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History of the sustainability traces back to the beginning of a humankind. It is characterised by a success of a particular social group, followed up by a major crises that were either resolved producing sustainability, or not, leading to decline. The early civilisations were dependant on very small resources to provide food and shelter, so the natural composition within the ecosystem was stable. Between 10000 and 8000 years ago, agriculture emerged in many places around the world. Communities started to outgrow their local food supply, they either had to move on or faced collapsing. Good example is the first archeologically proved, existing civilisation - Sumer's in Southern Mesopotamia (today's Iraq) and Egypt. Both of them show good way to sustainability, but somewhere in the end they faced collapse by using too much resources and bad management. Sumerians practised agriculture all year round, were able to store food which enabled the population of Mesopotamia settle in one place and grow to big strength. The more people settled down, the more food they needed, more labourers were needed to maintain the irrigation system, more materials were needed to build shelter. In the end the upstream deforestation led to flooding and raise in salinity of the soil, which then led to cultivation of barley over wheat. All those factors led to the decline of the civilisation. Similar example show the Mayans, Anasazi, Easter Island. They all fallen because of the bad management of resources.
In 17th - 19th century, Industrial Revolution changed the world for good. Fossil fuels, especially coal, were used to power engines and produce energy. Improvement in medicine and sanitation systems, prevented many people from deadly diseases, which led to human population explosion and unpredicted growth in industrial, technological and scientific field. In years 1650-1850 global population has doubled, from 500mln to 1bln. In 1800s first concerns about environmental and social impacts were published. Main philosophers and academics: Thomas Malthus with 'Malthusian Catastrophe' and John Stuart Mill - their work discussed problems associated with overpopulation. In late 19th century, Eugenius Warming began his research about relations between plants and environment, today this discipline is called Ecology. In the early 20th century exponential increase in population, consumption of resources, led economists to develop non renewable resource management. In 1930s Ecology and importance of natural cycles have been accepted.
Great depression and World War II lead to 1950s great acceleration in environmental movement which pointed out costs that will have to be paid in the future associated with innovations in technology like plastics, synthetic chemicals, nuclear power and so on. Also, the 'Green Revolution' started based on synthetic fertilizers. In 1960s almost all countries were self sufficient - there was no need to import natural resources though.
In 1970s environmental problems are global. Cutting down Rainforest, using fossil fuels to generate electricity etc. 1973 and 1979 energy crisis proves that community is dependant full on non renewable energy resources. US president Carter said: "Conserve energy. Eliminate waste. Make 1980 indeed a year of energy conservation". The great environmental movement started. In 1980 The International Union for Conservation of Nature was formed and published "World Conservation Strategy". In 1987 United Nation's World Commission on Environment and Development, suggested that development is acceptable only if it is sustainable. The move towards sustainable living started, first wind turbines were build, first solar panels created, recycling became popular.
Sustainable development has been difficult in the past, probably due to the economic and social factors outweighing the benefits of protecting the environment, or the ignorance of our affect on the environment by exploiting the limited resources available. But the 21st century brought forward the global awareness of sustainability and fighting against global destruction. Global warming caused by human beings became an issue. IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) published paper about Green House Effect, forest clearing and fossil fuel burning being the main causes of the Climate Change. In 2009 Copenhagen Climate Council announced that climate is moving beyond the patterns - global mean surface temperature rise, mean sea level rise, ocean and ice sheet dynamics, extreme climate events. It was established that the future world is seeking for car free movement, smart growth, life cycle assessment, ecological footprint analysis, green building, dematerialisation and decarbonisation.
Governments and people have become aware of the potential economic and social consequences of not protecting the environment, which has lead to initiatives and targets, which aim to prevent a potential catastrophe. If these targets are met it should help the environment and benefit people socially and economically. Although this is the case many countries have yet to meet these targets, especially in reducing carbon emissions.
The problems of targets currently is that although they help the protection of the environment, it comes at a cost. The cost to developed countries is that they lose their competitiveness by reducing carbon emissions, because it means that the monetary cost of being sustainable will be passed on to businesses, which will likely cause migration of businesses to a country with less legislation. Hence their economy is damaged and could lead to a less desirable society, for instance higher unemployment from loss of business, which leads to more crime or less tax available for social projects (e.g schools and hospitals). A prime example of this is the competition between America and China, as America realises it's environmental impact, it cannot commit fully to targets, because if they do they will likely damage their economy and China will benefit, as there is no guarantee that China will commit to the targets as well.
Developing countries have the problem that they want to grow and improve their quality of life, but it means increasing the carbon emissions they produce and making themselves more attractive to businesses, by allowing them to exploit the resources in their countries. The problem here, is that developed countries don't want to sacrifice their economies for the environment whilst allowing developing countries to exploit the environment for economic gain.
The complex and difficult relations between countries means that the targets have less of an effect in protecting the environment, as no country is willing to commit to them fully because of the uncertainty of the negative effects. This has meant that targets can be disregarded at will, with no consequences, in other words they are of no use unless people and politicians actually want it. For instance, the Copenhagen Climate Summit, was highly criticised for producing targets which were practically useless because the countries which signed up to them were not legally obligated to follow them. Although it did show that they were concerned, it was not as effective as the Kyoto agreement which set legally binding targets, which are beneficial to the environment and the best incentive for countries to change.
Looking at the global picture the UK contributes approximately 2% to the carbon emissions globally, which is relatively small but it has an important affect non the less. The pie graph above shows the carbon emissions from different sectors, which make up the total emissions from the UK. Industry is the third major contributor in this chart, but construction effects all four of the major sectors. The construction industry is related to the transport and industry sectors, because the construction industry requires raw materials which need to be refined and transported. It is connected to the residential and energy sectors, because most energy is spent heating buildings such as homes which is built by the industry. Meaning if the industry made buildings more efficient then less energy would be needed. Hence sustainable construction is a major factor in reducing carbon emissions.
According to UK Carbon Trust, Carbon Footprint is the total set of Green House Gases emissions caused by an organisation, event, product or person. It is often simplified to CO2 emissions only. A carbon footprint can be measured for an individual or an organization, and is typically given in tons of CO2-equivalent (CO2-eq) per year. It is used to calculate the amount of damage caused to the environment through harmful carbon dioxide emissions. The global average carbon footprint is about 4 tons of CO2-eq per year. The UK's carbon footprint is over 500 million tons of CO2 per year. Individuals account for 45% of this.
An individual's carbon footprint is the direct effect their actions have on the environment in terms of greenhouse gas emissions. In general, the biggest contributors to the carbon footprints of individuals in industrialized nations are transportation and household electricity use. An individual's secondary carbon footprint is dominated by their diet, clothes, and personal products (Figure 1).
Worldwide, the fossil fuels used for transportation contribute to over 13% of greenhouse gas emissions. Cars with an average fuel efficiency produce nearly 20 pounds of CO2-eq for every gallon of gasoline burned. Air transportation has a
Figure 1. larger carbon footprint than driving.
An individual's or organization's carbon footprint can be broken down into the primary and secondary footprints. The primary footprint is the sum of direct emissions of greenhouse gases from the burning of fossil fuels for energy consumption and transportation. More fuel-efficient cars have a smaller primary footprint, as do energy-efficient light bulbs in your home or office. Worldwide, 82% of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions are in the form of CO2 from fossil fuel combustion.
The secondary footprint is the sum of indirect emissions of greenhouse gases during the lifecycle of products used by an individual or organization. For example, the greenhouse gases emitted during the production of plastic for water bottles, as well as the energy used to transport the water, contributes to the secondary carbon footprint. Products with more packaging will generally have a larger secondary footprint than products with a minimal amount of packaging.
Although carbon footprints are reported in annual tons of CO2 emissions, they actually are a measure of total greenhouse gas emissions. A greenhouse gas is any gas that traps heat in the atmosphere through the greenhouse effect. Because of the presence of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere the average temperature of the Earth is 14 °C. Without the greenhouse effect, the average temperature of the atmosphere would be -19 °C.
Many greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and water, occur naturally. Other greenhouse gases, such as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs), and sulfur hexafluoride (SF6) are synthetic. Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases, both natural and man-made, have been increasing. Burning fossil fuels and land-use changes such as deforestation interfere with the natural carbon cycle, moving carbon from its solid form to the gaseous state, thus increasing atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide.
Keeping the carbon footprint at the lowest levels possible by reducing carbon dioxide emissions is seen as essential to sustaining the environment. Carbon footprint reduction can be achieved in two ways:
Reduction of Carbon Dioxide Emissions. This can be accomplished by calculating the 'carbon footprint' and identifying those aspects of a routine or process that consume the most carbon. Following this, it is possible to minimise those activities and, where possible, seek sustainable alternatives. An example could be walking or cycling to work rather than driving.
Carbon Offsetting. This means reducing the overall carbon emissions by 'offsetting' them. It involves actively promoting the reduction of carbon emissions, whilst not necessarily making a change to a business practice. In this way a large company, for example, may continue to burn fossil fuels at their current rate, yet contribute to an overall reduction in carbon emissions by investing in initiatives that actively reduce carbon emissions.
Discussion on EU/UK Government actions
The UK government reaction to climate change was the signing of the Kyoto protocol. The major feature of the Kyoto Protocol is that it sets required targets for 37 industrialised countries and the European community for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The Climate change act in November 2008 was basically the opening of the UK government to take climate change much more seriously. This act sets legally requisite targets for reducing the greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050 based on 1990 levels. The UK government have set out a few initiatives such as:
Ensuring that 40 per cent of electricity will come from low carbon sources, including renewable energy and nuclear power
By 2016 the UK government have set a protocol of zero carbon homes.
Halving the amount of gas imported
Promoting carbon capture and storage (capturing the CO2 that's given off when fossil fuels like coal are burnt, and storing it safely underground)
Supporting new fuels and technologies (like electric cars) to reduce CO2 emissions from transport
Setting out 'zero waste' to local authorities for the initiation of reducing (ways to prevent waste), re-using and recycling waste or else fines are permitted for burying more than their quota of waste.
Setting 'carbon budgets' to cap the UK's overall CO2 emissions - if emissions rise in one sector, savings will have to be made elsewhere
CRC Energy Efficiency Scheme is a mandatory cap and trade scheme in the UK that will apply to large non energy-intensive organisations in the public and private sectors. It is predicted that the scheme will cut carbon emissions by 1.2 million tonnes per year by 2020
The code for sustainable homes whereby the code is the national standard for the sustainable design and construction of new homes. The Code aims to reduce our carbon emissions and create homes that are more sustainable.
In March 2007 the EU's leaders certified an integrated approach to climate and energy policy that aims to combat climate change. They committed Europe to transforming itself into a highly energy-efficient, low carbon economy. The EU Government set a series of challenging climate and energy targets that need to be met by 2020. These are, cut of up o 50% in carbon emissions by 2050 (compared to 1990 levels), a reduction in EU greenhouse gas emissions of at least 20% from all primary energy sources by 2020 (compared to 1990 levels), 20% of EU energy consumption to come from renewable resources, the use of bio fuels at a minimum target of 10% and improving energy relations with EU's neighbours such as Russia.
The European Union is leading global action on climate change, both by setting out what needs to be done internationally to keep global warming to less than 2°C above the pre-industrial temperature and by committing to significant cuts in its own greenhouse gas emissions. EU is playing a leading role in global efforts to secure the entry into force and implementation of the Kyoto Protocol, which requires developed countries to start reducing their emissions.