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To what extent is environmental catastrophe a threat to the planet, and what measures are being undertaken by world leaders to address this problem.
The earth has without a doubt been heating up ever since the industrial revolution. Recently 2 reports challenged the earth’s temperature increase. Schurer, et al. argued the rise is 1.2° C and Millar, et al. claimed the rise is 0.9°, however what is common is that both figures indicate a positive trend in temperature. Climate change has been a never-ending debate for the past few decades as scientist around the globe have been arguing whether the effects of climate change are severe or insignificant. This essay will be covering the environmental catastrophes and what measures are being taken by world leaders to address this problem. Finally, a conclusion and a brief comment.
Greenhouse Gases (GHG) are now becoming more and more worrying as every year we burn a vastly more fossil fuels than the year before which only increases the amount of GHG like water vapor and CO2. As the GHG are released into the atmosphere they increase overall temperature.(Oreskes, 2004) It is estimated that for every 1 degree increase in temperature caused by enhanced by CO2 levels, rising levels of water vapor will double the global warming, and large concentrations of water vapor will amplify the effects of warming by what is known as a ‘positive feedback loop’. Hence more vapor intensifies the greenhouse effect, increase evaporation, which in turn leads to more atmospheric vapor and more evaporation and more warming and so on. (Climate Change: Vital Signs of the Planet, 2019)
Another significant impacts of climate change are sea level rise. Since 1990 the average rise has been 1.0-2.5mm/year, Recent evidence suggest that this rate has increased to 3.0mm/year. Unfortunately, this trend will increase and continue throughout the 21st century. This issue links to the burning of fossil fuels. As mentioned in the previous paragraph, the more we burn leads to the higher increase in temperature. Now the increase in temperatures lead to the rapid melting of polar ice caps and glaciers. (Lockwood, 2009)
However, some scientists believe that climate change could be due to non- anthropogenic factors. The Milankovitch cycles are climatic shifts that are caused by astronomical events such as changes in the earths tilt axis and orbit. The first point, the axis and tilt, occurs over a period of 40,000 years the earths axial tilt varies from 22 degrees to 24.5 degrees. (Raw et al., 2016) The current tilt is at 23.4 degrees which means seasonal temperature differences are increased, i.e. summers are hotter, and winters are colder, so as a result snow and ice accumulated during winter tend to melt during summer at a rapid rate. This leads to the increase in sea level rise. All these external forces affect the amount of solar radiation reaching the planet surface so as they normally occur over a span of thousands of years the effects are low. (Raw et al., 2016)
As everyone in the world is affected by climate the first initiative must be taken by major organizations with powerful world leaders. The “Earth Summit” in 1992 produced the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to addres addressing the climate change problem. The 197 countries that have ratified the Convention are Parties to the Convention creating a near-universal membership. The mission statement of the agreement is to is to prevent “dangerous” anthropogenic interference with the climate system.
The Kyoto Protocol was applied in 1995, initial countries launched negotiations to strengthen the global response to climate change. The agreement legally binds developed commonwealth Parties to emission reduction targets in which there were 2 commitment periods in which the protocol is to be assessed, the first period started in 2008 and was completed in 2012. The commencement of the 2nd period began on 1 January 2013 and will finish in 2020. At the 21st Conference of the Parties in Paris in 2015, Parties to the UNFCCC reached a landmark agreement to combat climate change and to accelerate and intensify the actions and investments needed for a sustainable low carbon future. (UN.org, 2015). The Paris Agreement sets a precedent and – for the first time – brings all nations onto common ground to undertake quick and effective efforts to combat climate change and adapt to its effects, whilst also giving enhanced support to assist developing countries to do so since they may not be as educated. (Treaties.un.org, 2019) As a result the starting boundaries are created in the global climate effort; There are 2 central aims of the Paris agreement, the first is to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change by keeping the global temperature rise well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and the 2nd is to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius (Climate Change Performance Index, 2019). A staggering 175 world leaders signed the Paris Agreement at United Nations Headquarters in New York on Earth Day, 22 April 2016, which leads to 184 countries that have joined the Paris Agreement. Unfortunately, the USA have withdrawn from the agreement on June 1st 2017. USA being the 2nd largest carbon emitters (12% of carbon emission) in the world (Kinver, 2015) does not facilitate the reduction of emission. And to add salt to the wound it may only make things worse; the US may not follow current climate policies or pursue any emission reduction efforts, and they may even emit more through investment in highly polluting activities. (Duret, 2017) Fortunately, Countries like the United Kingdom, France, Denmark and Sweden, alongside many others, are all working towards cutting carbon emissions by reducing plastic waste and fossil fuel production. (Modak, 2017)
In summary, even though there has been some positive progress on reducing the effects of climate change, the Climate Change Performance Index leaves the top three slots of its rankings blank with a footnote that reads, “None of the countries achieved positions one to three. Not country is doing enough to prevent dangerous climate change” (Climate Change Performance Index, 2019). As global temperatures and sea levels rise and the agricultural patterns, we depend on for sustenance are disrupted, the index is a reminder that no country—not even France or Sweden—is doing everything right. 30 years ago, baby steps were what we needed, now it is time we grow up and start taking the big steps to ensure we do not damage our beautiful planet.
- Un.org. (2015). Climate Change. [online] Available at: https://www.un.org/en/sections/issues-depth/climate-change/
- Treaties.un.org. (2019). UNTC. [online] Available at: https://treaties.un.org/pages/ViewDetails.aspx?src=TREATY&mtdsg_no=XXVII-7-d&chapter=27&clang=_en
- Kinver, M. (2015). What does the climate deal mean for me?. [online] BBC News. Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-35092127
- Schurer, A., Mann, M., Hawkins, E., Tett, S. and Hegerl, G. (2017). Importance of the pre-industrial baseline for likelihood of exceeding Paris goals. Nature Climate Change, 7(8), pp.563-567.
- Millar, R., Fuglestvedt, J., Friedlingstein, P., Rogelj, J., Grubb, M., Matthews, H., Skeie, R., Forster, P., Frame, D. and Allen, M. (2017). Emission budgets and pathways consistent with limiting warming to 1.5 °C. Nature Geoscience, 10(10), pp.741-747.
- Raw, M., Barker, D., Harris, H., Palmer, A. and Stiff, P. (2016). OCR A2 geography 2nd edition. Deddington: Hodder education, pp.290-333.
- Duret, C. (2017). Paris Agreement: Success or Failure, and What Next? – Climatica. [online] Climatica. Available at: http://climatica.org.uk/paris-agreement-success-failure-next [Accessed 27 Jun. 2019].
- Modak, S. (2017). 10 Countries Doing the Most to Fight Climate Change. [online] Condé Nast Traveler. Available at: https://www.cntraveler.com/gallery/countries-doing-the-most-to-fight-climate-change [Accessed 28 Jun. 2019].
- Climate Change Performance Index. (2019). Climate Change Performance Index. [online] Available at: https://www.climate-change-performance-index.org/ [Accessed 28 Jun. 2019].
- Oreskes,N. ”The Scientific Consensus on Climate Change,” Science 3 December 2004: Vol. 306 no. 5702 p. 1686 DOI: 10.1126/science.1103618
- Climate Change: Vital Signs of the Planet. (2019). The Causes of Climate Change. [online] Available at: https://climate.nasa.gov/causes/ [Accessed 28 Jun. 2019].
- Lockwood, M. “Solar Change and Climate: an update in the light of the current exceptional solar minimum,”Proceedings of the Royal Society A, 2 December 2009, doi 10.1098/rspa.2009.0519;
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