Sir David Attenborough spoke at the World Economic Forum last month and discussed environmental challenges we face – in the week that the Father of Climate Science passed away, I ask how can we tackle the worlds’ carbon problem?
Last month saw the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland and one of the main topics of discussion was the link between the fate of mankind and the natural world. Big names in conservation hosted talks covering everything from carbon emissions to fisheries management, and the opportunities we have to reverse damaging phenomenon’s such as climate change.
Two of the most notable speakers were HRH the Duke of Cambridge and Sir David Attenborough, who conducted an interview in front of delegates from nations around the world. Both are well known for their environmental advocacy, and Sir David very eloquently conveyed the importance of recognising the links between not only the natural world and the economy, but human survival itself.
When on the topic of the ocean, Sir David highlighted coral bleaching and rising sea temperatures as examples of the catastrophic effects that unchecked industry is having on the environment.
The importance of a healthy ocean environment cannot be understated; 80% of the planets’ biodiversity is held within the ocean, but marine species are under threat from two main angles – both man made. These are over fishing and climate change.
“Global warming” is a term attributed to the late Prof Wallace Broeker, widely known as the grandfather of climate science, who died last week aged 87. Despite coining the term he is quoted as saying that he would turn in his grave if they ever put it on his tombstone, preferring the phrase climate change as a more rounded description of the global phenomenon.
He was among the first to recognise links between emissions of CO2 and rising temperatures in the 1970s, and began briefing government leaders on climate change in the 1980s. He led a fascinating life; born to evangelical Christian parents he was raised to believe creationist theories such as that the earth was only a few thousand years old, but after taking a summer job in a laboratory, went on to participate in several ocean expeditions collecting water samples that would later help to prove several important ideas in climate science. One of these was that global ocean circulation, once thought to take thousands of years, could take place in just centuries. This discovery implied that oceans can affect atmospheric composition, and vice-versa.
The planet is over 70% water and the ocean absorbs over half of all carbon produced. Industrial global emissions have caused ocean acidification and temperature increases. The result of this is coral bleaching, ocean “dead zones” throughout the world, species being driven from their natural ranges and the loss of habitat in the Arctic and Antarctic regions. Antarctic regions are warming twice as quickly as scientists first predicted, yet countries around the world broke their annual CO2 emissions limit in the first month of 2019.
The World Economic Forum have published several articles on global carbon emissions and initiatives aimed at improving ocean health. The Head of Climate Change, Emily Farnworth, has stated that becoming a carbon neutral planet by 2050 is an achievable goal through programmes such as the Paris Agreement setting government and industry targets to reduce their carbon footprints. This year they unveiled the Ocean Action Agenda, a series of pledges aiming at bringing industry and conservation outfits together to improve the current conditions of the ocean biosphere.