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Earthly matters: Solutions to save civilisation

Earthly matters: Solutions to save civilisation

For years now, the French film-maker and photographer, Yann Arthus-Bertrand, has been documenting how the fossil fuel era has exacted a heavy cost on the earth’s fragile environment. To show how humans have altered the face of the earth in the last century or so since oil was first discovered, he takes a bird’s eye view that goes beyond scientific statements and reports.

Hoisting cameras upon a small helicopter, he buzzes over polluted cityscapes, degraded forests and spreading farmlands. Last week, on the occasion of the European Climate Diplomacy Day, the Embassies of France and Germany hosted a photography exhibition entitled “60 Solutions” and the screening of a film, Home by Yann Arthus-Bertand at the Pakistan National Council of Arts (PNCA).

Released in 2009, Home was the first major film about climate change and soon after it was screened in cinemas around the world, it was made freely available on the internet. Today, the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change comprising scientists from around the world) is telling the world that the situation is much worse than expected. According to the Agence Francaise de Developpement (AFD who supported Yann Arthus-Bertrand’s exhibition and film), “climate disruption looms at the most important challenge of the 21st century — one that everyone must work urgently to counter”.

The event at the PNCA was organised six months ahead of the 2015 UN Conference on Climate Change (COP21) to be held in Paris, and is a timely reminder of the urgent need for the world to come up with a legally binding climate agreement to curb carbon emissions that are causing climate change.

According to the European Union envoy, Stefano Gatto, “The European Union’s commitment to tackling climate change has placed the EU at the forefront of international negotiations as we push for legally binding agreements. At the time of the Kyoto Protocol, the EU was the only large emitter which committed to the Protocol and as a result we have reduced emissions by approximately 20 per cent. All other large emitters have increased emissions in the same period.”

While it remains a fact that it is the developed world that caused climate change in the first place with its excessive emissions, today it is the poor and most vulnerable people of the developing countries that are suffering the most. According to French ambassador Martine Dorance: “Climate change knows no borders and there is a shared responsibility and need for a shared commitment to redress the damage.” While this debate between rich countries (who want the world to cut emissions together) and poor countries (who want the rich countries to cut more of their emissions given their greater responsibility) has divided the global negotiations, Yann Arthus-Bertrand chooses to focus instead on solutions. In his photo exhibition, “60 Solutions” he travels the world taking photos of successful examples of climate change adaptation.

According to AFD, climate change adaptation “becomes an opportunity to engage a truly sustainable development model, one robust enough to work in a changing environment and inclusive enough to accommodate the poor and most vulnerable.” Yann Arthus-Bertrand’s photographs and accompanying text propose solutions like using renewable energy in the form of wind turbines in Ethiopia, giving out solar lamps to replace kerosene in communities in Africa, insuring harvests and protecting farmers in Mexico against climate change, introducing solar water heaters in South Africa to cut down use of coal, and setting up rapid transit systems (using buses) in Colombia. Other adaptive measures include supporting farmers to avoid conflicts, designating marine protected areas to save coral reefs, protecting mangroves, building typhoon resistant homes, introducing bio-digesters and terracotta cooking stoves and building small run-of-the-river hydro plants instead of big dams.

According to the AFD, the main supporters of the Good Planet Foundation set up by Yann Arthus-Bertrand who has become an activist keen on spreading his message of awareness of climate change and hope for solutions across the world, “All countries will have to transition to renewable energy … in developing and emerging countries we need new ways of organising and financing the energy transition.” One key area to focus on is urban cities; in the next 30 years the number of city dwellers will double around the world accounting for 70pc of the population. We need to introduce measures like energy efficient buildings, develop public transport, reduce water loss, fight air pollution (by shutting down polluting factories) and put garbage to good use (by composting or processing methane for electricity generation).

The world also has to invest in better farming and ranching practices so that we don’t cut down our remaining forests and wetlands in order to feed around 10 billion people on the planet. The “60 Solutions” exhibition is brilliant because it offers workable, tried and tested solutions to many of the climate change challenges the world is currently facing. These interventions need to be shared and scaled up — the government of Pakistan could certainly learn from these solutions, as Pakistan is fast becoming one of the most vulnerable countries in the world when it comes to the adverse impacts of climate change. As the German ambassador Cyrill Nunn pointed out: “Pakistan needs to be involved in the international negotiations because development and climate change are increasingly linked and climate change puts development goals at risk.”

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, June 28th, 2015

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