Conserve the Environment to Make the Earth More Sustainable
The world commemorated the World Environment Day on Wednesday 5th June with a rallying call to beat air pollution. This came at a time when environmental issues have taken center stage on the development scene locally and internationally. Just recently, while leading a tree planting exercise at State House, President Kenyatta encouraged Kenyans to take advantage of the ongoing long rains and plant trees as a way of tackling climate change.
At the global scene, United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres while on a recent visit to South Pacific Islands called for “stronger political will and urgent climate action” in order to save the planet and guarantee the future. He had been dismayed by the rise in sea levels that could threaten the existence of such islands as Tuvalu, Vanuatu and Fiji among others.
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Indeed, climate change continues to negatively impact current weather patterns with the end result being severe malnutrition, conflicts and a host of humanitarian crises. Yet climate change is not the only consequence of air pollution.
Air pollution has evolved over the years to become a global health emergency. Along walkways on the streets, in the factories and beside open fireplaces, people breathe polluted air brought about by the combustion of “dirty fuel” such as petrol, wood, and coal.
Exposure to air pollutants means humans are continually at a high risk of developing serious respiratory and cardiovascular complications. The end result is noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) such as lung cancer, asthma and different forms of allergies. Amounting 41 million deaths per year as per World Health Organization (WHO) estimates, NCDs contribute 71% of all global deaths with cardiovascular diseases accounting for the largest chunk, followed by cancers then respiratory diseases.
Polluted air impedes photosynthesis - the process through which plants make their own food - thereby slowing down carbon dioxide (CO2) uptake. This means accumulation of more CO2 in the air. High concentration of this greenhouse gas in the atmosphere is what contributes to global warming and hence climate change. When photosynthesis is slowed down, it means the release of oxygen into the atmosphere is also downsized. Consequently, people breathe bad air.
It is because of air pollution that acid rain is formed bringing in its wake destruction of ecosystems including soil, plants and aquatic life. As a result of its corrosive nature, acid rain also damages materials such as those used in buildings. This increases maintenance costs. Smog, a severe form of air pollution, continues to affect many cities in the world by impairing visibility.
The effects of poor - quality air on the environment and health are innumerable but the net effect is that economies suffer because of reduced agricultural output, workdays lost and premature deaths of working people. NCDs also pose a huge burden on health systems. Resources meant for development are mobilized and diverted to managing such chronic ailments.
It is time therefore that governments, civil society and communities take their place in mitigating the release of harmful substances into the atmosphere by redefining their approach to development initiatives. This will greatly reverse emerging patterns of climate change. Emphasis should be laid on the need to tap into immense business opportunities in the energy and clean technology sector. It only calls for innovation, adoption and adaptation of sustainable production and consumption practices as envisioned in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. The Global Goals were adopted on the premise of ending poverty, promoting prosperity and protecting the environment.
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Governments should support sustainable initiatives by putting in place policies that set strong standards for the adoption of cleantech enterprises. The private sector and non-governmental organisations also have a role to play by creating more awareness on air pollution as well as helping in the implementation of environmental conservation policies. This will address barriers to climate technology and entrepreneurship. Innovators ought to be incentivized to come up with such technologies and get opportunities for scaling up their innovative ideas in order to stimulate economic growth.
The roles being played by organisations like Kenya Climate Innovation Center (KCIC) in bridging the climate change gap need to be replicated by allied organisations. With locally relevant solutions in tow, we will then be able to ensure good quality of air; reverse climate change; create decent jobs; and ensure quality of life, hence prosperity.
By Vincent Ogaya