Our world is getting warmer daily, droughts threaten our crops, wildlife and freshwater supplies, the oceans are becoming warmer, the sea level is increasing, our weather is unpredictable, our global temperature rises daily, the list goes on.
Put in simple terms, our planet is at risk.
It is no longer news that our planet is experiencing climate change and scientists – worldwide – have reached an agreement that climate change is real.
Respected scientific organizations such as the National Academy of Science, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and World Meteorological Association (WMO) have all identified climate change as an urgent threat.
So, who or what is putting our planet at risk? The simple and truthful answer is, we are the cause of the change taking place in our planet. Climate change is caused primarily by human activities.
The American Scientific Societies in a statement on climate change said, “Observations throughout the world make it clear that climate change is occurring, and rigorous scientific research demonstrates that the greenhouse gases emitted by human activities are the primary driver.” (2009)
The result of our activities is more frequent and intense drought, storms, heat waves, rising sea levels, melting glaciers, warming oceans which harm the animals, destroy the places we live, and wreak havoc on our livelihoods and communities.
According to the Australian Academy of Science, climate change is a change in the pattern of weather, and related changes in oceans, land surfaces and ice sheets, occurring over time scales of decades or longer.
Weather on the other hand is the state of the atmosphere—its temperature, humidity, wind, rainfall and so on—over hours to weeks.
Our weather is influenced by the oceans, land surfaces and ice sheets, which together with the atmosphere form what is called the ‘climate system’.
Climate is determined by many factors that influence flows of energy through the climate system, including greenhouse gases.
What is Greenhouse Effect/Gases?
The greenhouse effect refers to how the earth’s atmosphere traps some of the energy from the Sun. Solar energy radiating back out to space from the Earth’s surface is absorbed by atmospheric greenhouse gases and re-emitted in all directions.
The energy that radiates back down to the planet heats both the lower atmosphere and the surface. Without this effect, the Earth would be about 30C colder, making our planet hostile to life.
Greenhouse gases are natural and are essential for our survival alongside millions of other living things, by keeping some of the sun’s warmth from reflecting back into space and making Earth liveable.
But after more than a century and a half of industrialization, deforestation, and large scale agriculture, quantities of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere have risen to record levels not seen in three million years.
Most climate scientists agree the main cause of the current change in our planet, is human expansion of the “greenhouse effect.
Examples of greenhouse gases that contributes to the greenhouse effect includes: carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, water vapour, chlorofluorocarbons. These gases exist naturally but has increased overtime due to human activities such as burning fossil fuels to generate energy – coal, oil and natural gas – and by clearing forests.
Burning fossil fuels is considered as the human activity with the greatest impact on the atmosphere than any other human activity.
Think of these gases as a blanket. The thicker a blanket, the warmer you become in it. The same happens to our planet.
Consequences of Greenhouse Gases
The consequences of changing the natural atmospheric greenhouse are difficult to predict, but certain effects seem likely:
On average, the earth will become warmer with some regions with warmer temperatures, and others without temperatures.
Warmer conditions will probably lead to more evaporation and precipitation overall, but individual regions will vary, some becoming wetter and others dryer.
The oceans become warmer and this leads partially melt glaciers and other ice, increasing sea level.
Higher temperatures and shifting climate patterns may change the areas where crops grow best and affect the makeup of natural plant communities. Although, some crops may respond well to this effect.
The Paris Agreement on Climate Change
In 2015, during the 21st Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the Paris Agreement was adopted by representatives of 196 state parties by a consensus.
The Paris Agreement is an agreement within the UNFCCC that aims to deal with greenhouse-gas-emissions mitigation, adaptation, and finance, starting in the year 2020.
According to the UNFCCC, the central aim of the agreement is to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change by keeping a global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
Additionally, the agreement aims to strengthen the ability of countries to deal with the impacts of climate change.
To reach these ambitious goals, appropriate financial flows, a new technology framework and an enhanced capacity building framework will be put in place, thus supporting action by developing countries and the most vulnerable countries, in line with their own national objectives.
Also, to achieve the goals of the Paris agreement, some experts said we have to change how we get our electricity, a total halt to new coal power plant construction, ending dirty energy subsidies.
Where are we now?
A new analysis by the World Resources Institute (WRI) revealed that current efforts to limit temperature increases are falling well short.
The WRI on Tuesday said achieving the 2020 climate change goals was Earth’s “best chance” of honouring the Paris deal goals.
So far, progress has been made in renewable energy and green finance, it said, but headway was deemed “insufficient” across a host of sectors.
Vice President of WRI for climate change and economics, Helen Mountford said, “One thing from energy — where things are going much better — is how renewable energy is progressing.”
Renewables such as wind and solar now account for roughly 25 percent of global electricity production, not too far from the 2020 goal of 30 percent.
However, there’s little or no progress when it comes to phasing out of greenhouse gas-producing fossil fuels.
“Subsidies for coal, oil, and gas essentially act as a negative carbon price, reducing the costs for these polluting substances and taking up funding that could instead be used for other expenditures, including investment in sustainable development,” the WRI said.
How can I Help Save Our Planet?
Below are ways – as highlighted by the United Nations – you can help save our planet in your our little way.
- Save electricity by plugging appliances into a power strip and turning them off completely when not in use, including your computer.
- Stop paper bank statements and pay your bills online or via mobile.
- Share interesting social media posts on climate change for others to see also.
- Turn off the lights. Your TV, computer screen provides a cosy glow, so turn off other lights if you don’t need them.
- Stay informed. Follow your local news and stay in touch with the Global Goals online or on social media at @GlobalGoalsUN.
- Tell us about your actions to achieve the global goals by using the hashtag #globalgoals on social networks.
- Speak up! Ask your local and national authorities to engage in initiatives that don’t harm people or the planet. You can also voice your support for the Paris Agreement and ask your country to ratify it or sign it if it hasn’t yet.
Be the change you want to see.
Sources – World Wild Life, Australian Academy of Science, NASA – climate.nasa.gov, United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, United Nations & AFP.
Images – oceanservice.noaa.gov & benjerry.com