Climate change has become a frequently discussed issue over the past years, but in the last year there has been more and more discussion about it. The reason for this is that there is scarcely a day which goes by now without there being a major news story about unusual weather patterns.
Just this Summer and Autumn (2007), we have seen floods in the UK, and in the US. Drought in parts of Australia has been even more acute that usual, and Greece and California have experienced massive forest fires. However, by far the most dramatic has been the completely unexpected extent of the melting of the north west passage in the Arctic, and we have all seen the satellite images showing a much shrunken ice cap right across the whole Arctic region.
Global climate change is the single biggest environmental threat facing the planet. Climate change can occur naturally, and many argue that despite the majority scientific view that the cause is human activity, the cause is natural. Others argue that the increase on carbon dioxide in the atmosphere sounds as if it has risen hugely, the actual amount compared with the other gases is still very small. They reason that as it is still a very small proportion of our atmosphere, how could it be having the effect attributed to it?
Nevertheless, despite questions of this sort, the climate change or global warming we have seen does match the rise in human population and activity since the start of the industrial revolution, and it would be a rare man indeed who could deny that. Hence, most of us are beginning to accept global warming as a reality, and furthermore that human caused climate change is a fact.
Climate change impacts will range from affecting agriculture, further endangering food security, sea-level rise and the accelerated erosion of coastal zones, plus increasing intensity of natural weather extremes. The reality of climate change, and mankind’s causal role in the process, are facts that must now be universally accepted.
Increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are likely to further accelerate the rate of climate change. Sadly, it will be the poor, the young, and the weak who will suffer most. Children in developing countries are likely to face the greatest risks from climate change.
Nevertheless, we should not despair. There is much to be done, and much that can be done which will make a difference. The Kyoto Protocol is the international plan to reduce climate change pollution. Europe has led the diplomatic efforts which produced the Kyoto agreement. It is far from perfect but it is the only show in town which can produce change in the developing nations.
Rich countries, like the US and Australia don’t want to take action to stop climate change. That is understandable, as their economies will suffer if it puts heavy extra costs on businesses. It is argued that it is not proven yet that the extra burden will actually yield the degree of improved sustainability our globe will need in order to recover in time to avoid the worst effects. Yet, such sentiments are becoming less common.
Such ideas have been strongest in the US. However, former US vice-president Gore now shares the Nobel peace prize for his work on climate change. An election campaign is starting for George Bush’s successor, and even Bush is mellowing toward active support of climate change alleviation policies.
Across the whole US, local governments are also increasingly addressing climate change with their own solutions, giving much room for optimism.
It was decided at Kyoto that the developed nations would reduce their emissions, and that they would also pay the developing nations to avoid or reduce their rising emissions of carbon dioxide. It was reasoned that the best way to get this to work would be to create a market out of “carbon credits”, the carbon tonnages saved by investment from the west. The market would allow the high carbon emitting companies in the developed nations offset their continued emissions at home by paying for emissions savings overseas. This would have the additional benefit of raising the income of the poorest nations.
The British government, which is convinced that climate change has to be tackled, is leading the United Kingdom in its ambitious self-set targets for emissions reductions. Many other European nations also have similar policies in place. Scandinavian countries are even more advanced in their emissions reductions programmes than the UK.
So, the science is clear: climate change is happening, and it is linked directly to human activity. To bring climate change to a halt, global greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced significantly. But by how much, and how soon must we change our habits?
Many of the temperature data and computer models used to predict climate change are themselves uncertain, but experts now agree that the world needs to react very quickly now, or the problem of control will become exponentially more difficult.
The cost associated with the effects of climate change is projected to increase substantially over time with rising temperatures, and the longer we delay the worse it will be. To state that is simple common sense.
The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) is one of the organisations which is working globally and in the UK to raise awareness about the causes and impacts of climate change and the available solutions. Wildlife organisations stress that biodiversity will be severely affected by climate change and sea-level rise, with an increased risk of extinction of very many species.
For some species however, the climate will be good, but at great human cost. The unobtrusive mosquito’s story illustrates a sobering consequence of climate change. Fewer frosts and generally warmer temperatures will allow the spread of diseases like malaria into more temperate climates. The species best suited to adapting may not be the ones people want to survive.
In general, we can reduce our demands on nature and the tonnages of carbon dioxide emitted by adopting sustainable development. Sustainable development can increase the capacity for adaptation and mitigation, and reduce vulnerability of societies to the impacts of climate change. Humans are already adapting to climate change, and further adaptation efforts will be necessary during coming decades.
New technologies are part of man’s adaptation and are being developed which are ‘green’ and will help reduce or even reverse climate change effects. These technologies will help us to be better stewards of the environment, and they will help us to confront the serious challenge of global climate change.
There is much that can be done to stop catastrophic climate change but decisive action is needed from governments and industry now. Today, action is occurring at every level to reduce, to avoid, and to better understand the risks associated with climate change.
Climate Change for Better or Worse is a web site which was launched to help you understand what climate change is and how you can take action to combat it. Without action, climate change will cause the extinction of countless species and destroy some of the world’s most precious ecosystems, putting millions of people at risk. Diseases, declining crop yields, and natural disasters are just a few of the other impacts of climate change that could follow and devastate the world’s most vulnerable communities.
Delaying emission reduction measures limits the opportunities to achieve low stabilization levels and increases the risk of severe climate change impacts. Please act now to encourage your politicians to take urgent action.
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