins, crabeater seals, orcas, and minke whales.”
World’s Largest Ecologically Protected Area Created in Hawaii
On August 26, President Obama created the largest ecologically protected area on Earth when he expanded the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument (which was originally established by his predecessor, President George W. Bush) to 582,578 square-miles of land and sea in Hawaii. This act brings the total protected area in this U.S. National Park to more than half a million square miles, creating an unprecedentedly expansive area under the protection of the law. Senator Brian Schatz from Hawaii helped broker a compromise with groups as diverse as Native Hawaiians and day-boat fishermen. The Washington Post summarized the collective efforts and the impact of this protected area by stating, “Seven presidents—starting with Theodore Roosevelt in 1909—have taken steps to safeguard parts of the archipelago, which is one of the most biologically diverse areas in the world. It is the planet’s largest seabird gathering site, with more than 14 million birds from 22 species, and is home to nearly all Laysan albatrosses and the remaining endangered Hawaiian monk seals.”
Humanity Saves Ten Species from Near Extinction
We are used to news about yet another species driven to extinction by the loss of habitat caused by human activity. But this year, human intervention helped ten species escape extinction. According to the World Wildlife Fund, this feat was achieved by activities that included the “protection of habitat, effective control of hunting and captive breeding programs.” The ten species that are “back from the brink” are: the Amur Tigers in the Russian Far East; the Gray Whale; three species of rhinos including the Southern White Rhinoceros, the Greater one-horned Asian Rhinoceros, and the Black Rhinoceros; the African Savannah Elephant; the Mountain Gorilla; the Saiga (which is the world’s northernmost antelope); the Golden Lion Tamarind; and the Takhi-Przewalski’s Horse (which is considered the world’s only genuine wild horse).
Renewables Capacity Overtakes Coal
Renewables made headlines recently when a report from the International Energy Agency (IEA) indicated, “Led by wind and solar, renewables represented more than half the new power capacity around the world, reaching a record 153 Gigawatt (GW), 15% more than the previous year.” Although the “overtake coal” headline is a bit misleading because renewables such as wind and solar are ‘variable’ resources, it is still a major accomplishment. (You can read our post from last week, “Renewables Overtake Coal: Is It for Real?” here). At the rate renewables and new energy technologies (such as Hydrogen 2.0) are growing, the world will be powering more and more of its progress using carbon-free sources. The fact that this future is no longer a promise was a key driver for getting the Paris Agreement signed by the overwhelming majority of countries.
We still have a long way to go to stop the effects of climate change and the rate of species’ extinction on our blue planet. But, together, we continue to make strides, and 2016 saw significant progress being made on this front. We should be thankful for our collective efforts to do the right thing for our beautiful planet—from demanding clean energy from industry and government, to recycling, to donating time and money to clean the environment—because we can, and do, make a difference.
As the Hydrogen 2.0 ecosystem gains momentum, we’ll be sharing our views and insights on the new Hydrogen 2.0 Economy. We also update our blog every week with insightful and current knowledge in this growing energy field.