The environmental dimension of sustainability provides for a responsible interaction with the environment, such as to maintain a high environmental quality in the long term.
Environmental sustainability requires full harmony among the use of natural resources, the orientation of technological development, the investment plan and institutional work.
Common goal: enhancing current resources to meet the needs and aspirations of humanity by ensuring the same resources and possibilities for future generations as well.
To ensure environmental sustainability it is necessary to act on several levels for the protection of different resources that are essential for all living beings, such as:
- fresh water and oceans;
- forests and soil.
Furthermore, particular attention must be given to the protection of biodiversity, which is the source and guarantee of life on our planet.
Protecting the composition of the atmosphere that makes life on earth possible, especially the life of human beings. Reducing atmospheric pollution and anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gasses to avoid global warming and mitigate the ongoing climate changes.
The earth is enveloped by the atmosphere: the balance of the gasses that compose it makes life on earth possible.
The main gasses among these are:
- carbon dioxide or carbon dioxide (CO2);
- methane (CH4);
- ozone (O3);
- dinitrogen oxide (N2O);
- together with water vapor (H2O).
They produce the greenhouse effect, which is essential for the atmosphere to absorb, maintain and release the humidity and heat of the sun’s rays, in order to make life on earth possible.
Unfortunately, anthropogenic activities (i.e. typical of us human beings) from the industrial revolution onwards, in particular the indiscriminate use of fossil fuels, have produced an excessive increase in these gasses. In this way, the “shield” (greenhouse effect) provided by the atmosphere is excessive.
This makes heat dispersion difficult and causes a general increase in terrestrial temperatures, starting with the oceans. And it causes global warming, which is at the origin of climate change.
To restore environmental sustainability at the atmospheric level, it is necessary to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (in particular carbon dioxide) produced by our activities and especially by the use of fossil fuels.
Fresh water and oceans
Environmental sustainability also passes through blue gold, that is fresh water and oceans: probably the most precious and threatened resource on our planet.
97% of the water on earth is salty. The remaining 3% of fresh water includes glaciers and permanent snow, effectively reducing the amount accessible to humans to 1%. This percentage includes both surface water and water retained in the groundwater or dispersed in the atmosphere.
Furthermore, global warming is causing water shortages with a lethal impact on biodiversity. In fact, every year many animal and plant species disappear.
According to the World Economic Forum, almost 25% of the world population is already experiencing a water crisis. This percentage will rise to 60% before 2030.
Furthermore, our oceans are threatened by pollution and above all by the phenomenon of acidification. They absorb about a quarter of the carbon dioxide produced by human activities, which makes the water more acidic and inhospitable or harmful to many marine organisms.
Let’s explain: the oceans absorb almost a quarter of the carbon dioxide (CO2) produced by human activities. CO2 makes the water more acidic, inhospitable and harmful to many marine organisms (eg. molluscs, crustaceans, corals and plankton). Since industrial development began 250 years ago, ocean acidity has increased by 30% and could even triple by the end of this century.
Inaccessible water and water shortages are not just an environmental sustainability problem. The repercussions also affect the social and economic dimensions: the World Bank estimates that by 2050, water scarcity could cost some nations up to 6% of their gross domestic product.
Land use destination
The land use destination is one of the factors that can compromise environmental sustainability and represent a serious risk to biodiversity.
The main source of threats to environmental sustainability is the transformation of ecosystems such as forests or wetlands into land destined for semi-natural use (e.g. pastures or crops), or even worse, totally artificial (e.g. construction, industry, infrastructures).
These types of transitions often cause permanent and irreversible damages, such as:
- loss of fertile soil;
- fragmentation of the territory;
- reduction of biodiversity;
- alterations of the hydrogeological cycle;
- repercussions on the microclimate.
The spread of urban areas and infrastructures also causes greater energy consumption and an increase in transport, which in turn cause air and noise pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.
Furthermore, some parts of the territory undergo transformations (until they disappear) due to phenomena not directly connected to human activities. An example of this is the reduction of coastal and river areas due to sea level rise, in turn a consequence of the ongoing climate change.