Five environmental issues that will make headlines in 2015

(Originally published at Clarity News)

1. Fracking

Over the last year, fracking politics have entered mainstream political discourse in the UK. The Infrastructure Bill currently making its way through parliament has the potential to legally oblige the Government to extract all available oil and gas reserves in the country, which would necessarily include fracking. This has prompted widespread public outcry and the creation of numerous community groups to oppose widespread fracking across the country. A list of licenses for unconventional gas exploration given by the government is due to be released this year, and decisions from planning authorities, the UK and Scottish governments regarding the extent to which fracking and unconventional gas exploration will be allowed, will also be announced. This will shape the direction of energy politics in Britain for better or worse, and is worth keeping a close eye on.

2. Seeds

Seeds are increasingly political as the question of putting an end to global hunger remains one of the most important issues we face as a species. Increasingly, intellectual property rights mean that large companies can patent seeds, even those that have not been genetically modified. This means seeds cannot legally be saved by farmers for use in the next growing season, but must be bought again from the companies that hold the patent. The patenting and thus financialisation of seeds – arguably the most important resource on the planet, and the very basis of all food production – has important consequences in a world where many cannot afford to grow or buy food. With increased risks of poor harvests and extreme weather events due to climate change, the need for as diverse and resilient a seed bank as possible is key for global food security – but due to coporate control of seed patents, we are actually losing seed breeds right now. 2015 will no doubt bring new legislation attempting to restrict the varieties of vegetables able to be sold (like the one forced on the back burner in the European Parliament last year). Pay attention to this.

3. Fossil fuel divestment

The fossil fuel divestment campaign, made up of hundreds of small targeted campaigns worldwide but under the umbrella of 350.org’s “Go Fossil Free” slogan, recorded significant victories in 2014. As studies increasingly show that leaving fossil fuel reserves underground is imperative to remaining within the globally-agreed “safe” limit of 2 degrees global warming, fossil fuel divestment campaigns this year will continue to put pressure on institutions to end their relationships with energy companies determined to extract every last drop of oil. As the divestment movement grows, 2015 will show whether the influence this can have on fossil fuel companies and their political power will mirror the success divestment tactics have historically achieved in bringing an end to apartheid in South Africa.

4. Soil

2015 is the UN International Year of Soil. Soil is one of the planet’s most valuable carbon sinks, storing almost 18 gigatonnes in European agricultural soils alone. In the past 40 years, poor soil management practices leading to erosion has lead to around 30% of the world’s arable crop land being abandoned and the stored carbon being released into the atmosphere to contribute to global warming. Feeding a world in which population is expected to rise to as much as 11 billion people is going to require both more intensive and better management and use of the soils we still have, especially if further global deforestation to convert land to agricultural use is to be avoided. Luckily, management techniques which both conserve and improve the quality of soil are gaining increasing popularity, such as no-till agriculture and permaculture. Paying attention to soil is paying attention to the future capacity of humanity to feed itself: the importance of this issue cannot be overstated.

5. COP21 Paris

A couple of years ago I lost count of the number of global climate change meetings and summits that have been heralded as the “last chance” to create a binding deal to cut carbon worldwide. In December, the 21st COP (Conference of Parties) meeting will take place in Paris, with world leaders, NGOs, faith groups, corporations and more meeting to battle it out for influence over the content of a global climate change agreement. Whatever your opinion on the potential effectiveness of international governmental negotiations, Paris is a big deal. The fifth IPCC report stated conclusively that man-made climate change exists, and governments of small island nations are finalising mass evacuation plans to prepare for the rising sea levels. For two years running extreme weather events in the Philippines have occurred at the same time as global climate change meetings. Climate change is increasingly becoming something that governments cannot afford to overlook. For many NGOs, governments and ordinary people around the world, Paris will be the make-or-break that decides whether people lose their faith in an international system to ever deliver a plan to mitigate the greatest threat humanity has ever faced.

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