There is little doubt that our planet has been undergoing a steady rise in temperatures from the mid-20th century. Figures released by various organizations such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP), and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), among others, show that earth’s temperature has increased by approximately 0.6 Degrees Celsius. This figure represents the largest increase since the mid-1800s. As a result, the United Nations group on climate has forecast that unless urgent action is taken, a further increase of between 1.8 to 6 degrees Celsius could occur by the end of the century.
Such a temperature rise is enough to melt all ice and polar caps around the world, causing untold damages particularly to areas bordering large water bodies (IPPC, 2007; ). It has always been said that the solution to global warming lies with us, with several options being proposed. However, one option that has gained ground is sustainability (Simon et al, 2010). In context of the environment, sustainability is a broad school of thought on resource consumption that believes that it is best to conserve and preserve resources for the future while simultaneously meeting current demands for the same.
Due to its broad nature, sustainability encompasses various practices aimed at ensuring that future generations will not suffer as a result of our misdeeds. Consequently, a successful sustainable growth entails knowledge of guiding principles and practices in addition to an objective comprehension of scientific and economic aspects. Environmental sustainability can occur through a number of avenues. However, all of these initiatives have a common goal of reducing negative human impact and improving ecosystems. Reduction of negative human impact can entail controlling urban growth and adopting sustainable infrastructural development.
Today, cities around continue to swell with people as a result of an influx of people from rural areas to the cities. Unfortunately, this has reduced the ability of the cities to provide basic needs such as clean water. The effects of climate might worsen this already dire situation due to hydrologic changes. Studies show that 150 million living in cities that experience extended water shortage (McDonald et al., 2011).
However, this figure could shoot up to close to 1 billion people by 2050 while climate change will result into a water shortage for another 100 million urban dwellers. Such a situation will almost likely have a huge impact on the ecological process due to reduced flows besides affecting the population of fresh water fishes. As a result of these effects, countries must find solutions before it is too late. Domestic investments seem to be the first step to sustainability. Every country must allocate some resources towards ensuring water efficiency and landscape management. However, for low-income countries, domestic investment may be inadequate and may require international assistance if necessary (McDonald et al., 2011).
A recent survey by the International Energy Agency reinforces the idea that cities are crucial towards the mitigation of the effects of climate change (Rosenzweig et al., 2010). The data shows that cities and other urban areas account for 71 percent of the global energy-related carbon emissions, however, this number varies based on the definition of cities and urban areas. This percentage is expected to grow in tandem with urbanization trends. Indeed, the UN estimates that the urban population will increase twofold from 3.4 billion to about 6.4 billion. Besides, cities act as a center of knowledge and wealth, hence, they have the tools and resources that are required to combat climate change as opposed to persons living in rural areas. They should therefore take the lead in devising strategies for combating climate change.
A number of sustainable practices can be adopted in cities to help in mitigating the effects of climate change. First, water shortage is seen as an engineering challenge whose solutions are infrastructural in nature (McDonald et al. 2011). For cities that experience seasonal water shortage, more water storage facilities need to be constructed. These facilities include dams or other impoundments, however, alterations in seasonal distribution of rainfall may vastly hamper such strategies. For long-term water scarcity, transport of water from large water bodies may fix the problem albeit for a number of decades or centuries.
For cities located near the coast, desalination may be a viable solution. Lastly, cities built on top of a large aquifer may opt to mine ground water although this strategy may be unsustainable especially when the city has a large population and the water shortage in severe. Secondly, water shortage can be alleviated through landscape management and devising strategies that will ensure this resource is used efficiently (Simon et al, 2010). Since a significant amount of water is used for agricultural purposes, efficient and sustainable use of the resource for agricultural activities must be adopted. Similar tactics can be employed in the industrial and residential sectors.
More broadly, alterations in land use may result into more water being available for use in cities. Some of these practices have already been put into place, for instance, in South Africa, trees species that use up a lot of water are being uprooted to enhance groundwater recharge, a process that would result into increased availability for use in urban areas and for agricultural and industrial uses. Regardless of the strategy adopted, the will be costs, some of which will run into billions of dollars. Consequently, urban dwellers must be prepared to fund these initiatives if a sustainable solution is to be found.
Uncontrolled urban, industrial, and infrastructural development has led to a rapid increase in toxic gases into the atmosphere. These gases have led to both global warming and degradation of air quality. The main gases known here are tropospheric ozone and black carbon (Shindell et al., 2012). Implementing emission standards that allow our industries to operate at profitable margins would maximize climate benefits and result into a “win-win” situation for near-term climate, human health, agricultural activities, and the ozone layer, which plays a vital role in protecting us from the sun’s harmful rays. However, such an initiative would require close cooperation with city dwellers as they account for more than 70 percent of the total energy-related carbon released around the world. This percentage is expected to increase as cities continue to grow.
Besides, most cities are built on coasts and banks and are at the highest risks of weather-related disasters (Rosenzweig et al., 2010). Some cities have already initiated bold plans to reduce emission of these gases, for instance, New York City has won significant admiration for its long-term growth and sustainability plan named PlaNYC 2030. The plan is expected to cut greenhouse emissions by 30 percent over the next two decades. Reduction of these emissions can slow the rate of global warming below 2 Degrees Celsius and thus provide a better warming mitigation against ice and polar caps around the world, and reduce disruptions to the hydrological cycle (Shindell et al., 2012). This would also boost agricultural activities.
Sustainability cannot be complete without a discussion of the effects of global warming on wildlife. It is already apparent that wildlife habiting in the poles is being affected by climate changecleading to extinctions, changes in populations, range, and seasonal and reproductive behavior among. Unless sustainable practices are put in place, these changes are likely to continue apace as climate change worsens. As an example, studies on butterflies have revealed a marked change in their distribution in the UK in the past 150 years and this is linked to climate change (Green et al., 2001).
Animals living in the polar regions such as penguins and caribous have exhibited similar changes, however, the effect on Caribous is greater as shown by the low rates of calf survival as a result of global warming. Although the effects of climate change on wildlife are not limited to the poles, climate scientists have shown that effects will be most significant in the Polar Regions. Therefore, the Arctic and Antarctic biomes are most vulnerable. The biodiversity in these regions will undergo very significant alterations to cope with the effects of climate change (Simon et al, 2010).
Birds have also been severely affected by climate change. Indeed, three species of globally threatened water birds have already been identified to be under threat: the Red-breasted Goose is expected to lose 67% of its current habitat to forest; 57% of the habitat of the Spoon-billed Sandpiper; and 54% of that of the Emperor Goose are also likely to disappear. The latter is already in decline and has already been noted as needing further attention and is already under consideration for listing in the IUCN Red List and this additional threat might well justify its inclusion (Green et al., 2001).
This might also indicate why we need long-term sustainable solutions to mitigate the effects of global warming and climate change. Indeed, if the aforementioned sustainable solutions are implemented all round the world, particularly in the developed and highly industrialized cities, the outcomes would not only be beneficial to man, they would also vastly benefit the fauna and flora, improve the hydrological cycle, and ensure an ecological balance.
The concept of sustainability has been in the public domain for quite some time but has gained more attention due to climate change. The effects of climate change have become evident in almost every corner of our planet and these calls for the adoption of sustainable practices to reverse the damage that has already been done whilst ensuring that future generations will not suffer because of our mistakes. Some of the proposed measures include changes in land use (land management), efficient and sustainable use of water, implementing emission standards, and controlling urban growth. Some of these proposed solutions will cost billions of dollars; however, these costs cannot be compared to the long-term sustainable solutions that will be realized by implementing the changes.
Green, R. E., Harley, M., Spalding, M., and Zockler, C. (2001). Impacts of climate change on wildlife. London: RSBP.
IPCC. (2007). Summary for Policymakers–Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
McDonald, R. I. et al. (2011). Urban growth, climate change, and freshwater availability. PNAS, 108(15). 6312–6317.
Rosenzweig, C., Solecki, W., Hammer, S. A. and Mehrotra, S. (2010). Cities lead the way in climate-change action. London: Macmillan Publishers Limited.
Shindell, D., et al. (2012). Simultaneously Mitigating Near-Term Climate Change and Improving Human Health and Food Security. Science, 335(183). 183-189.
Simon, E., Reece, J., Dickey, L. J., and Dickey, J. (2010). Campbell Essential Biology. San Francisco: Pearson, Benjamin Cummings.