Climate Change: Causes, Challenges, and Response
What is Climate Change?
Climate change is a broad term used to refer to changes in the Earth’s climates, at local, regional, or global scales, and can also refer to the effects of these changes. In recent decades, the term ‘climate change is most often used to describe changes in the Earth’s climate, driven primarily by human activity, particularly the burning of fossil fuels and removal of forests, resulting in a relatively rapid increase in carbon dioxide concentration in the Earth’s atmosphere.
What is Global Warming?
Global warming, a term often used interchangeably with climate change, refers to the rise in average global temperatures, which is linked to significant impacts on humans, wildlife, and ecosystems around the world. Because there are more factors and impacts than only rising surface temperatures, the term climate change is used to include these additional impacts.
How Serious is the Threat?
Climate change is a reality unfolding gradually but surely. Not only the frequency and virulence of the extreme meteorological phenomena are increasing but it is becoming more persistent due to the unprecedented speed with which it has unfolded. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), since 1880, the average global temperature has increased by 0.85°C, sea levels have risen by 19cm and the Arctic has lost 1.07 million km2 of ice per decade. As per the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO), the five-year period 2015–2020 was the hottest of all time.
Climate Change is affecting millions of people across the world, especially the most vulnerable by causing material damage and population displacement. According to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC), natural disasters led to the internal displacement of 17.2 million people in 2018.
What are the causes of Climate Change?
Well, the climate of our planet has changed throughout its life, through natural causes which can be measured in hundreds and even millions of years. Several areas have been researched over the years including anthropogenic global warming (AGW) which puts a lot of blame on man-made emissions for this. However, others do not claim that man-made emissions are a major cause of climate change. Each theory is plausible and sheds light on some likely causative factors for climate change. Some of these are as follows
1. Planetary motion-The Milankovitch Theory.
According to Milutin Milanković, Serbian geophysics, there is strong scientific evidence that natural gravitational and magnetic oscillations of the solar system induced by the planet’s movement through space drive climate change. Simply put, these changes in the Earth’s orbit mean that the distance between the planet and the sun changes. These small changes in distance happen over a very long period and this, in turn, affects the amount of solar radiation that reaches Earth.
Milankovitch theorised that the last ice age ended about 12,000 years ago. And the next ‘cooling cycle’ may occur in about 30,000 years. A natural cause of climate change; is just global cooling rather than global warming.
In 1978, a scientific study of deep-sea sediment cores found that the predictions made by Milankovitch did indeed correspond with periods of considerable climate change over the past 450,000 years.
2. Solar variability-The Sun Spots Theory
It is widely accepted that the fluctuations in the output of radiation from the sun are connected to climate change. As per this theory, changes in the coronal ejections and magnetic fields of the sun cause changes in cloud formation, ocean currents, and wind that cause the climate to change.
Climate scientists agree that the sun follows an 11-year cycle. An increase in sunspots (which come and go) is associated with increased solar output. It has been calculated that at the height of an 11-year cycle, the global temperature rises by approximately 0.4%.
Between around 1650–1850, there were sustained periods of solar inactivity, which, mixed with other natural reasons, caused the average temperature on the earth to drop. This is known as the “Little Ice Age.” During this time a grand minimum (Maunder Minimum) occurred where there were very few sunspots. Scientists have investigated the effects of another grand minimum, suggesting it could cool the planet by up to 0.3oC. This would not reverse human-caused global warming, merely slow it down and briefly offset it.
3. Cloud formation and albedo/El Niño–La Niña cycle.
According to this theory, changes in the formation and albedo of clouds create negative feedbacks that cancel out all or nearly all of the warming effect of higher levels of CO2. Some changes occur to the earth’s climate that have no external trigger. These types of changes are caused by factors and interactions with the climate system itself. One example of this phenomenon is the El Niño–La Niña cycle.
El Niño raises the global temperature, while its ‘partner influencer’, La Niña, reduces it. The cycle repeats approximately every 5 years. The effects are short-term, however, lasting just a few years.
4. Asteroids-The Dinosaurs Extinction Theory
There is an indirect link between falling asteroids and climate change. When an asteroid strikes the earth, dust and debris particles are thrown into the upper atmosphere. With the sun’s rays blocked, causing the insulation to be reduced and the climate cools. This happens because energy from the sun is bounced back into space instead of coming straight through and warming the planet. The effect of this is immediate and quite profound; this is what happened to the dinosaurs 66 million years ago!
Luckily, the chances of asteroids of that size striking earth are slim. However, it has been suggested that our planet, every once in a while, passes through areas of space that contain pockets of asteroids that could also have had a significant impact on Earth’s climate.
5. Volcanic Activity
Although available evidence strongly suggests a strong relationship between volcanic activity and climate change, the amounts produced by volcanoes are far less than those caused by anthropogenic (something that has come from or been caused by people) emissions. Adding up all emissions produced by volcanic eruptions, scientists estimated about 0.645 billion tonnes of CO2 is emitted per year, contributing to climate change. A seemingly tiny number compared to the 43.1 billion tonnes of CO2 produced by human activity in 2019.
Interestingly, volcanoes have a mixed effect on our climate. Eruptions emit the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO2) which causes global warming, but they also emit aerosol particles such as sulfur dioxide known to be reflective and can block the region of 5 to 10 percent of the sun’s warming energy.
6. Ocean currents
Some scientific studies have proved that global temperature variations over the past century-and-a-half and particularly the past 30 years were due to the slow-down of the ocean’s Thermohaline Circulation (THC).
According to this theory, rising temperatures and levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere trigger biological and chemical responses that have a cooling effect, like a natural thermostat.
It is important to note that warming is not spread evenly in the Earth’s atmosphere. Scientists at NASA have observed that the lower layers of the atmosphere have been warming while the upper layers have been cooling. This is in line with an increased greenhouse effect. Therein the problem lies. The increased solar output does not take sides. It has the effect of warming all atmospheric layers, and not just the lower.
MITIGATING AND ADAPTING TO CLIMATE CHANGE
While all the above-mentioned causes of Climate Change involve nature at work, we should not ignore Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW). Human actions particularly man-made emissions are a major cause of climate change. No doubt, climate change is a natural phenomenon causing a threat to the future of our planet, but there are multiple ways in which humans are increasingly influencing the climate and the earth’s temperature by burning fossil fuels, cutting down forests, livestock farming, burning wheat/rice stubbles, brick kilns, etc.
There is strong consensus among scientists, representing 97% of actively publishing climate scientists, that human influence has been the dominant cause of observed warming trends since the 20th century. The concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has risen from hovering around 280 parts per million (ppm) in pre-Industrial time to 413 ppm as of early 2020. This concentration of carbon dioxide is unprecedented in recorded history. Scientists have reported that we need to return to a ‘safe’ concentration of 350 ppm by 2100 to stabilize global warming.
How we can meet this challenge?
There are five levels of action needed
1. Public policy(state)
2. Corporate Policy(private sector)
3. Social level(Society)
5. Global level(UNO plus other state and non-state entities like NGOs)
In every country, the state influences human activities by taking or not taking actions in its three historical roles namely regulative, facilitative, and service provision. Thus, acting as a regulator, the state should formulate a long-term vision of what it wants to do with the rising threat of climate change, provide a comprehensive legal/regulatory framework to indicate how it intends to tackle it, and create the necessary institutional mechanism to implement it. Of course, this regulatory framework would have adequate incentives and rewards for those who comply while prescribing punishments to those who resist it through tax and non-tax measures
Similarly, acting as a facilitator, the state should not only create capacity among the stakeholders but also provide facilities for them to cope with the threat. Besides providing tax and non-tax concessions to the corporate sector to incentivize them to adopt eco-friendly manufacturing practices, the state can allocate resources for creating and strengthening institutions to help the private sector and civil society in their endeavors
Lastly, in its capacity as the service provider of the last resort, if the state realizes that the private sector and the civil society are not adequately responding to the challenges posed by climate change, it could enter the field in two ways. It could either start eco-friendly projects itself or enter into a public-private partnership to do so such as public transport, energy generation, waste management, smart cities,
Some of the areas in the state that can perform their role as a regulator, facilitators, and service providers to effectively tackle the threats posed by climate change are as follows
- Setting goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. implement policies that advance the goals of the Paris Agreement — at least a 26–28% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions below 2005 levels by 2025
- Legislation to ramp up renewable energy. Clean energy is essential to reducing pollution and creating jobs; increase the amount of electricity it gets from renewable sources to 50% by 2030.
- Push for better energy efficiency. Homes and commercial buildings account for 40% of total energy use which makes energy efficiency a crucial part of any plan to mitigate climate change, Established standards that will improve the energy performance of large commercial buildings.
- Policies for Zero-Emission Vehicles. Lead the nation in reducing passenger vehicle emissions, the largest source of emissions in the transportation sector. Require auto manufacturers to make electric vehicles, and provide rebates to people who install a new electric vehicle charging system, or upgrade existing systems.
- Regulations to cut harmful air pollutants. Although pollution from carbon dioxide receives the most attention, short-lived climate pollutants, such as black carbon, methane, and hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), also pose key challenges to climate and health. Limit methane leaks from natural gas infrastructure and landfills, prohibit the use of harmful HFCs
- Create financing opportunities for clean energy and resilient communities. Make investments for safeguarding residents, municipalities, and businesses from the impacts of climate change, as well as protecting environmental resources and improving recreational opportunities.
- Develop special tools and resources to help the state address climate change. To track their progress on climate action — and assess the risks from impacts — states need special tools and resources. Develop a Greenhouse Gas Inventory, which tracks and projects future emissions. Create websites to help coastal communities manage challenges from climate impacts, such as rising sea levels.
B. Corporate sector
Some of the ways the private sector can help the state and society in appropriately responding to the climate change challenge are by
- Attracting customers toward the use of renewable resources through marketing strategies
- improving energy efficiency and opting for renewable energy over fossil fuels.
- Promoting ecological industry, agriculture, fishing, and livestock farming, food sustainability, responsible consumption,
- Adopting the 3Rs rule (reduce, reuse, recycle).
- Erecting buildings and infrastructure that are safer and more sustainable.
C. Society level
While the state and the private sector can do a lot in responding to the challenge of Climate Change, all their actions come to naught if the society at large is not cooperating with them wholeheartedly. Some of the ways, it can respond is
- Organizing awareness campaigns regarding the threat of global warming to pressurize your governments to take action
- Take practical measures at the community level for climate change such as promoting public transport and sustainable mobility by increasing the number of journeys in towns by bicycle, reducing the number of flights, and taking more trips by train or in shared cars.
- The reduction in livestock farming will have a positive effect on reforestation, freeing up more land for the cultivation of food for human consumption.
- We will live in houses fed by renewable energy and scarcely any concrete buildings will be built. There will be fewer parking zones in our streets and more urban allotments, parks, and gardens. houses fed by renewable energy and scarcely any concrete buildings will be built. Commitment:
In the ultimate analysis, it is the individual who is going to be affected by climate change. We should therefore try to meet this challenge at the individual level by
- Take action at personal and family level-energy saving, recycling, re-using,
- sharing more goods and services, purchasing less and reusing more, and recycling almost everything. No Single-use plastics and packaging should be easier to sort and recycle.
- eat fruit and vegetables, while meat, dairy, and fish should no longer be staples in our diet.
- choose to walk, travel by bike or use public transport to save time and improve our quality of life through a reduction in noise and traffic jams.
E. Global level
Needless to emphasize, climate change is a global crisis and thus needs action at the global level-adaptation and mitigation through cooperation in R & D, sharing, and helping. There is still time for us to adopt all the adaptive and mitigation measures to ensure a decent quality of life in harsh times coming. Policies on adapting to climate change will help us withstand the consequences of global warming.
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