The last ten years have been punctuated by a series of deadly, startling, devastating events. Hurricanes like Sandy, Maria and cyclones like Fani, Amphan fundamentally changed the communities they barrel into leaving scars that are yet to heal. Intense heatwaves such as the Bihar heatwave 2019 has forced communities across the country and world into dangerous swelters. Wildfires such as the Los Angeles wildfires tore off many thousands of acres into a flash. Climate records fell left and right. Hottest ever year for the planet’s atmosphere? Check. Hottest ever year for oceans? Also, check. Puny unprecedented tiny structures of Arctic sea ice?
What is Climate Change?
Climate change is a major issue of our time and that we are at a defining moment. From varying weather patterns that jeopardize food production to rising sea levels that increase the danger of calamitous flash flooding, the impacts of climate change are global in scope and unprecedented in scale. Without drastic action, today, adapting to these impacts within the future are going to be harder and harder.
What are Greenhouse Gases?
Greenhouse gases occur naturally and are necessary to the survival of humans and millions of other living organisms and living things, by keeping some of the sun’s warmth from reflecting into space and making Earth livable. But in the wake of more than a century and a half of industrialization, deforestation, and macroscale agriculture, the number of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere have risen to record levels not seen in three million years. As populations, economies and standards of living are growing, so does the cumulative level of greenhouse gas emissions.
Greenhouse gases have immense environmental and health effects. They not only cause climate change by trapping heat but also contribute to respiratory illnesses from smog and pollution. Drastic weather changes, food supply disruptions, and increased wildfires are other effects of climate change caused by greenhouse gases.
Scientists associate the global warming trend observed since the mid-20th century to the human development of the “greenhouse effect”. Certain gases in the atmosphere bar heat from escaping. Gases, such as water vapour, which respond physically or chemically to changes in temperature, are regarded as “feedbacks.” Abiding gases that hover semi-permanently in the atmosphere and do not respond physically or chemically to changes in temperature are depicted as “forcing” climate change.
Constituents of Greenhouse Gases
Gases that contribute to the greenhouse effect include:
- Water Vapors
- Carbon dioxide (CO2)
- Nitrous oxide.
- Chlorofluorocarbons (CFC’s)
Human activities are changing the natural harmony of the greenhouse. Through the century, the burning of fossil fuels has increased the accumulation of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2). This happens because the fossil fuels burning process combines carbon with oxygen in the air to make CO2. Adding more to the burning of fossil fuels, the clearing of land for industry, agriculture, and other human activities has increased levels of greenhouse gases.
Effects of Climate Change
The repercussions of changing the natural balance of the atmospheric greenhouse are difficult to foresee, but some effects seem likely:
- Typically, the Earth will become warmer. Some regions may embrace the warmer temperatures, but others may not.
- Warmer conditions will probably lead to an increase in the process of evaporation and precipitation overall, but individual regions will vary, some becoming damp and others dryer.
- The more intense greenhouse effect will heat the oceans and partially melt glaciers and ice sheets, which would lead to an increase in sea level. Ocean water also will expand if it heats up, which would further add up to sea-level rise.
- Climate extremes, such as droughts, floods and intense temperatures, can drive us to crop losses and imperil the livelihoods of agricultural producers and the food security of communities worldwide. Depending on the crop and ecosystem, pests, weeds, and fungi can also blossom under more mild temperatures, wetter climates, and heightened CO2 levels, and the repercussions of climate change would likely increase weeds and pests.
- Climate change can cause new undiscovered patterns of pests and diseases to appear, affecting plants, animals and humans, and poising unknown risks for food security, food safety and human health.
- Lastly, in addition to the primary effect of rising CO2, which can stimulate plant growth, research has shown that it can also lower the nutritional value of most food crops by dwindling the concentrations of protein and necessary minerals in most plant species.
Even though greenhouse gas emissions are forecasted to drop about 6 per cent in 2020 due to travel bans and economic stagnation resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, this recovery is only momentary. Climate change is not coming to a halt. Once the global economy prepares to recover from the pandemic, the emissions are predicted to return to higher levels.
Measures to tackle Climate Change
To save lives and livelihoods, it requires urgent action to tend to both the pandemic and the climate emergency.
- The Paris Agreement, which was adopted in 2015, aims to establish the global response to the peril of climate change by maintaining a global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial standards. The agreement further intends to strengthen the capability of countries to bear the brunt of climate change, by providing appropriate financial flows, a new technology framework and an enhanced capacity-building framework.
- Under the 2015 Paris Agreement, amidst these circumstances, India fixed three major goals to be achieved for the period between 2020 and 2030—upsurge the share of non-fossil fuels to 40% of the total electricity generation capacity, to lower the emission intensity of the economy by 33 to 35% by 2030 from 2005 levels, and to create a high carbon sink of 2.5 -3 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent through additional forest and tree cover.
As countries propel towards refurbishing their recessions after COVID-19, rehabilitation plans can forge the 21st-century economy on paths that are clean, green, healthy, secure and more buoyant. The prevailing crisis is a chance for an acute, intrinsic shift to a more viable economy that functions for both people and the planet.
Six Climate Positive Actions
The UN Secretary-General has urged forward six climate-positive actions for governments to take once they go about repairing their economies and societies:
- Green transition: investments must accelerate the decarbonization of all aspects of our economy.
- Green jobs and viable and comprehensive growth
- Green economy: preparing societies and people more resilient through a transition that is fair to all and leaves no one behind.
- Invest in continuous solutions: fossil fuel subsidies must end, and polluters must be penalized for their pollution.
- Cooperation– no country can triumph alone over this common enemy to address climate distress, post-pandemic restoration plans need to bring about long-term systemic shifts that will change the trajectory of CO2 levels in the atmosphere.
- Governments around the world have invested substantial time and effort in recent years to establish plans to layout a secure and more viable future for their citizens. Taking these on board now as part of rehabilitation planning can help the world build back better from the current crisis.
Greta Thunberg- The Young Environmentalist
If we talk about individual efforts for climate change, how can we not speak of Greta Thunberg?
She is a Swedish teenager who skipped school and inspired an international movement to fight climate change. Greta claims that big governments and businesses around the world are not making enough efforts to cut carbon emissions and has blamed world leaders for letting down the youth.
In the beginning, her protests fixated on the Swedish government’s climate targets, and she nudged students all over the world to make similar demands in their own countries.
“The climate crisis has already been solved. We already have all the facts and solutions. All we have to do is wake up and change.”Greta Thunberg
But as her fame grew, she called out to governments all around the world to make an effort to cut down global emissions. She spoke at international meetings, including the UN’s 2019 climate change gathering in New York, and this year’s World Economic Forum in Davos.
At the forum, she called out to banks, firms and governments to stop investing and financing fossil fuels, such as coal, crude oil and gas. “Instead, they should invest their money in existing sustainable technologies, research and in restoring nature,” she said.