A chance to change

The end of the pandemic emergency may mark a turning point in tackling global warming decisively.

by Alessandra Pierro
18 June 2020
7 min read
by Alessandra Pierro
18 June 2020
7 min read

The climate emergency is an ever-starker predicament. The temperature of the earth’s surface is going up, as are its sea levels and the speed at which its ice caps are melting. The risks raised by environmental disasters and extreme weather events are multiplying, with grave consequences for the world’s most vulnerable people. Various reports from the IPCC show that the rapid rise in temperatures is caused by human activity, which is responsible for soaring levels of greenhouse gases, methane and nitrous oxide. And our impact on ecosystems – the sum of our effects on the environment around us – is leaving an ever deeper mark on our own health. We need a global sea change. The challenges raised by the SDGs are a call to face the problem as a collective.

A temperature that won’t drop

We’ve known for some time that the climate crisis is getting worse and worse, as are extreme weather events caused by global warming. Since the 1980s, every decade has turned out to be the hottest ever since the pre-industrial era. The last decade was the hottest in history; the average global temperature rose by about 1.1 °C in 2019. Who could forget the pictures from Australia last December, when an unequalled heatwave (with temperatures up to 49.9 °C) sent land up in flames. Europe is not safe from rising temperatures. In Italy they estimate that by 2100 heatwaves could take up 250 days of the year, as the average temperature of the earth’s surface could rise by 3 °C.

Emissions today are at the highest they have ever been in history, and CO2 levels like these haven’t been seen for 650,000 years, if not more. By 2030 we will need to have reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 45% in order to eliminate them by 2050, but we’re still far off the guidelines set by the Paris Agreement, which requires a commitment to limit temperature rises to between 1.5 °C and 2 °C by the latter date. Temperature and pollution are going up in tandem. It’s predicted that 250,000 more people in the world will die every year between 2030 and 2050 from illnesses caused by pollution, extreme weather events, less and less water resources, including drinking water, and a lack of health services. And making our current story even bleaker are its undisputed protagonists, viruses and other pathogens, which can find a carrier in highly polluting substances like particulates. Now more than ever, it’s staring us in the face that the planet’s health is our health.

The treatment

Health is one of the focuses of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, along with hunger, poverty, education, gender rights and equality, reducing unequal access to resources, and the environment. These objectives represent a political and economic challenge that is global but, naturally, most marked in the poorest countries. Governments, countries and civil society are all called on to rethink lifestyles and consumption habits that aren’t sustainable in the long term. If – as the message projected onto a building in Santiago de Chile in March had it – normality was the problem, then we need to work out how not to get back to normality.

To come up with a new development model we’ll need to fight on multiple fronts and, needless to say, energy will play a key role. In fact the energy sector, representing as it does about 60% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, will determine whether a lot of the sustainable development goals are reached. Today more than 1 billion people still don’t have access to electricity, and even in countries that are incredibly rich in resources, like those in Sub-Saharan Africa, where gas fields could cover up to 800 years’ consumption. About 40% of the world’s population don’t have access to clean energy sources for cooking and heating, so they use wood, coal or manure. Goal 7 of the Agenda is the same as Sustainable Energy for All’s (SE4ALL) in 2001: universal access to clean energy.

A carbon-neutral future is possible

We need responses in every industry, beginning with the energy sector, where Eni’s doing its bit. Its latest strategic plan was devised with this in mind. Its new paradigm starts with making energy resources more accessible and widespread, and will see development projects in poor countries. This will, for instance, help Sub-Saharan African countries in their struggle for universal access to energy by 2030, as the International Energy Agency hopes in its Sustainable Development Scenario dell'International Energy Agency. The path to decarbonization will play a crucial role in the energy transition. Its destination? Production with a low impact, more low-carbon sources and fewer direct emissions. This path winds through the trees planted by our forestry projects, which ‒ in line with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’s (UNFCCC) REDD+ (reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation) plan ‒ earn carbon credits for protecting and conserving forests. Using forest resources like this, besides the obvious environmental benefits, helps economic and social development in local areas; it’s an incentive for very mixed sustainable investment.

Circular economy initiatives are an essential step on this path. They use a new model, based on recycling rubbish and reducing consumption and waste, which is our principle when we reclaim and convert disused plants or build new ones for turning rubbish into decarbonized products. And who could forget sustainable mobility? More and more of our petrol stations are selling natural gas and we’re putting an emphasis on car sharing and charging points for electric vehicles. The size and sweep of these projects is big and varied. Their strategies are specific, fit for a company of Eni’s stature and encompass all sectors of industry and consumption. Achieving just one of the objectives in the 2030 Agenda can indirectly help achieve others. There’s no shortage of tools for this turnaround; we just have to start using them.

The author: Alessandra Pierro

Graduated in philosophy, copyeditor and content curator.