“The IPCC1 has recently released two parts of its Fifth Assessment Report – Climate Change 2014: Mitigation of Climate Change and Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. We all need to take note of the findings.”
The Greenhouse Effect
Greenhouse Gases (GHG) refer to all gases within the atmosphere (water vapour, carbon dioxide, methane nitrous oxide and ozone) which absorb heat from the sun and then radiate that heat energy. The Greenhouse Effect makes it possible for the Earth to sustain life – without our atmospheric insulation blanket, we would find ourselves in a very harsh climate with great seasonal and daily temperature variance. We need our natural greenhouse to work; the problem is, thanks to our reliance on fossil fuel, it is working too well.
Total GHG emissions have continued to increase over the last 40 years, with a notable acceleration within the last decade despite efforts and increasing awareness to break this trend. Carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from the burning of petroleum, coal and gas to generate electricity as well as industrial use contributed about 78% of the total GHG emissions from 1970 to 2010. As global economies have grown and industrialised, we have become addicted to the cheap and ubiquitous electricity source without being fully cognisant of the future impact.
Total Annual Manmade GHG Emissions, 1970-2010
The IPCC’s report clearly spells out that without increasing our “mitigation strategies”, we will absolutely have a hotter planet in the future. What appear in numerous environmental reports to be small increases in future average temperatures have an almost unfathomable knock-on effect across all plant and animal life, the butterfly2 is absolutely flapping its wings. You don’t have to be an environmental zealot to grasp that a change in one area – for example the melting of permafrost – will ultimately impact our interconnected ecosystems.
China has the highest levels of CO2 emissions; a fact the Chinese government are taking increasingly seriously. China has ambitious plans to curb emissions, tackling the problem on several fronts. The extensive roll-out of Chinese nuclear power generation (a mature, base-load clean-air energy source) coupled with strict inner-city vehicle emissions standards as well as the enforcement of emissions reporting by industry are aimed at slowing the emissions growth in China. The United States, another big CO2 producer/polluter announced a dedicated plan to cut carbon emissions in June 2013 through the promotion and funding of clean-air, renewable energy initiatives.
Countries by CO2 Emissions (thousands of tonnes)
Curbing the Addiction
GHG emissions and the resultant global warming are global problems. Governments can introduce policies which better regulate power generation and heavy industry, but it is up to people as a collective to insist that policies become actions. The time for procrastination has passed.
1 The IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) is the international body responsible for assessing the science related to climate change. It was setup in 1988 by the WNO (World Meteorological Organisation) and UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme) to provide policy makers with regular assessment of the scientific basis of climate change, its impacts and future risks and options for adaptation and mitigation.
2 The Butterfly effect is a metaphor used in chaos theory for the sensitivity of dependence on initial conditions. It was coined by mathematician and meteorologist Edward Lorenz and derived from the theoretical example of a hurricane’s formation being dependent on whether a distant butterfly had flapped its wings weeks earlier.