Climate Change Is Our Problem.
We Can Solve It.

The toughest issues facing our planet — hunger, poverty, education— are all connected to the need for climate action.

The United Nations launched the Sustainable Development Goals in September 2015 with the objectives of ending extreme poverty, fighting inequality and injustice, and fixing climate change. Just one of the 17 goals specifically focuses on the need for climate action, but all of them are in some way connected to humanity’s struggle against global warming.

The December climate talks in Paris could be a huge turning point in that struggle — and the effort to build a better future for us all. Drawing on the scientific, legal, and policy expertise that allows NRDC to craft solutions to the world's toughest problems, our experts explain below how combating climate change is essential to meeting the U.N.'s global goals over the next 15 years.

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The U.N. recognizes that reducing poverty is not just about addressing a lack of income — it also means responding to unequal access to housing, education, and participation in political decision-making, as well as vulnerability to shocks, trends, and seasonal changes. Climate change will make all this worse.

We witnessed the confluence of these multiple dimensions in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Many people displaced by the storm struggled for a long time. They moved from motel to motel, their social networks were torn up, their kids had to start over in new schools, and they couldn’t get good medical care because their records were destroyed.

Put simply, climate change erodes the stability people need to improve their lives. We’ve seen it in New Orleans after Katrina, in southern Brazilian farmlands plagued by drought, and in Indian communities facing shorter, more intense monsoon seasons.

Mobilizing international resources to fight global warming offers a chance to rethink the structures and industries that contribute to poverty. Instead of relying on a handful of fossil-fuel companies for energy, more people can become owners and generators of wind and solar power. By creating more walkable neighborhoods with better public transit and community spaces, we can cut carbon pollution, provide greater access to jobs and schools, and strengthen the bonds that foster civic and political life.

These steps will move us closer to ending poverty in all its forms.

Khalil Shahyd, Project Manager, Urban Solutions program

To meet the U.N.’s goal of ending hunger by 2030, we must get more nutritious food to the people who need it. Yet, climate change is making food production harder than ever — driving extreme weather, the spread of pests, and unpredictable changes in water supplies.

In Asia, rising temperatures, alternating drought and floods, and shrinking snow cover on the Himalayas threaten the rice crop that feeds more than a billion people. Epidemics of wheat rust — the “polio of agriculture” — have swept through Ethiopia and other areas as warmer conditions and more rain allow the disease-causing fungus to thrive. California farmers are struggling with poor yields as their crops alternately flood and wither in drought.

In the coming years, these disruptions will get worse, particularly in places that already struggle with food insecurity. Imagine a refugee crisis on a scale 10 to 50 times that of the Syrian exodus, with as many as 200 million climate refugees by 2050, forced to abandon their homelands due to flooding, drought, and food shortages.

By acting now to use more clean energy and fewer fossil fuels, we can reduce carbon pollution and keep more food on all our tables.

Erik Olson, Senior Strategic Director, Food & Agriculture and Health & Environment programs

Action on climate change is a public health necessity. Recent changes are already increasing the threats of infectious diseases, severe heat waves, and air pollution around the world. To promote universal well-being, we must look at climate effects and how we are addressing them today.

Rising temperatures aren’t just inconvenient — they can also be deadly. Heat waves have killed more than 2,000 people in India this year alone. Higher temperatures also worsen ground-level ozone smog that threatens respiratory health, especially for the 300 million people with asthma across the globe. Warmer conditions and rainfall patterns allow mosquitoes and ticks to expand their habitats, which results in more cases of everything from West Nile virus to dengue fever to Lyme disease. Allergies are also more frequent and severe as pollen seasons become longer in some Midwestern states and Canada.

Part of the U.N.’s health goal is to substantially reduce the number of deaths and illnesses from hazardous chemicals and air pollution by 2030. Burning fossil fuels must be addressed. For example, vehicle exhaust contains at least four confirmed carcinogens, as well as chemicals that worsen asthma and damage the lungs.

A healthier tomorrow requires climate action now. When we limit carbon pollution, we build healthier, more secure communities for ourselves and for future generations.

Kim Knowlton, Senior Scientist & Deputy Director, Science Center

Education is a vital part of empowering our international community to make real, beneficial change — and that includes tackling global warming. Anyone, no matter where they live, can adapt to a changing climate and build a clean energy economy, so long as they learn how.

I’ve seen it in India, where climate change is making heat waves more intense and deadly, especially for people living in slums. In Ahmedabad, NRDC launched a heat action plan with the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation, Public Health Foundation, and other partners to teach people how to cope with these more frequent and dangerous conditions.

We focus on educating mothers because they are the best advocates — keeping family members hydrated, monitoring newborns, and checking on neighbors. When extreme heat hit this year, Ahmedabad fared better than nearby cities, and officials attributed it to the heat action plan.

Education also opens the door to a better future. Salt farmers in Gujarat survive on $1 a day, yet they spend 40 percent of their income on diesel for water pumps that sift salt. NRDC and our partner SEWA are teaching them how to use solar-powered pumps that slash costs, run cleaner, and perform better.

The more people learn, the more we can make real reductions in carbon pollution and improve people’s lives.

­­ — Anjali Jaiswal, Director, India Initiative, International program

An estimated 26 million people have been displaced by climate change. Twenty million of them are women. In many nations, most of the people who die in natural disasters are women. And it is women who have to worry the most about assault and rape when droughts, floods, and crop failures force them to walk farther for food and water.

Climate change is accelerating the rate and intensity of the extreme weather that puts women’s lives at risk. Easing up on that accelerator is essential to reaching the U.N.’s goal of gender equality and female empowerment.

Women in the developing world are hit hardest by climate change. But even in the United States, women — especially single mothers — struggle to afford increasing health costs as polluted air and heat waves keep them home from work and their kids out of school.

Acting on climate will not merely protect women but place us in a position of power. In the developing world, women make up a large part of the agricultural workforce and often control the native seed banks that could hold the key to feeding a warming planet. Women, as the chief water suppliers, can make or break a sustainable water program. In North America, women do the bulk of household purchasing and can create demand for climate-friendly products. A clean energy economy could also open up new, non-traditional employment opportunities for women at every level from entry level jobs to entrepreneurs.

As women we may also hold the key to cooperative global action. After all, a study of 130 nations found that countries with more females in government were more likely to ratify international environmental agreements. Sisters, daughters, and mothers around the world are standing up to the ravages of climate change and ready to take action.

Paris, here we come.

Adrianna Quintero, Director of Partner Engagement

Where there is water, there is life. However, too much or too little water challenges humankind’s ability to sustain itself. Climate change is increasing the incidence of both extreme drought and torrential, flood-inducing rains, and impacting everything from what we eat to where we live.

A warming climate is changing the availability of water around the globe. Almost one-fifth of the world’s population lives in an area of water scarcity. California’s current drought is due as much to low precipitation as record-breaking heat, which reduced the snowpack in the Sierra mountains to 5 percent of its normal level. Without the snowpack, there’s less water to drink, irrigate crops, make computer chips, and keep fish and wildlife alive. Warming temperatures and low flows also caused toxic algae blooms in bodies of freshwater, like Lake Erie, shutting down the drinking-water supply for Toledo and other major cities.

But climate change is a story of extremes and also brings drenching storms. Extreme rainfall overwhelms city sewers, causing backups that can flood homes, close streets, and threaten public health. This year we saw devastating floods in Texas, Oklahoma, and South Carolina. Levees fail to hold back these once-rare, now-regular massive storms when the waters have no place else to go. The impact is often worse in areas emerging from drought: Dead and dying trees topple more easily, and landslides are more frequent due to the lack of healthy hillside vegetation.

We must protect the world’s water sources and billions of peoples’ food supplies, homes, and health. Conservation, smart management, and new technologies are all essential, but these tools must go hand in hand with fighting climate change as we plan for a sustainable water future.

Kate Poole, Senior Attorney & Litigation Director, and Rob Moore, Senior Policy Analyst, Water program

The U.N.’s goal of affordable and clean energy for all acknowledges that we must no longer rely on burning fossil fuels, the root cause of climate change, to power our cars, homes, and businesses.

Most carbon pollution comes from developed nations that have used and continue to use dirty energy to generate economic growth. Those countries must clean up their significant impacts to human health and the environment.

At the same time, developing nations need more energy as they grow. Manufacturing grinds to a halt when rolling blackouts hit cities in sub-Saharan Africa. And small farmers in India need charged cell phones to get information about local markets and prices.

But these countries don’t have to follow the dirty example of the developed world; they can leapfrog to cleaner, smarter technologies. For example, two-thirds of the large buildings that will exist in India in 2030 haven’t been built yet. If they include sustainable materials and efficient equipment, they’ll cut their energy consumption in half. Likewise, solar and wind energy can power remote areas, bringing cost savings as well as good local jobs.

This is a pivotal moment. Nations are either beginning to reimagine their old dirty energy systems or building efficient new ones that will last decades. We can grow economically without further warming the planet.

Vignesh Gowrishankar, Associate Director, Energy & Transportation program

Climate change is creating enormous economic pressure — but also enormous economic opportunities — around the world.

In the United States alone, extreme weather and sea-level rise will cause an estimated $2 billion to $3.5 billion in property losses each year by 2030. In America’s heartland, the rising temperatures, drought, and extreme weather are already causing billions in crop losses that will only worsen with continued climate change.

Yet, taking action on climate change is also creating new jobs and driving economic growth around the globe. More than $270 billion was invested in renewable energy in 2014. Policies such as the Clean Power Plan in the United States and similar programs in other countries will continue to drive clean energy growth around the world.

We know that smart policies such as these are essential. Over the past three years, my colleagues and I have tracked the creation of more than 250,000 new clean energy jobs across the States. Here’s what we’ve learned: The states with the best clean energy policies are the places that create the most new jobs.

The same is true the world over, from Norway to China to the Middle East, as smart governments are replacing dirty energy with clean energy and improving energy efficiency in homes, offices, and schools. And, along the way, they are creating jobs, saving money, and driving economic growth.

From a business perspective, the bottom line is clear: We can reap the economic benefits of shifting to clean energy while simultaneously addressing the economic costs of climate change, or we can continue to pay the very high price of inaction.

Bob Keefe, Director, Environmental Entrepreneurs

Reliable infrastructure helps accelerate economic growth, but projects that prioritize fossil fuels lock us into decades of increased climate change pollution. I’ve seen it in my work on transportation.

Since WWII, most U.S. cities have been designed around cars. As a result, the average Los Angeleno spends the equivalent of two weeks a year stuck in traffic, and transportation is one of the nation’s biggest sources of pollution that endangers health and causes climate change.

Fortunately, cities are rethinking this old model. They are viewing streets not just as a place to move cars but also as opportunities to welcome cyclists, encourage walking, and manage stormwater with green spaces. A variety of transportation choices — from bike lanes to light-rails — is making this possible.

One of the biggest breakthroughs has come in the realization that access to mobility is more important than car ownership. Urban planners tried for decades to get people to carpool, but numbers stalled at 10 percent. Today, smartphone apps enable companies to connect riders, and now more than half of Lyft trips in the Bay Area are shared rides. Fewer cars can lead to less pollution and congestion.

Hopefully India and China, where car ownership remains lower than in the States, can learn from our mistakes and leapfrog straight to cleaner solutions. Designing for people and embracing low-carbon innovations will make cities more vibrant for generations to come.

Amanda Eaken, Deputy Director, Urban Solutions program

People who live in poverty generally do not have time, energy, or resources to adequately respond to the pressures of climate change. Yet, the two issues of income inequality and climate change are growing in tandem as core issues of our time. The farmer who loses her crop to drought and can’t feed her family, or the construction worker who can’t pay his rent because his job site flooded — such disasters further widen the gap between the rich and the poor.

We can help close the gap by both addressing the economic and systemic challenges of unequal wealth creation across the globe and by including vulnerable communities in the design and implementation of climate solutions, such as transitioning to clean energy. Here in the United States, many high-end properties feature efficient appliances that save money and reduce carbon pollution. But low-income people, who spend 30 percent of their budget on energy, can’t always make these kinds of investments. NRDC and our partners are working to bring efficiency retrofits to affordable housing, making homes more comfortable and saving people up to $40 a month on energy bills.

Solutions must also consider the process itself. We need to create equitable and inclusive decision-making processes that meet climate targets and address inequality. In California, local equity organizations took part in climate discussions and argued that 25 percent of cap and trade revenues should benefit the state’s most disadvantaged communities. In Vanuatu, in the South Pacific, climate mitigation education is being folded into school curricula, no doubt to train the next generation to actively participate in solutions for their island nation.

As opportunities for decision-making are offered to people of all incomes and our societies orient toward equitable job creation across varying skill levels, the better our chances of creating a cleaner earth.

— Sasha Forbes, Policy Advocate, Urban Solutions program

When storms pound the coasts, floodwaters surge, and heat waves sizzle, poor urban communities are the most likely to suffer. The U.N.’s goal of making our cities safer, stronger, better places to live will not only prepare and protect these communities from climate change but also slow down the process itself.

By some estimates, cities are responsible for 80 percent of global climate pollution. But they have enormous potential to become part of the solution.

Weatherizing homes and constructing more energy-efficient buildings, for example, reduces carbon pollution from power plants while making homes and offices more comfortable and affordable. Planting trees on city streets soaks up excess rainwater, cools neighborhoods, and absorbs carbon.

Better public transit, safe bicycle networks, and the growing market for shared rides reduce pollution from cars and can be a lifeline for communities. The network of lightweight gondolas in the city of Medellín, Colombia, is a great example — now residents pushed to hillside slums can get to work in half the time, using less money and with less pollution.

The world needs more solutions like these, and fast. By 2050, two-thirds of the global population will live in cities. When these communities move quickly to embrace climate solutions, they will better the lives of billions of people.

Shelley Poticha, Director, Urban Solutions program

The U.N. estimates that humankind will need a couple of extra planets by 2050 to provide enough resources to sustain our current lifestyles. The staggering amounts of land, water, and other natural resources we use up, pollute, or discard put an enormous strain on the earth’s ability to support us. Climate change, which alters rainfall patterns and constrains water supplies, turns the pressure up a notch.

Meeting the U.N.’s goal of making production more sustainable means we need to use our resources more efficiently. Factories need to produce more with less. Fortunately, in many industries, there is ample room for improvement. In our work with the textile industry, for example, we’ve found that when factories improve efficiency, they also make better products, improve bottom lines, and cut pollution.

Textile mills use enormous quantities of water to treat and dye fabrics. By using less water, factory owners also save on the energy required to heat it. Since many mills are coal-powered, greater efficiency also results in less carbon pollution.

Policies that encourage carbon-cutting can help push more industries toward resource efficiency. Efficiency-oriented solutions that we’ve promoted in the textile industry — which, globally, is responsible for more carbon pollution than some entire countries — can be applied to many other energy- and water-intensive industries, from beer-brewing to farming to gold-mining.

Efforts to protect climate and make the production of goods more sustainable can and should go hand in hand.

Susan Egan Keane, Deputy Director, Health & Environment program

People around the world know how to make communities resilient and scale up clean energy resources. What we need now is for leaders to commit to concrete action today and put those solutions into place.

Climate change is imperiling people right now — we can’t afford to wait to take action. Fortunately, many countries are creating plans for reducing carbon pollution. This is real and inspiring progress, but national plans need to include real, solid policies that will prevent grave impacts to food security, sea-level rise, and public health.

Past international climate agreements have often included ambitious goals and distant timetables. Now it’s time to shift the conversation to action and accountability. We need world leaders to ensure that, together, we will cut greenhouse gas pollution and prevent our planet from warming more than two degrees Celsius. This will accelerate on-the-ground changes now, when we need them most.

Industrialized nations, which have produced the lion’s share of carbon pollution, should help developing countries build resilience and finance clean energy. It’s a matter of human decency: If your actions endanger your neighbors, you have a responsibility to make things right.

Ultimately, that’s what climate commitment is all about: taking action in our own lives to ensure that all people have a better future — not only in this generation but for the many to come.

Aliya Haq, Special Projects Director, Climate & Energy Initiative

More than three billion people around the world depend on marine and coastal resources for their livelihoods. But in order to conserve and sustainably use our oceans, as the U.N. has set forth in its goal, we need to quickly curb one of their biggest threats: climate change.

Rising water temperatures are causing a swift and massive migration of marine life toward the poles and into deeper water. Scientists have long documented the creep toward cooler temperatures of species on land, but in the sea, it’s happening much faster. It’s as if the ocean now lives in a giant blender that’s churning up long-established ecosystems and food webs.

Fish, at least, can move. The coral that nurture them cannot. Neither can small-scale fishermen, held in place by border patrols or their gear. When their catch migrates, many fishermen simply go belly up.

Scientists already have a difficult job figuring out how many fish we can sustainably pull out of the sea. With so many species on the move, this work is even more challenging. It’s like trying to study the desert in the middle of a sandstorm.

Slowing down this alarming rate of change in the ocean is critical to any conservation effort. Putting the brakes on carbon pollution, which is driving climate change as well as acidification (altering the actual chemistry of our oceans), will help ensure that these waters will be able to sustain us for generations to come.

Lisa Suatoni, Senior Scientist, Oceans program

To meet the U.N.’s goal of protecting ecosystems, we need to first understand how climate change is battering them. Seasonal patterns are being disrupted faster than many plants and animals can adapt. And when spring arrives early or hot, dry summers last longer, it threatens not just individual species, but massive, intricate webs of life that depend upon them.

Look at the whitebark pine in the Greater Yellowstone Region. This mighty tree takes root in high-elevation outcroppings, helps stabilize soil, and enables other plants to grow. It also attracts wildlife, provides pine nuts to fatten up grizzly bears for hibernation, and helps regulate the snow melt that feeds water supplies across the region.

Whitebark pine blanketed mountaintops for millennia, but warmer temperatures brought on by climate change have allowed mountain pine beetles to move into higher reaches than ever before. Without cold snaps to kill them off, these beetles have decimated more than a million acres of whitebark pine in the Yellowstone area alone. The impact is felt by all those who rely on the tree, from wildlife in need of food to towns in need of water.

No matter where we live, we need healthy ecosystems to support us in countless ways. Identifying and protecting just one vulnerable species can bring benefits to hundreds of other plants and animals. Life is interconnected; our climate solutions have to be interconnected as well.

Sylvia Fallon, Director, Wildlife Conservation Project

Social justice is climate justice. Historically, people of color, indigenous groups, and low-income communities have borne a disproportionate environmental burden. When we look at climate impacts around the world, we notice again and again that front-line communities with a poor air-quality baseline are hit the hardest by extreme weather events and increased pollution.

For years, these communities have been pushing for real solutions that reduce climate threats and strengthen all our communities at the same time.

Those on the front lines must play a role in determining their own paths toward sustainability. Their participation will ensure that the transition from fossil fuels to clean energy is just. Are solar panels being manufactured in areas where those who are impacted can apply for jobs? Is there local ownership of workforce training programs, so community members can gain the skills and knowledge needed to increase energy efficiency in affordable housing?

To seize these opportunities, front-line communities must have a seat at the table and play a meaningful role in determining the policies that will shape their future. When vulnerable communities win, we all win.

Al Huang, Senior Attorney, Environmental Justice, New York program

The Climate Revolution has begun, and the time for global action is now.

Time for every nation to join the scores of presidents, prime ministers, mayors, business executives, faith leaders, and activists who have already risen up to cut carbon pollution from our homes, workplaces, and cars worldwide.

Time to invest in the clean energy sources of tomorrow and leave the fossil fuels of yesterday behind.

Time to stand with those on the troubled front lines of a changing climate, those who are paying the highest price.

Time to rally the world, in Paris, where revolutions are born. Time to advance the Climate Revolution.

Rhea Suh, President

Written with Noella Boudart, Emily Cousins, and Shanti Menon