Disruptive changes to the natural environment resulting from the climate crisis are causing fundamental shifts in behavior and raising greater concerns about the future health of the planet and global population. Whether it’s sea-level rise, droughts, wildfires, or increasing frequency of extreme weather events, every part of the world has been impacted and forced to confront the implications to current and future generations. The importance of clean air, water and food are obvious, but what sets regions apart are the investments they make to secure these needs now and in the future.
As we continue to see and experience the impacts of climate change in our global communities, we are reminded of the actions it will take to build a more sustainable future. Megatrends outline how a growing population continues to put a strain on natural resources, health and our environment. Investments in renewable energy, access to clean air, water and food, and a continued focus on waste management remain a priority in addressing the challenges our people and planet face.
3M has an important role to play in taking action to build a more sustainable world by confronting these challenges. I believe the best way to address them will be by applying our innovation to develop scientific solutions. Science is often at the forefront of making changes for the better, particularly when it comes to developing sustainable initiatives. In 2020, we have been forced to slow down and take a look at what is happening in the world around us. In many ways, this year has served as a wakeup call for individuals and corporations alike to do more to protect our planet. We have an opportunity to build off this increased awareness and momentum, collaborating with others to make an even bigger impact on our changing climate and resources.
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused governments worldwide to constrain social and economic activity to limit its spread. Quarantines, strong social distancing measures, limiting travel and closing public gathering places have dramatically slowed economic activity and limited energy use. Global energy demand is expected to contract by 6% in 2020, the largest drop in more than 70 years.151 Lower energy use is leading to reductions in nitrogen dioxide concentrations and lower daily carbon dioxide emissions – improving air quality in many countries hardest hit by the virus. The constraints on social and economic activity have also resulted in less trash and pollution of public parks and beaches as well as less environmental noise, particularly in countries such as China, the United States, Italy and Spain.
Conversely, the pandemic has put additional strain on landfills to accommodate an increase in medical and personal protective equipment waste and more domestic waste from online shopping and food delivery. Contamination concerns have also forced many businesses, including restaurants and grocery stores, back to using more singleuse plastics to package and sell food. At the same time, some recycling programs in the U.S. have been suspended due to concerns of virus spread at recycling centers.
While the share of renewables in global electricity supply reached nearly 28% in the first quarter of 2020, renewables’ growth is expected to slow in 2020.150 The world is set to add only 167 gigawatts of renewable power capacity this year – 13% less than in 2019. This decline reflects delays in construction due to supply-chain disruptions, lockdown measures and social distancing guidelines, as well as emerging financing challenges.
Quarantine and stay-at-home measures have lowered greenhouse gas emissions but will be insufficient to curb the overall concentration in the atmosphere long term. GHG molecules remain in the atmosphere for decades, so short-term improvements make little difference. Moreover, previous economic crises have often been followed by a recovery associated with much higher emission growth than before the crises. At present, the three biggest producers of GHGs – the United States, China and the European Union – are taking different approaches as they restart their economies. China and the United States are relaxing environmental restrictions, which may lessen the momentum of alternative energy investment.
Many 3M colleagues supported this effort by generously sharing their time, knowledge and resources. We would like to recognize the authors from our Strategy & Marketing Development group who made this publication possible by exploring and synthesizing collective knowledge to provide these updated megatrends. Please learn more about our authors and research on our Endnotes & Acknowledgements page.