What is Climate Change?
by Savina Magni
Climate Change is one of the most discussed topics of the past decade. With the Paris Agreement in 2015, 196 countries expressed their will in limiting global warming to well below 2 Degree Celsius by the end of the century. Yet despite those promises, temperatures are still rising.
Climate change refers to long-term changes in temperatures and weather patterns. These changes may be natural, such as a volcano eruption or earthquake or man-made such as excessive burning of fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas. The climate of the planet has changed multiple times since it formed 4.5 billion years ago including cooler periods such as glacial period which was induced by changes in the Earth’s movement of orbiting around the sun. However, it was only from the post-Industrial Revolution, which occurred in the 1800s, that those changes are attributed to human activity. In particular, the rapid increase in temperatures experienced by the planet in the past couple of centuries is considered to be caused by burning fossil fuels such as gas, coal and oil.
Although ‘Climate Change’ and ‘Global Warming’ are used interchangeably, the terms are not the same. The latter started gained popularity after the NASA climate scientist, James Hansen, used it in his speech at the US Senate in 1998. ‘Global Warming’ is just one aspect of climate change and it refers to an increase in global surface temperatures due to a rise of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere. ‘Climate Change’ indicates the long-term change in global weather patterns which includes temperature and precipitation.
Since 1901, the global average has increased by at least 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit and the effects of such increment are already visible. For example, many places have experienced changes in rainfall which lead to more floods, droughts or intense rain which causes losses to property, water supplies and water quality. In addition, oceans and glaciers have also experienced changes such as the rising sea levels which threaten coastal communities and ecosystems. Warmer temperatures also have impacts on human health since more frequent and intense heat waves can negatively affect individuals’ well-being, especially for young children and the elderly, while a worsening in air and water quality could increase the spread of certain diseases.
The consequences of an increase in temperature above 2 Degree Celsius is worrying. Although the study carried out by professors Julie Rozenberg and Stephane Hallegatte in their book Climate Justice: Integrating Economics and Philosophy (2018) has proved that the climate emergency will impact countries in a highly heterogeneous way, developing economies are likely to suffer more from climate change than industrialized nations. It is not hard to believe that in countries where everyone has access to clean water and sanitation, the impact of an increase in temperature or water-borne diseases would be smaller than in countries where the majority of the population does not have access to such services. Similarly, in a nation where most workers often work outside or in facilities without air conditioning, the impact of climate change will influence the laborers’ production more than in a developed economy. Lastly, a low-income family, whose consumption is mainly limited to foodstuff, would be impacted more by the fluctuation and scarcity of food due to climate change than rich households.
Moreover, it is important to keep in mind that the countries and people who will be suffering the most from a long-term deterioration of weather conditions are the ones who contributed the least to its causes. The U.S, the EU and China together are responsible for 59% of global CO2 emissions, while the entire continent Africa accounts for as little as 3%. Thus, it should be understandable how people will eventually need to relocate to places due to climate change. People who migrate because of a weather disaster are known as climate migrants.
As always, in cases of catastrophic events such as hurricanes, wars or pandemics there is a segment of the population which bears the more brunt. Women, children and the elderly are usually the ones who are more vulnerable to climate change. In the case of women, they tend to have less access than men to resources such as land, credit, technology and training making them more exposed to the effects of climate change due to histories of patriarchal majority. Especially in rural areas, they are most likely to be responsible for securing clean water and food. Hence, in the event of a natural disaster such as a flood, they will have to work more to secure household livelihoods which will prevent them from accessing education or training.
Overall, the takeaway of climate change is to be proactive, not negative. There are individual and structural changes that must be addressed to prevent a warming above 2 degrees celsius. Educating yourself, friends and family, and being proactive about your consumption are small steps forward which all add up. Structurally, calling on governments globally to honor the Paris Climate Agreement and take policy changes is paramount to creating a better future.
Check out some of the ongoing work of Climate Activists and Climate Collectives and interact and support those on the front lines of the climate fight:
Nakabuye Hilda Flavia
Paid To Pollute
Rise Up Movement
Rozenberg, J. and Hallegatte, S. (2018). Poor People on the Front Line: The Impacts of Climate Change on Poverty in 2030. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Savina Magni is a current MSc student at the London School of Economics & Political Science studying Environmental Economics & Climate Change. Savina has a particular passion in learning about and caring for the environment. She holds a first-class undergraduate degree from Goldsmiths University in Economics. Savina is a Blog Writer for the JISJ Intersections team.
Originally published at https://www.journalisj.com on May 19, 2022.