These five megatrends present major global threats for planet Earth — problems that must be solved if the world is to remain a supportive habitat for humans and other species. DW looks at causes and possible solutions.

1. Air pollution and climate change.

Problem: Overloading of the atmosphere and of ocean waters with carbon. Atmospheric CO2 absorbs and re-emits infrared-wavelength radiation, leading to warmer air, soils, and ocean surface waters – which is good: The planet would be frozen solid without this.

Unfortunately, there’s now too much carbon in the air. Burning of fossil fuels, deforestation for agriculture, and industrial activities have pushed up atmospheric CO2 concentrations from 280 parts per million (ppm) 200 years ago, to about 400 ppm today. That’s an unprecedented rise, in both size and speed. The result: climate disruption.

Carbon overloading is only one form of air pollution caused by burning coal, oil, gas and wood. The World Health Organization recently estimated that one in nine deaths in 2012 were attributable to diseases caused by carcinogens and other poisons in polluted air.

Solutions: Replace fossil fuels with renewable energy. Reforestation. Reduce emissions from agriculture. Change industrial processes.

The good news is that clean energy is abundant – it just needs to be harvested. Many say a 100 percent renewable-energy future is feasible with existing technology now.

But the bad news is that even though renewable energy infrastructure – solar panels, wind turbines, energy storage and distribution systems – are already widespread, and getting cheaper and more efficient all the time, experts say we’re not applying them quickly enough to prevent catastrophic climate disruption. Barriers in policy and finance remain to be overcome.

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