Climate Change is the defining issue of our time and we are at a defining moment. From shifting weather patterns that threaten food production, to rising sea levels that increase the risk of catastrophic flooding, the impacts of climate change are global in scope and unprecedented in scale. Without drastic action today, adapting to these impacts in the future will be more difficult and costly.
The human footprint
Greenhouse gases occur naturally and are essential to the survival of humans and millions of other living things. By keeping some of the sun’s warmth from reflecting back into space and making Earth livable, these greenhouse gases can help mitigate climate change with protective measures and plenty of governmental policy changes. 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.
As populations, economies and standards of living grow, so does the cumulative level of greenhouse gas emissions. Knowing this well-established scientific-backed information, the following are the basics:
While it makes common sense to employ climate action solutions and observe statistics throughout the decades, it’s also imperative to set up specific organizations dedicated to positive climate change practices.
Who is at the helm?
The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was set up by the World Meteorological Organization and United Nations Environment to provide an objective source of scientific information. In 2013 the IPCC provided more clarity about the role of human activities in climate change when it released its Fifth Assessment Report. The conclusion in no uncertain terms is that climate change is real and human activities are the main cause.
Factored into the report is a comprehensive assessment of sea level rise, and its causes, over the past few decades. It also estimates cumulative CO2 emissions since pre-industrial times and found that about half of the maximum amount was already emitted by 2011. Given current concentrations and ongoing emissions of greenhouse gases, it’s likely that by the end of the 21st century, global mean temperature will continue to rise above the pre-industrial level. The world’s oceans will warm and ice melt will continue as well.
There is alarming evidence that important tipping points,leading to irreversible changes in major ecosystems and the planetary climate system, may already have been reached or passed. Ecosystems as diverse as the Amazon rainforest and the Arctic tundra, may be approaching thresholds of dramatic change through warming and drying. Mountain glaciers are in alarming retreat and the downstream effects of reduced water supply in the driest months will have repercussions that transcend generations.
These four legal instruments are spearheading climate change:
United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change
The UN family is at the forefront of the effort to save our planet. In 1992, its “Earth Summit” produced the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) as a first step in addressing the climate change problem. Today, it has near-universal membership, with the ultimate aim being to prevent “dangerous” human interference with the climate system.
By 1995, countries launched negotiations to strengthen the global response to climate change, and, two years later, adopted the Kyoto Protocol. The Kyoto Protocol legally binds Parties of developed countries to emission reduction targets. The Protocol’s first commitment period started in 2008 and ended in 2012. The second commitment period began on 1 January 2013 and will end in 2020. There are now 197 Parties to the Convention and 192 Parties to the Kyoto Protocol.
At the 21st Conference of the Parties in Paris in 2015, Parties to the UNFCCC reached a landmark agreement to combat climate change and to accelerate and intensify the actions and investments needed for a sustainable low carbon future. The Paris Agreement builds upon the Convention and – for the first time – brings all nations into a common cause to undertake ambitious efforts to combat climate change and adapt to its effects. The Agreement’s central aim is to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change by keeping the global temperature rise 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.
2019 Climate Action Summit
On September 23, 2019, Secretary-General António Guterres convened a Climate Summit to bring world leaders of governments, the private sector and civil society together to support the multilateral process and to increase and accelerate climate action and ambition. The Summit focused on key sectors where action can make the most difference—heavy industry, nature-based solutions, cities, energy, resilience, and climate finance. World leaders reported on what they are doing, and what more they intend to do when they convene in the following years. There is a boost in momentum, cooperation and ambition, however global populations have a long way to go.
Build up and disseminate greater knowledge
The Nobel Peace Prize was awarded jointly in 2007 to former United States Vice-President Al Gore and IPCC. Both were instrumental in building up and disseminating greater knowledge about man-made climate change, and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change. Then came along Greta Thunberg, TIME magazine’s 2019 Person of the Year and a 2020 Nobel Peace Prize finalist herself.
Greta Thunberg began a global movement by skipping school: starting in August 2018. She spent her days camped out in front of the Swedish Parliament, holding a sign painted in black letters on a white background that read “School Strike for Climate.” In the years since, she has addressed heads of state at the U.N., met with the Pope, sparred with the President of the United States and inspired 4 million people to join the global climate strike on September 20, 2019, in what was the largest climate demonstration in human history.
Greta dislikes crowds, ignores small talk, and speaks in direct, uncomplicated sentences. She cannot be flattered or distracted, and is not impressed by other people’s celebrity, nor does she seem to have interest in her own growing fame. But it is these very qualities that have helped make her a global sensation. Where others speak the language of hope, Greta repeats the unassailable science that the world’s oceans will rise, global cities will flood, and millions of people will suffer.
The Earth's climate has changed significantly over the past century based on extensive research by climate scientists throughout the world. These changes have been outlined in detail in the 'gold standard' of climate research, the International Panel of Climate Change (IPCC) reports.The atmosphere and oceans have warmed as oceans have acidified, sea levels have risen as glaciers and ice sheets have melted, and fragile ecosystems have been disrupted, not to mention our seeing a significant increase in wildfires, air pollution, droughts, heat waves, hurricanes, toxic algal blooms and vector-borne diseases. The best available reports indicate that greenhouse gas emissions from human activities are the main cause, and a continued increase in carbon dioxide and methane will produce further warming and detrimental changes in Earth’s physical environment and ecosystems.
Unless a decisive and comprehensive response is imminent from world leaders, climate change will further negatively impact millions of species, coastlines, forests, food and water security, health, infrastructure, and even our national security. The impacts will vary from one region to another and intensify over time without immediate intervention. If we do not lower our carbon footprint and become carbon neutral in the near future, it is likely that the human-induced component of climate change will exceed the capacity of many countries to adapt, leading to massive suffering, hunger and thirst with malnutrition, acute and chronic disease outbreaks and global climate migration.