A brief overview of climate change and answers to the most common climate change questions.
The world’s climate is constantly fluctuating. What’s referred to by the phrase ‘climate change’ is the observable general trend of increased average temperatures around the world. This increase in temperature is caused by the process of global warming which is being driven by human activities.
Global warming is caused by the ‘greenhouse effect’. This is when heat trapping gases (known as ‘greenhouse gases’) such as carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide, accumulate in the environment and trap the sun’s radiation on Earth.
Without this natural process, the earth would have remained much too cold (approximately -18°C) for the development of life on Earth as we know it. Since the industrial revolution in the 1700s, human activities such as the burning of fossil fuels and clearing of forests have contributed to the accumulation of unprecedented levels of greenhouse gases in the environment speeding up global warming and contributing to drastic changes to our climate.
The entire world will be affected by climate change but the poorest will suffer the earliest and the most. Climate change impacts tend to exacerbate social inequality between population groups. Poverty alleviation and food security is linked to the phenomenon of climate change and needs to be effectively addressed by adaptation measures.
Low-income households require particular assistance because:
Certain other groups of people also face higher risks:
Rural areas in are uniquely vulnerable to the impacts of climate change because:
Although the annual rainfall amount won’t change rain patterns will. The wet zone is predicted to get wetter and the dry zone is going to get drier. This will result in more frequent droughts and floods and more intense rains. Tornados which were rarely observed in Sri Lanka are becoming commonplace. The rise in sea levels poses a major threat globally.
Ambient temperature is increasing. But the increase of night time (rather than day time) temperature is the most prominent feature. 10 of the warmest years on record have occurred after 1998.
The worst and soonest effects will be experienced in our oceans – ocean acidification due to increasing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will result in a mass extinction comparable to the Permian -Triassic extinction that took place 250 million years ago. During this extinction 90 % of ocean species went extinct. A similar level of extinction is expected in oceans due to global warming today. This will affect the bottom of the food chain and will ultimately affect all life on Earth.
As the climate warms, species move to colder climates. Migration becomes difficult when habitats are fragmented and are separated by human development. The solution for this is to build nature corridors.
Long term restoration projects are needed to re-establish native plant species as these take a significantly long time to grow. Forest restoration is critical to climate resilience.
Lifestyle and economic activities taking place in industrialised regions and among wealthier population groups are the major factors contributing to climate change. As we burn fossil fuels like coal, oil, and natural gas for energy, or cut down and burn forests to create pastures and plantations, carbon dioxide accumulates and overloads our atmosphere speeding up global warming.
Carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere used to be < 300ppm now it is well over 400 ppm and increasing exponentially. We need to drastically change our lifestyles and embrace a low carbon economy to change this trend and avoid a cataclysmic future.
Health risks – Lowered air quality, increased disaster and disease risk
Food availability: Lower yields (rising temperatures, especially at night, cause losses of 10–20% of paddy harvests in some locations), increased drought stress and pest outbreaks, fish shortages
Water availability: Lack of drinking water, irrigation and power supply (from hydroelectric plants)
Economy: Lost productivity, increased damage to infrastructure, possible mass migration of displaced ‘climate refugees’
The largest known economic impact of climate change is on agriculture because of the size and sensitivity of the sector, particularly in the developing world.
By causing reductions in global yields and increasing the incidence of pests and diseases outbreaks in crops, and negatively affecting post-harvest aspects of agriculture (storage handling, and transport).
Decarbonising our economy is our best possible chance to address climate change. It would improve the balance between our ecological footprint and the Earth’s renewable resources.
If we are to survive, we must respect and act within the Earth’s planetary boundaries. Each and every individual is needed to make a conscious decision to shift to a more sustainable way of life and become responsible consumers and business owners.