Putting data to work to disrupt inefficiencies and solve depletion and waste challenges
The top priority for the world, and R-evolution, is decarbonisation. The primary driver of temperature increase over the past two centuries has been the rise in atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases. Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution in the mid-18th century, humans have released nearly 2.5 trillion metric tons of CO2 into the atmosphere, raising atmospheric CO2 concentrations by 67 per cent. Until we reach net-zero emissions, the planet will continue to warm and present serious risks.
Technologies are needed to reverse the acceleration of industrial efficiencies and scale renewable energy sources like solar and wind. In the longer term, solar energy can be used to generate storable hydrogen as new technologies make alternative production methods cost competitive. There is a growing portfolio of carbon removal technologies, carbon offset and sequestering strategies.
The next 10 years will determine the climate outlook for the rest of the century. Global greenhouse gas emissions need to decline from 2019’s peak and decline swiftly — by about 7.5 per cent per year from now until 2030.
Tons of CO2 emitted into the atmosphere
Plastic waste is one of the most urgent environmental issues of our time. Less than 10 per cent of the plastic we use is recycled. Eight million tonnes of plastic waste leak into our oceans each year. By 2050, there will be more plastic than fish unless we take urgent, collective action. Currently, it’s estimated there are 100 million tonnes of plastic in our oceans around the world.
But what if plastic was no longer waste, and instead a valuable renewable resource? Technologies are in development to recycle and reuse plastics endlessly in a closed loop system, so they never become waste. Innovation at scale could convert the current “disposable plastics” linear economy into a circular economy, where plastics are used and reused forever.
Tons of plastic waste dumped in oceans
The Earth’s oceans have absorbed about one-third of the CO2 emissions emitted since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. The increase in atmospheric CO2 levels over the years have made the oceans more acidic, threatening food chains. Warming waters are killing sea life. Ninety-three per cent of commercial fish stocks are being fished at or beyond capacity (source: United Nations). At the rate we are harvesting fish, by 2050 there will likely be more plastic than fish in the oceans.
Meanwhile, we dump 8 million tonnes of waste into our oceans every year, on top of the agricultural and industrial runoff that poisons coastal areas. A 2019 report by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that without “profound economic and institutional transformations,” there will be irreversible damage to oceans and sea ice.
Interesting fact: It’s estimated that 1.56 billion face masks ended up in our oceans in 2020.
Time left until there is more plastic than fish
Water scarcity is real. It already affects one-quarter of the world’s population. Globally, nearly 850 million people lack access to clean water. Without clean, easily accessible water, families and communities are locked in poverty for generations. Children drop out of school and parents struggle to make a living.
Excessive water consumption and poor water management coupled with an increasing demand for clean water and the steady growth of the world’s population means areas which are already water stressed will get worse, and the amount of water-stressed areas around the world will increase.
Technology will play a crucial role in determining how we meet the water demand and availability challenges.
Time left till the world runs out of freshwater
Natural ecosystems provide the foundations for economic growth, human health, and prosperity. Our fate as a species is deeply connected to the fate of our natural environment.
Biodiversity — the diversity within species, between species and of ecosystems — is declining globally, faster than at any other time in human history. The world’s 7.6 billion people represent just 0.01 per cent of all living things by weight, but humanity has caused the loss of 83 per cent of all wild mammals and half of all plants. Biodiversity loss and ecosystem collapse is one of the top five risks in the World Economic Forum’s 2020 Global Risks Report.
Mitigating the impact of biodiversity loss requires a fundamental shift in how we think about infrastructure, urbanisation, and industry.
Percent of species in critical risk of extinction
Human-driven and natural loss of trees — deforestation — affects wildlife, ecosystems, weather patterns, and even the climate. Agriculture — whether in the search for space to grow food or raise livestock — is the number one cause of deforestation. Other contributors include the development of new infrastructure and urbanisation, both of which challenge natural habitat boundaries and overage.
About 20 per cent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions come from the clearing of tropical forests. Since 2000, the loss of tree cover has added 98.7Gt to global CO2 emissions.
The potential rates of carbon capture from natural forest regrowth is enormous. Allowing natural forest regrowth has the potential to absorb up to 8.9 billion metric tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere each year through 2050. This is the equivalent of 23 per cent of global CO2 emissions, which could add to the 30 per cent currently absorbed by existing forests.
Hectares of forests cut down or burned