Climate Change: So What’s the Big Deal?


May 12, 2013 07:02 EDT

As the last significant climate change conference took place six months ago, it is essential to observe developments and create awareness about the issue.


It was not until after the efforts of a few highly committed scientists in the 1950s and 1960s, such as Hubert Lamb in England and J. Murray Mitchell in the US, that climate change was accepted as a scientific concept. Today, however, the issue is no longer about finding proof, but solutions.

At the simplest level, we can define weather as what is happening to the atmosphere at any given time, while climate is what would be expected to occur at any given time of the year based on statistics built up over a long period of time. This difference between meteorological studies, climate studies, and climate change studies is important as this can lead to misinterpretations of evidence and can generate uncertainty.

In 2007, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon said that climate change was potentially more dangerous than all world conflicts put together. This is likely because climate change acts as a threat multiplier, meaning it will affect not only the environment, but also security in volatile regions, accelerating global instability.

At present, energy is largely derived from burning fossil fuels (oil, gas and coal), which results in the emission of greenhouse gases(GHG),and particularly carbon dioxide (CO²).

Electricity generation, transport, heating, industry, waste, agriculture, and changes in land-use all generate GHGs. Increasing emissions of GHGs heighten global warming and the risk of drastic climate change. Scientists researching Antarctic ice cores have discovered that CO² levels are now extremely high compared to those over the past 400,000 years. This increase has contributed to a rise in global temperature by an average of 0.74 degrees Celsius between 1906 and 2005.

The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) forecasted a further increase in average global temperatures of between 1° and 6° Celsius by 2100, which may result in a considerable rise in sea levels. How high the sea will rise is uncertain. Conventional projections show an upper level of just over 0.5m by 2100.

However, sea levels appear to be rising faster than initially expected, and with potential large-scale releases from Antarctica and Greenland, upper levels may be much higher than 0.5m by 2100. An even greater rise in sea-levels is possible if the Greenland ice cap melts completely.

Developing countries contribute less to global warming than developed countries. They only generate about 25% of the per capita emissions of developed countries. However, the population in developing countries is most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, such as coastal storms, flooding, inundation, erosion, and saltwater intrusion that pollutes freshwater supplies.

Furthermore, the effects of climate change increase the risks and vulnerabilities of urban areas. Increasing global temperatures will cause extreme weather episodes such as heat waves, flooding, and extreme storms. Monsoon patterns in Asia may be disrupted if precipitation takes place out at sea instead of over the continent. Cities on floodplains or coastlines are exposed to a higher risk of flooding, and rising sea levels will impact them enormously as a result.

The uneven distribution of emissions is one of the core issues and challenges for the international community in attempting to find effective and just solutions. Emissions from the least developed countries were less than 1% of the global total in 2005 (Data: 2012).

Even if it takes some years for the total emissions of developing countries to match those of developed nations, the situation is so critical that all possible measures should be considered to assist developing countries in adopting new ‘leap-frog’ technologies and sustainable planning alternatives to limit their increase in emissions.

There are two main ways to address the impacts of climate change:

  • Mitigation — or proactive measures to cut GHG emissions — to reduce the rate of the global temperature increase, and thus reduce climate change risks.
  • Adaptation, or adjusting natural and human systems to cope with changing environmental conditions. Adaptive measures can reduce both impacts and vulnerability.

Why is Climate Change Relevant?

A new perspective on Climate Change is needed to create synergies between threats and opportunities. Generally, this urgent challenge represents a huge potential for behavioural change, and thus could be turned into an opportunity. This opportunity must be exploited by all sectors, from the urban development sector, to the energy, governance, research and development (R&D), and academia sectors, as well as all the way up to the corporate sector, and to everyone’s simplest daily routine arrangements.

The opportunity is to be seen in development approaches for developing countries (such as countries in the East Asia Pacific), as well as changes in living patterns in developed countries.

The new focus is on renewable energies, eco-cities, smart cities, and symbio-cities. The time has come to think outside the box and face the challenge with real solutions.

Climate change is shaping our world and it will increasingly influence energy and economic policy for current and future generations. The media have difficulty keeping the issue on the front page, as it does not affect every country on a daily basis, while its inherent complexity makes it a never-ending story. In order to avoid a political and societal vacuum on climate change, which is filled with related issues just when catastrophic events take place, it is essential to observe developments and create awareness about the topic.

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