Anthropogenic climate change

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Anthropogenic climate change is a phenomenon that has received much scope in the last few decades, and for good reason. Since the renowned studies carried out by Dr. Rowland and Dr. Molina, which began in the 1970s on Ozone depletion, due to the consequence of atmospheric propagation of greenhouse gases reaching the stratosphere i.e. Chlorofluorocarbons (CFC) by anthropogenic activity, subsequent studies have revealed that human activity is causing the planet's atmospheric and surface temperatures to rise and may also be a contributor towards climate shift, due by and large by the release of carbon dioxide, methane and other greenhouse particulates and gases in to the atmosphere. The effects of climate shift include severe weather conditions, receding glaciers, rising sea levels and drought, with the poorest countries being affected most.

Since the introduction of the Kyoto Protocol, introduced in 1997, the UK government is committed to the agreement to reduce UK carbon emission by 60% by the year 2050. It has been suggested that the 21 million homes in the UK account for around a quarter of the total carbon emissions into the atmosphere. With the current government's indication to increase the number of dwellings to 3 million by the year 2020 due to the rising population, a greater effort is needed to reduce carbon emissions within the housing sector; a drive that will aid the UK Government's long-term commitment to the Kyoto Protocol.

The government is responding to the challenge quite firmly and has set out strict targets to reduce energy use in new dwellings. To implement such a monumental task, the government has put in place a scheme called the Code for Sustainable Homes, which sets out criteria for reducing energy for all new dwellings. Gordon Brown's Government's main objective is for all new dwellings to be Zero-Carbon by 2016.

Problem Specification

Since the Industrial revolution in the late 18th century, greenhouse gas emissions have increased considerably. Scientists have observed that a third of the Sun's energy that is directed towards the outer extremities of the Earth's atmosphere is reflected back into space, whilst the rest of the energy is absorbed by the surface of the planet and to a lesser extent by the planet's atmosphere.

Anthropogenic influence upon climate change is partly caused by the escalation of excess greenhouse gases emitted in to the atmosphere, such as carbon dioxide, principally influenced by the burning of fossil fuels. The effects of climate shift include severe weather conditions, receding glaciers, rising sea levels and drought, with the poorest countries being affected the most.

The problem scientists have determined is that the sun radiates tremendous amounts of light energy, emitted in short wavelengths, however the heat energy released from the planet itself is released in long wavelengths. Whilst carbon dioxide does not absorb the sun's energy, it does however absorb heat energy from the planet. Therefore when a molecule of carbon dioxide absorbs heat energy, it goes into an excited unstable state. The molecule becomes stable again by releasing the energy that is absorbed. Therefore much of this energy remains within the earth's atmosphere, whilst the rest of the energy will go out into space. Carbon dioxide therefore allows the light energy from the sun to pass but does not allow all of the heat within the earth's atmosphere to be released into to outer space, thus intensifying the greenhouse effect. Ultimately causing the temperature of the planet to rise.

Illustration courtesy of www.dinosaurfact.net

Pro-Active Response to the Problem

In response to the Kyoto Protocol's commitments to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, the UK must reduce it's baseline greenhouse gas emissions by 12.5% by 2008 - 2012 from a baseline target set in 1990. Furthermore, the draft Climate Change Bill commits the UK to reductions of C02 emissions of at least 26% by the year 2020 and also to a long-term goal of an 80% reduction by 2050 (Energy Saving Trust)

Housing within the UK contributes significantly to greenhouse gas emissions. The UK's 21million homes account for around 27% of the overall carbon emissions released in to the atmosphere (Skandamoorthy, J., 2007) and with the current Government's promise to construct 3 million homes by the year 2020, the need to address the carbon situation within the housing sector is of paramount importance (BBC News, 2007. New agency to drive home building)

Traditionally in the past the construction industry has had little regard for the environment, which makes common ground for producing buildings without energy efficiency in mind. It is only until recent times has the consumption of energy been an important agenda in the house building industry, as advancements in energy efficiency playing an important role in the design of buildings built today, due to the crucial role being played by the stringent building regulations, pushing the boundaries further to make buildings more energy efficient.

In response to the current situation with regards to reducing carbon emissions within the housing industry the government introduced in 2006 the Code for Sustainable Homes (CSH) scheme. The code aims to deliver a standard guideline for house builders in the UK and addresses key areas of sustainability such as water use and C02 emissions in house building and use. The Government has indicated that the code will become the single national standard for the design and construction of sustainable homes and is set to become a vehicle for sustainable home building practice (Code for Sustainable Homes, 1997)

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