What is Climate Change and How Can it Affect Us?

Climate Change is a complex and interconnected set of global environmental phenomena. It involves temperature rise, changes in sea level and weather patterns like droughts and floods. These phenomena affect all areas of the planet and are having profound impacts on people, wildlife and the things we value—like food, water, jobs, and natural habitats.

Human activities are driving Earth’s climate changes. These include burning fossil fuels (oil, gas and coal) that release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, deforestation, and agricultural land conversion to cities and other built up areas.

These greenhouse gases trap the sun’s heat in the atmosphere, blocking it from escaping into space and warming Earth. Climate change is already causing glaciers and ice sheets to melt, ocean levels to rise, river and lake ice to break up earlier in the year, and plants and animals to move their geographic ranges closer together.

Some of these changes are happening very fast, compared to other natural variations in Earth’s climate. Scientists are confident that the rapid warming we’ve seen in recent decades is due to human activities, and not natural causes. In fact, in its 2013 Fifth Assessment Report, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said that there is an “extremely high” probability that more than half of observed warming since 1951 is due to human activities.

The IPCC report also found that if humans continue to increase greenhouse gas emissions as we have been doing, it’s very likely that the planet will warm much more than 1.5 degrees Celsius, which scientists say is needed to prevent serious harm. “It’s not a cliff that we fall off of—that would be a very bad thing, but it is prudent to plan for a future with 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming,” Mukherji says.

But the good news is that there are ways to slow down and even reverse climate change. For example, by switching to clean energy sources.

We’ve come a long way over the past few decades, but we still have work to do. To reduce the risks, we need to reduce our emissions as quickly as possible—ideally by getting to net zero carbon. That means cutting all fossil fuel use and removing carbon from the atmosphere.

This can only happen if the world’s governments follow through on their commitments to limit warming to 2 degrees Celsius or less, and if they provide adequate funding to help poorer countries make the transition. This funding needs to be three- to six times higher than what is currently available, and should also include an ongoing fund for damage compensation. This will enable developing nations to invest in low-carbon development while protecting their citizens from the harmful effects of climate change. If these goals aren’t met, the world will experience even more extreme weather, with potentially catastrophic consequences for human lives and ecosystems. Fabiano Maisonnave, Reuters, 2019

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