The climate of a region or city is its typical or average weather. For example, the climate of Hawaii is sunny and warm. But the climate of Antarctica is freezing cold. Earth’s climate is the average of all the world’s regional climates.
Climate change, therefore, is a change in the typical or average weather of a region or city. This could be a change in a region’s average annual rainfall, for example. Or it could be a change in a city’s average temperature for a given month or season.
Climate change is also a change in Earth’s overall climate. This could be a change in Earth’s average temperature, for example. Or it could be a change in Earth’s typical precipitation patterns
Is Earth’s Climate Changing?
Earth’s climate is always changing. In the past, Earth’s climate has gone through warmer and cooler periods, each lasting thousands of years.
Observations show that Earth’s climate has been warming. Its average temperature has risen a little more than one degree Fahrenheit during the past 100 years or so. This amount may not seem like much. But small changes in Earth’s average temperature can lead to big impacts.
What Is Causing Earth’s
Climate to Change?
Some causes of climate change are natural. These include changes in Earth’s orbit and in the amount of energy coming from the sun. Ocean changes and volcanic eruptions are also natural causes of climate change.
Most scientists think that recent warming can’t be explained by nature alone. Most scientists say it’s very likely that most of the warming since the mid-1900s is due to the burning of coal, oil and gas. Burning these fuels is how we produce most of the energy that we use every day. This burning adds heat-trapping gases, such as carbon dioxide, into the air. These gases are called greenhouse gases.
Is the Forecast for Earth’s Climate?
Scientists use climate models to predict how Earth’s climate will change. Climate models are computer programs with mathematical equations. They are programmed to simulate past climate as accurately as possible. This gives scientists some confidence in a climate model’s ability to predict the future.
Climate models predict that Earth’s average temperature will keep rising over the next 100 years or so. There may be a year or years where Earth’s average temperature is steady or even falls. But the overall trend is expected to be up.
Earth’s average temperature is expected to rise even if the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere decreases. But the rise would be less than if greenhouse gas amounts remain the same or increase.
What Is the Impact of Earth’s Warming Climate?
Some impacts already are occurring. For example, sea levels are rising, and snow and ice cover is decreasing. Rainfall patterns and growing seasons are changing.
Further sea-level rise and melting of snow and ice are likely as Earth warms. The warming climate likely will cause more floods, droughts and heat waves. The heat waves may get hotter, and hurricanes may get stronger.
What Is the Difference Between “Climate Change” and “Global Warming”?
“Global warming” refers to the long-term increase in Earth’s average temperature.
“Climate change” refers to any long-term change in Earth’s climate, or in the climate of a region or city. This includes warming, cooling and changes besides temperature.
How Does NASA Study Climate Change?
Some NASA satellites and instruments observe Earth’s land, air, water and ice. Others monitor the sun and the amount of energy coming from it. Together, these observations are important for knowing the past and present state of Earth’s climate. They are important for understanding how Earth’s climate works. And they are important for predicting future climate change.
What Is Being Done About Climate Change?
The United States and other countries are taking steps to limit or reduce greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. These steps include using energy more efficiently and using more clean energy. Clean energy is energy that puts less or no greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. The sun, wind and water are sources of clean energy.
Many nations, states and communities are planning for climate change impacts that may be unavoidable. For example, some coastal areas are planning for flooding and land loss that may result from rising sea levels.
What Can You Do to Help?
You can help by using less energy and water. For example, turn off lights and TVs when you leave a room. And turn off the water when brushing your teeth. You can help by planting trees, which absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
Another way to help is by learning about Earth and its climate. The more you know about how Earth’s climate works, the more you’ll be able to help solve problems related to climate change.
Causes of climate change
The current climate change is linked mostly to greenhouse gas emissions resulting from human activities. These emissions of anthropogenic origin are by themselves responsible for more than 3/4 of the carbon dioxide (CO2). The consumption of fossil fuels (energy production, fuel for vehicles, home heating, industry) is by far the most incriminating factor. But we should not forget that changes in land use, including deforestation, occupy second place in term of responsibility for the worldwide increase in greenhouse gas emissions (17% of global emissions).
The effects of climate change: the unequal distribution of the impact
Global warming introduces an
additional factor of inequality and disparity between the different
geographical regions of the planet. The populations of the world’s poorest
countries are more vulnerable when faced with the effects of climate change
even though they are less responsible for it. The developing countries
are not able to protect themselves against the impact of this phenomenon nor
adjust to it. Climate change increases the precarious situation of the
poorest populations (food security, access to health care, water and energy,
housing…), widening even further the socio-economic divide between the North
and the South.
Because of their location, their low incomes, the insufficiency of their resources and institutional capacities, and because they mostly count on climate dependent sectors like agriculture, populations of the poorest countries are the first victims of current and future climatic changes.
Climate change : impact on Pakistan
Massive flooding displacing millions, prolonged heat waves with temperatures averaging above 38 degrees centigrade, ravaging hurricanes and deluges caused by excessive rainfall. (2015)
These are not exceptional catastrophes but have been continuous in their pattern. According to the Climate Risk Index 2015 prepared by German watch between 1994 and 2013, more than 530,000 people have died worldwide and losses worth $2.17 trillion (purchasing power parity) were inflicted as a direct result of over 15,000 extreme weather events.
6 billion $ loss by climate change
With rising population already feeding on scarce resources, the climate change time bomb is ticking for the country. Temperatures in northernPakistan have already been estimated to have increased by 1.9 degrees centigrade in the past century and resultantly, glacial cover in Pakistan is on the decline.
The latter is pivotal to feeding water to the Indus which through its tributaries irrigates the rest of the country. Year after year Pakistan faces huge economic costs in terms of damage to property and infrastructure, agricultural productivity losses and rebuilding and rehabilitation costs of those afflicted by environmental disasters.
Environmental protection and global response
The issue of environmental protection is critical and was first recognised as a problem of pertinent importance when the first World Climate Conference was held in 1979. More recently, it has been regarded as an issue of grave concern and became the subject of the recent 21st Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change from November 30 to December 11, 2015.
Policymakers of more than 190 countries in the world attended the conference and have pressed for the rise in global temperatures to remain below two degrees centigrade. This goal is imperative since it signifies the highest possible rise in global temperatures from pre-industrial levels that the world can afford to achieve a 50 percent chance of avoiding the worst effects of climate change.
Global temperatures have consistently risen due to production of greenhouse gases. According to World Bank data on CO2 emissions, from 2011-15 United States and China have remained as the top producers of carbon emissions standing at 5.3 million and 9 million tons respectively.
Pakistan has produced 0.2 million metric tons. Although Pakistan has been a low producer of greenhouse gases, yet it has been one of the worst affected countries due to global warming. Even after having been consistently affected by climate exigencies year after year, its response to solve the issue has remained lacklustre.
Unfortunately, we have not even crossed the first step; immediate recognition of climate risk and environmental protection as an issue of critical concern remains absent from the policy landscape.
Steps to be taken
Promoting solar power, improving energy efficiency and adding to forest cover are some of the steps that can be taken by Pakistan to protect its environment.
In this context, the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa government’s Billion Tree Tsunami programme should be applauded as an effort toward to protect forest cover and should motivate other provincial governments to take concerted efforts in protecting their forests.
However, even this measure has become a victim of political bargaining and received no mention from our premier at the recent climate change conference.
The first step towards reducing carbon emissions and protecting the shared global environment should come from industrialised nations which are large producers of greenhouse gases. Sizable investments are required to significantly reduce emissions particularly in sectors that emit large magnitude greenhouse gases.
Our Earth is warming. Earth’s average temperature has risen by 1.5°F over the past century, and is projected to rise another 0.5 to 8.6°F over the next hundred years. Small changes in the average temperature of the planet can translate to large and potentially dangerous shifts in climate and weather.
The primary impact: Earth’s water systems thrown off balance
Photo credit: NOAA
Hurricane Katrina, a massive Category 5 storm, caused widespread destruction in 2005.
Emissions of heat-trapping gases from human activity—especially the burning of fossil fuels for energy—cause our atmosphere to heat up.
This atmospheric heating unleashes a torrent of rapid changes to the way water systems typically function on our planet.
- Weather of all kinds is getting more extreme: The increased evaporation of water is like fuel for storms, exacerbating extreme weather events, such as hurricanes. Rising sea levels make coastal flooding events worse. In more naturally arid areas, droughts and wildfires intensify.
- The oceans are getting hotter, expanding, and becoming more acidic: The oceans are getting hotter, because they soak up 90% of the extra heat in the atmosphere. This causes the oceans to expand, and this also contributes to higher sea levels. Meanwhile, the increased concentration of carbon dioxide in the ocean triggers a chemistry change that makes the water more acidic. The ocean is almost 40% more acidic than it used to be.
- Climate change is a major threat to agriculture: The toll that climate change takes on agriculture is nearly incalcuable, and as a result, our food security is at risk. All over the world, farmers are struggling to keep up with shifting weather and increasingly unpredictable water supplies. Farmers also must contend with unexpected attacks from weeds, diseases and pests, which affect yield.
- Warmer, polluted air affects our health: A warmer atmosphere increases chemical reactions that form ground-level ozone, also known as smog. Smog is a well-known lung irritant and a major trigger of asthma attacks. Smoke from wildfires further degrade the air. Extreme summer heat will mean more deaths during heat waves, and warmer freshwater makes it easier for pathogens to grow and contaminate drinking water.
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The Kyoto Protocol is an international treaty which extends the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) that commits State Parties to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, based on the premise that (a) global warming exists and (b) human-made CO2 emissions have caused it. The Kyoto Protocol was adopted in Kyoto, Japan, on 11 December 1997 and entered into force on 16 February 2005. There are currently 192 parties (Canada withdrew effective December 2012) to the Protocol.
The Kyoto Protocol implemented the objective of the UNFCCC to fight global warming by reducing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere to “a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system” (Art. 2). The Protocol is based on the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities: it puts the obligation to reduce current emissions on developed countries on the basis that they are historically responsible for the current levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Negotiations were held in the framework of the yearly UNFCCC Climate Change Conferences on measures to be taken after the second commitment period ends in 2020. This resulted in the 2015 adoption of the Paris Agreement, which is a separate instrument under the UNFCCC rather than an amendment of the Kyoto protocol.
0.4 and 0.8 °C over the past 100 years. The increased volumes of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases released by the burning of fossil fuels, land clearing, agriculture, and other human activities, are believed to be the primary sources of the global warming that has occurred over the past 50 years. Scientists from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate carrying out global warming research have recently predicted that average global temperatures could increase between 1.4 and 5.8 °C by the year 2100.
The Copenhagen Agreement is a document that delegates at the 15th session of the Conference of Parties (COP 15) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change agreed to “take note of” at the final plenary on 18 December 2009.
- Endorses the continuation of the Kyoto Protocol.
- Underlines that climate change is one of the greatest challenges of our time and emphasises a “strong political will to urgently combat climate change in accordance with the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities”
- To prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system, recognizes “the scientific view that the increase in global temperature should be below 2 degrees Celsius”, in a context of sustainable development, to combat climate change
- Recognizes “the critical impacts of climate change and the potential impacts of response measures on countries particularly vulnerable to its adverse effects” and stresses “the need to establish a comprehensive adaptation programme including international support”
- Recognizes that “deep cuts in global emissions are required according to science” (IPCC AR4) and agrees cooperation in peaking (stopping from rising) global and national greenhouse gas emissions “as soon as possible” and that “a low-emission development strategy is indispensable to sustainable development”
- States that “enhanced action and international cooperation on adaptation is urgently required to… reduc[e] vulnerability and build.. resilience in developing countries, especially in those that are particularly vulnerable, especially least developed countries (LDCs), small island developing states (SIDS) and Africa” and agrees that “developed countries shall provide adequate, predictable and sustainable financial resources, technology and capacity-building to support the implementation of adaptation action in developing countries”
To date, countries representing over 80% of global emissions have engaged with the Copenhagen Accord. 31 January 2010 was an initial deadline set under the Accord for countries to submit emissions reductions targets, however UNFCCC Secretary Yvo De Boer later clarified that this was a “soft deadline.” Countries continue to submit pledges past this deadline. A selection of reduction targets is shown below. All are for the year 2020.
Compared to 1990:
- EU: 20% – 30%
- Japan: 25%
- Russia: 15% – 25%
- Ukraine: 20%
Compared to 2000:
- Australia: 5% – 25%
Compared to 2005:
- Canada: 17%
- US: 17%
Compared to business as usual:
- Brazil: 36.1% – 38.9%
- Indonesia: 26%
- Mexico: 30%
- South Africa: 34%
- South Korea: 30%
Carbon intensity compared to 2005:
- China: 40% – 45%
- India: 20% – 25%
China also promised to increase the share of non-fossil fuels in primary energy consumption to around 15% by 2020, and increase forest coverage by 40 million hectares and forest stock volume by 1.3 billion cubic meters by 2020 from the 2005 levels
- The main objective of the annual Conference of Parties (COP) is to review the Convention’s implementation. The first COP took place in Berlin in 1995 and significant meetings since then have included COP3 where the Kyoto Protocol was adopted, COP11 where the Montreal Action Plan was produced, COP15 in Copenhagen where an agreement to success Kyoto Protocol was unfortunately not realised and COP17 in Durban where the Green Climate Fund was created.
- In 2015 COP21, also known as the 2015 Paris Climate Conference, will, for the first time in over 20 years of UN negotiations, aim to achieve a legally binding and universal agreement on climate, with the aim of keeping global warming below 2°C.
- France will play a leading international role in hosting this seminal conference, and COP21 will be one of the largest international conferences ever held in the country. The conference is expected to attract close to 50,000 participants including 25,000 official delegates from government, intergovernmental organisations, UN agencies, NGOs and civil society.
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