Miss Universe 2019 winner, Zozibini Tunzi, of South Africa spoke up for Mother Earth during the question and answer portion of the Miss Universe pageant held early this month. When host Steve Harvey asked her if the leaders today were doing enough to protect future generations from climate change, and if not, what more should they do, Tunzi delivered a powerful response: “I think that the future leaders could do a little bit more, but I feel like we as individuals, ourselves, can also play a part in making the climate the way it should be in the future.
I mean, we have children protesting for climate and I feel like as adults, we should join as well, we should have corporations join as well, and the government should take it seriously.”
Her winning retort should strike a chord among citizens, government leaders and politicians across all nations, and with Swedish teen activist Greta Thunberg recently announced Time’s ‘2019 Person of the Year’, the serious issue of climate change is unlikely to just go away.
The climate crisis is already pushing our planet to a global tipping point, with temperatures soaring, ice melting, sea levels rising, increasing numbers of wildfires and increasing numbers of people being directly and indirectly affected; yet the science is still largely ignored by governments, with concerned individuals feeling there are no other options but to take to the streets to demand climate justice.
Last year the UN’s IPCC warned we are running out of time to mitigate the worst effects of climate change (12 years they said) and for us to succeed in dealing with the climate emergency, countries must all work together; the signatories of the Paris Agreement particularly need to start making headway in their plans to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
Mitigating the effects of climate change won’t be accomplished by just a handful of countries alone; it will take a collective effort and commitment from the world’s biggest emitters to do their fair share of the heavy lifting (ahem USA). We’ve curated some of the best climate action policies being implemented that gives us hope – and we hope more nations follow their lead.
Denmark is on its way to being independent from fossil fuels by the year 2050 so it’s no wonder this country is considered one of the top five most environmentally friendly countries in the world and rated highly for its renewable energy commitments in the recent 2020 Climate Change Performance Index.
According to the 2015 Climate Change Performance Index, Denmark has the best climate policies in the world especially when it comes to energy efficiency as thirty years of focused energy policy has placed them at the forefront in the development and use of renewable energy.
Addressing climate change is one of Prime Minister Jacinda Arden’s top priorities, and this is clear given the country’s new legislation ‘Zero Carbon Bill’ which commits New Zealand to being carbon neutral by 2050 and enshrines the country’s commitment to the Paris Agreement into law.
In addition, New Zealand’s government is also considering creating a visa category on humanitarian grounds, for Pacific Island refugees who are displaced by rising seas. With families from the Pacific experiencing rising sea levels and having no access to potable water, New Zealand’s government is looking to extend a hand to these climate refugees.
Costa Rica is leading the way when it comes to clean energy, with 95-98% of the country’s electricity generated from renewable sources (such as solar, wind and hydropower) since 2014. While the country still derives 70% of its energy from oil and gas to power transport and heating, Costa Rica has solid plans to move to carbon neutrality by 2050, doing so faster than most other countries.
By 2035, the country aims to have 70% of all its buses and taxis to be electric, aiming for full electrification by 2050. It is also aiming for 100% of its electricity to be sourced from renewables by 2030.
In June, the Philippines implemented a new law requiring each student from all educational levels to plant 10 trees before they graduate. It is estimated that 525 billion trees will be planted over the course of one generation as a result of this reforestation policy; going some way to address the country’s deforestation problem and improve air quality.
Last month, Italy became the first country to make the study of climate change and sustainability in schools mandatory. Italian Education Minister Lorenzo Fioramonti stated that beginning of next year, all public schools in the country would be required to teach 33 hours a year on climate change. “I want to make the Italian education system the first education system that puts the environment and society at the core of everything we learn in school,” Fioramonti said.
The importance of climate change education cannot be understated, and equipping students with knowledge and information is arguably one of the best ways to tackle the problem; since it is young people who will be inheriting the earth.
According to the 2020 Climate Change Performance Index, Portugal is one of the few countries rated high for its international climate policy performance, ranked first in this category. The country has ambitious climate policies and supports a net-zero emission target by 2050 and a 55% emission reduction by 2030 and why it has
Portugal has also adopted a National Adaptation Strategy and developing a National Adaptation Plan and has completed impacts, vulnerability and adaptation assessments and currently undertaking research programmes . Their Municipal Strategies for Adaptation to Climate Change programme, for instance, resulted in 52 trained technicians, two for each of the 26 municipalities.
The government’s solid “Commitment to Green Growth” aims to position Portugal as a leader in the low-carbon economy and produce jobs and wealth by investing in sustainability initiatives.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has acknowledged that they are behind on commitments to slash emissions, but Europe’s biggest economy aims to cut its greenhouse emissions by 55% by 2030 compared with 1990 levels and has committed a 54 billion euro fund (US$60 billion) to fight climate change. The funds will be used to help the country transition to a renewable energy economy and will also subsidize train tickets to encourage more people to use public transport. Germany has also backed an EU-wide target of net zero emissions by 2050.
Belgium has ended the use of coal power, closing down the last of its coal-powered power plant, the Langerlo coal power station, in 2016 in an effort to cut its yearly carbon emissions by almost two million tonnes.
Let’s not forget Sweden with its revolutionary and highly-efficient recycling system. Its system is so good that there was less than 1% of Swedish household waste that was sent to landfill since 2011. Because of this, they had to import trash just to keep their recycling plants operating. However, it’s important to note here that the country incinerates waste, and so technically, it isn’t recycling 99% of its waste and still has a long way to go to reduce it.
Aside from being the home to the international Paris Agreement, France is one of the few countries in Europe to enshrine into law its commitment to curb greenhouse gas emissions and go carbon-neutral by 2050 (in line with the 2015 Paris climate agreement).
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Feature image of Greta Thunberg speech and panel discussion on the morning of 11 December at COP25 in Madrid. People stopped around the conference to watch her speech. Photo: John Englart.