SDG 13: Climate Action

Coffee trees growing in Cameroon

Previously, when looking at SDGs 1 and 8, we were mainly concerned with the social and economic benefits sustainable development would have, particularly on the farmers at the beginning of the coffee supply chain. BUT sustainability must go hand in hand with climate action, there can be no sustainable development if it’s not also viable for the planet. Climate change is happening right now and it’s happening fast, only by stopping it and its disastrous effects on the environment can we hope to create a sustainable future.

With clear benefits to people and natural ecosystems, limiting global warming to 1.5°C […] could go hand in hand with ensuring a more sustainable and equitable society. [1]

This issue is so important that it goes well beyond the SDGs, in fact there are multiple organizations and initiatives dedicated to fight climate change all over the world, the largest and (hopefully) most impactful being the Paris Agreement from 2015. As of right now all 195 countries have signed, meaning that the entire world is committed to climate action. Its main focus is to reduce carbon emission in order to stop the increase in temperature it causes from exceeding 1.5° as this would prevent the worst effects of climate change.

What is SDG 13?

Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impact

If we want to understand why it is so important to take action against climate change, we first need to recognize what exactly it is and how it affects us now and will do so even more in the near future. Basically, the name says it all: it means that the earth’s climate is changing. This is essentially due to global warming caused by increasing greenhouse gas emission and the destruction of so-called carbon sinks, like forests and marine ecosystems, both of which store and “recycle” CO2, the main greenhouse gas.

And why is this bad? Well, while the increase in CO2 in the atmosphere or even the rising temperature does not directly have a negative effect on humans, it does have one on the environment: Ice caps are melting everywhere leading to rising sea levels which cause floods and even threaten to swallow entire islands. Also, the weather is becoming more extreme with violent phenomena such as droughts, wild fires and severe storms occurring ever more often. And this does concern us, because entire communities and many economic resources are being harmed by these events. Land used for growing food is destroyed or becomes infertile and more and more water is needed to endure dry spells while at the same time it is being polluted faster than nature can regenerate it. This leads to food and water scarcities in large regions and will eventually cause conflicts and even wars over limited resources. As with the most other problems addressed by the SDGs, this affects developing countries much more severely even though it is the rich countries who are largely responsible for what’s happening.

Climate change is disrupting national economies and affecting lives, costing people, communities and countries dearly today and even more tomorrow. [2]

It’s more than obvious that at the moment climate change is the biggest threat to our planet and by extension ourselves. And yes, there is already a lot happening to fight against this threat as environmental awareness becomes more and more widespread: renewable energy is on the rise, so are eco-friendly options for transportation, food, clothing and so on. BUT we are still far from stopping climate change because greenhouse gas emission keeps on increasing and temperatures keep on rising. We have to do much more and keep on fighting if we want to prevent the worst from happening. That’s what SDG 13, the Paris Agreement and so many other initiatives encourage governments, companies and individuals to do: take climate action so we can have a future for ourselves, our children and our planet.

Coffee and the environment:

The demand for coffee is as high as ever and so is the impact coffee has on the environment throughout its entire supply chain, from coffee grower to coffee drinker. By nature coffee farming actually requires methods that are quite eco-friendly, for example pesticides aren’t necessary because caffeine serves to repel insects, plus the trees grow only in climates where they naturally get enough water and they need the shade of other trees which discourages farmers form destroying surrounding forests and thus preserves biodiversity. At least, this is the model of most smallholder-farms owned by families and situated in mountainous areas which are perfect for arabica beans but inconvenient for the mass-production of coffee.

“37 of the 50 countries in the world with the highest deforestation rates are also major coffee producers.” [3]

Sadly, due to the promise of big profits because of high demand, most of our coffee today is grown on massive plantations where deforestation, monocultures and widespread use of chemicals to in increase the yield are the norm. Obviously, all of this is harmful to the local eco-system including animals as well as the people living in these regions and on a global scale also contributes to climate change. Plus, massive amounts of water are being wasted unnecessarily during the production process of coffee thanks to inefficient resource use. At the moment it takes about 140 liters to produce a single cup of coffee (which admittedly is nothing compared to the 10 000 to 40 000 it takes to produce one kilogram of meat, but still).

Scientists warn that without conservation, monitoring and seed preservation measures, one of the world’s most popular drinks could become a thing of the past. [4]

Also, while the coffee industry is contributing to climate change it simultaneously is heavily affected by it and in the coming years coffee production will become harder and harder. This is going to affect the growers, who depend on being able to grow a profitable amount of coffee on their land, as well as the consumer who will notice a decline in the varieties of coffee available and an increase in prices.

What can we do?

You’ve probably heard it all before: take the bike or bus instead of the car, don’t fly more than absolutely necessary, bring reusable totes when your shopping, drink from reusable water bottles and coffee cups, buy locally… the list goes on and on. In fact, here is an actual list with ten things you can do to fight climate change. Yes, I know, all of this may sound repetitive and annoying but it is so, so important that all of us actually implement these small changes in our daily lives because it will make a difference. Reducing greenhouse gas emission, water and energy use as well as waste are not optional anymore, they are necessary steps we have to take if want to ensure a peaceful and liveable future. So, no matter how eco-friendly your lifestyle is at the moment, we can always do more: convince others to change their habits as well, demand local and national laws by demonstrating (#fridaysforfuture) or speaking directly to your law-makers. And we at Mamé Noka promise you to sell you the most sustainable coffee we can by buying it only from small, organic farms, by shortening transportation routes as much as possible, by reducing our carbon footprint and by producing only minimal waste. If we all work together, we can create a sustainable future for the planet and all living beings on it.

Check out part 4 here!

Want to know more about…?
Climate change: [1] [2]
Sustainable development and SDGs in general: UN websites [1] [2] [3], The Guardian, TED Talk
SDG 13: [1] [2]
Coffee and the environment: [1] [2] [3] [4]

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