An Overview of the Serious Problem of Environmental Degradation

Categories: Sustainability

Throughout the years, environmental degradation has become a problem of increasing seriousness. Many scholars have defined environmental degradation as the relapse of the environment through extreme exploitation of resources such as air, water and soil as well as the destruction of the ecosystems and the extinction of wildlife. Any alteration or disruption to the environment is perceived to be harmful or disadvantageous (Johnson, Ambrose, Bassett, Bowen, Crummey, Isaacson, Johnson, Lamb, Saul and Winter-Nelson, 1997: 581–589.). The process of environmental degradation can be completely natural in origin, or it can be hurried or caused by human actions.

There are a large number of causes that may result in the degradation of the environment: from air and water pollution to habitat fragmentation and from urban development to even acid rain. There have numerous studies over the years so as to try to discover and explain these causes and possibly find solutions (Skye, 2014).

Environmental degradation is one of the ten threats officially cautioned by the High-level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change of the United Nations.

As the threat of a complete environmental destruction increases, many international organizations have carried out several surveys and assessment reports, trying to bring to light how we know what we think we know and about the specific crucial environmental issues and possible find solutions to some of them. Two of the most known global environmental assessments that exist are: The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the World Energy Outlook. In this essay, I will attempt to discuss about the Fifth Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the World Energy Outlook of 2012 and assess the strengths and weaknesses of those two reports as reliable sources and assessments of environmental issues as they tend to be fairly debatable and have been reviewed by many experts.

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In order to assess the vast quantity of published scientific outcomes on climate change science, the World Meteorological Organization and the United Nations Environment Programme established, in 1988, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to evaluate the latest scientific and technical data about global warming. The task of the IPCC is to assess this information about climate change in a comprehensive, transparent, and objective manner (Union of Concerned Scientist, d.u.). Hundreds of scientific and technical specialists are involved for the preparation of the report and thousands more are engaged to provide an objective peer review. The contributors are drawn from academia, from private and national research laboratories, from businesses and from NGOs. The key rules for the IPPC, as defined by the secretary of the IPCC, are for it to be comprehensive, balanced, open and transparent. By strict and clear procedures, all the up-to-date, scientific, technical and socio-economic work relevant to understanding the risk of Climate Change, potential impacts and response options, published globally is evaluated. It is balanced in a way that lots of differing opinions are reflected in the reports and widely reviewed by professionals and governments (Renate, 2008:6).

The fifth Intergovernmental Panel on Climate change published its report in 2013-2014 and it argues that human influence has been detected on climate change and it is possible that it is the dominant cause of the warming since the mid-20th century (Working Group I of IPCC, 2013:12). From the one hand, there are many experts that have drawn attention to this report's strong points whereas there are others who emphasize the weak ones. First of all, as Paulo Artaxo pointed out the estimates made in the last assessment report are generally in line with the present report. The basic forecasts for temperature rise have been proven to be accurate. Furthermore, it provides firmer foundations for policy action. It has been said that governments would be unwise not to listen. This report must be integrated into the political system and be urgently acted on (Climate News Network, 2013).

Many claim that the 5th IPCC seems more confident that the previous ones in regards to stating what the problem really is. Moreover, The IPCC has been said to have reinforced its conclusions concerning the remarkable nature of contemporary warmth in this report (Mann, 2013). Professor Sir Brian Hoskins stated that even though there is not a huge difference in the conclusion of the report, what is essential is that there is a continued and stronger message that we can see the changes in the climate system that are consistent with the increase in greenhouse gases. He praised the Working Group l's contribution to 5th assessment as being an authoritative, broad and strong analysis of the past, present and likely future states of the climate. A large number of scientists emphasized the reliability of conclusions with preceding reports and the increasing evidence base that was used for this report (The Energy and Climate Change Committee, 2013:19).

On the contrary, there are experts who more than ever before found fundamental flaws as far as the 5th IPCC is concerned. It has received unprecedented criticism. It's been argued that the AR5 is so burdened by those flaws that it is deceptive, as a source to ground policy decisions concerning energy choices. Complaints were aimed at the IPCC's defense of climate models which the latest observations of the earth's climate evolution show to be inaccurate. The IPCC has outlived whatever practicality it may ever have had. It's been said that it is time to scatter this central climate "authority" and hand the assessment of climate science over to a wider, more varied community as the review process of the IPCC has failed to include differing views and is consequently not a real scientific consensus. Had the IPCC been more concerned in reflecting the authentic science, the document would be so much different to what it turned out to be (Knappenberger, 2013).

In addition, the authors of the IPCC's reports have economic conflicts of interest, since the administration bureaucracies that choose them and the UN that supervises and revises the final reports stand to gain from public fear over the likelihood that global warming will be damaging (Bast, 2013:2). The AR5 has also been criticized about its conclusion. It's been alleged that attention has already been paid on this statement. In other words, that warming over the last years happens because of human actions. This topic should have been covered in more detail in the report. Experts who criticize it believe that the IPCC has lost its authority. It's been revealed that the IPCC has retreated from at least 11 alarmist claims promulgated in its previous reports or by scientists prominently associated with the IPCC. The Summary for Policymakers reveals that the IPCC has withdrawn from at least 11 claims that needed attention, publicized in its previous reports or by scientists related to the IPCC (Watts, 2013)

The annual World Energy Outlook (WEO) is the International Energy Agency's (IEA) leading publication, broadly known as the most authoritative energy source for international energy forecasts and examination. It signifies the leading source for medium to long-term energy market projections, wide figures, analysis and guidance for both governments and the energy businesses. It is produced by the Office of the Chief Economist, under the direction of Dr. Fatih Birol. The WEO forecasts are used by the public and private sector as an outline on which they can establish their policy-making, preparation and investment decisions and to classify what needs to be done to arrive at a bearable and maintainable energy future. In addition to planning the energy market forecasts, the WEO also plays a part in the global policy discussion by offering an objective and complete analysis of current issues or challenging the energy sector. For example, the WEC-2009 analyzed the consequences of the fast development of unconventional gas resources, the WEO-2008 looked at the alteration needed in the energy sector to fight climate change and the WEC-2007 assessed the global consequences of China's increasing energy demand (World Energy Outlook, d.u.).

The 2012 edition of the World Energy Outlook was published on 12 November and produces authoritative prognoses of energy trends through to 2035 and visions into what they mean for energy security, environmental sustainability and economic development. Equally with the 5th IPCC, the WEO of 2012 has received both positive and negative feedback on its report. One positive point about the WEO-2012 is that it includes an optimistic assessment of the situation in the United States by becoming the major global oil producer before 2020, surpassing Saudi Arabia until the mid-2020 (Hamilton, 2012). The WEO also finds that renewable kinds of energy have reinforced their position as a required part of our global energy system and they are expected to continue to develop quickly, becoming the world's second biggest source of power generation by 2015 (Sustainable Energy for All, 2012).

Furthermore, the WEO-2012 has a distinct emphasis on energy efficacy, presenting that if the world got serious about energy efficacy, it could halve global energy demand growth and decrease oil demand by the equal of Russia and Norway's joint production. Those ideas that the WEO has stated, are thought to be achievable and truly beneficial by experts. Energy efficiency initiatives are crucial for energy security and economic growth. Consequently, it may not seem as surprise then that the economic impact of energy efficiency improvement is being considered positive. While the entire energy demand will continue to grow during this period, energy efficiency is expected to grow by 70% in 2035, or the equivalent of 1060 million metric tons of oil, relative to what it otherwise would have been (Alliance to Save Energy, 2012). The U.S. also seems to have through this report, enormous policy opportunities that will do nothing but increase its superiority.

From the other hand, there are skeptics that point out the weaknesses of this report. The report echoes the likelihood of North American energy independence. Yet although the report says the U.S. will be "all but selfsufficient" by 2035, that doesn't automatically mean prices for oil will go down. Because oil is easy to ship around the world, the prices for oil are set by global requirements, and requirements in places such as India and China is predicted to keep growing. Additionally, it's the notion of Peak Oil which means that we cannot increase production. During the coming 50 years the production of oil will fall by half but we will not run out of oil. In general, it is thought that the International Energy Agency's oil prediction was idealistically high and it fails to see the problem of diminishing returns. As the easy-toproduce oil becomes scarcer, and we need to move to more demanding reservoirs, the cost of extraction will increase (Our Finite World, 2012).

Higher oil prices cause an enormous problem because of their impact on the global economy. The IEA in fact mentions that the existing high oil prices are already acting as a brake on the world economy. Higher oil prices also signify that investment costs that are necessary to reach the target production levels will be even higher than the estimation done by the IEA, adding one more impairment to reaching its predicted production levels. This problem of diminishing returns also seems to exist for renewable sources of energy. Newer approaches, such as ethanol from biomass and biofuel from algae, tend to be extremely expensive. As a result, when we add a new biofuel production, it is probable to be more expensive, and therefore difficult for the customer to afford. If we require it, we will need gradually high subsidies.It is widely known that environmental degradation is an increasingly grave threat that needs to be taken into serious consideration. Environmental degradation is of many types and has many consequences in different sectors, from economic consequences to even health issues. To address this challenge, a number of studies have been performed over the years in both national level and international level mostly by international organizations, applying different methods so as to figure out the causes, consequences and solutions to these problems. The conditions of many environmental problems tend to change frequently and that happens because the world around us is altered as well. There are many factors that change rapidly and need to be taken into account which may in reality be exceptionally hard.

Global environmental reports like the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate change and the International Energy Agency's World Energy Outlook have been founded for this specific reason, so as to research in depth the causes behind some specific environmental issues and propose solutions. However, this procedure is anything but easy and the outcomes of the reports can be quite controversial. There are experts who evaluate the results of those reports and point out their strengths and weaknesses as reliable assessments of the environmental issue discussed in each report. There are experts who praise the work that has been done and seem confident about the conclusions but of course there are a number of experts who may find those conclusions misleading or even worse incorrect and as a result they question the authority of the global environmental reports. In conclusion, the degradation of the environment is an issue that needs our attention and those reports help people pay attention to issues that sometimes have been underrated.


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An Overview of the Serious Problem of Environmental Degradation. (2021, Oct 31). Retrieved from

An Overview of the Serious Problem of Environmental Degradation
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