Climate change is any significant long-term change in the expected patterns of average weather of a region (or whole Earth) over a significant period of time. Climate change is about abnormal variations to the climate, and the effects of these variations on other parts of the Earth.
Scientists attribute climate change to the increased concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere resulting from human activity. Greenhouse gases include carbon dioxide, methane, water vapour, nitrous oxide and fluorinated gases. These gases are released into the atmosphere through the combustion of fossil fuels such as coal, oil and natural gas. When greenhouse gases are released, the ozone prevents them from leaving the Earth's atmosphere. In the atmosphere, these gases absorb the energy released by the sun and warm the earth, keeping it hospitable for life on earth - this process is called the "greenhouse gas effect".
When the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is too high, more energy from the sun is absorbed by the gases and prevented from escaping back into the atmosphere. This causes global temperatures to rise. Check out the infographic below for a visual on how this process works.
Image from: Climate Central
Climate change is sometimes referred to as "global warming". Despite this term, climate change does not cause global temperatures to rise consistently across the globe. Climate change can impact regional temperatures, precipitation and wind patterns, leading to differently regional climate change patterns across the world. For example, temperatures in the Arctic are warming at twice the global average and the changes in weather patterns are much more evident than in other regions.
Climate change can have direct and indirect impacts on humans and species. Climate change has been linked to the increased occurence of severe weather events, insect outbreaks, invasive species, ocean acidification and rising sea levels. It can also directly impact human health as rising temperatures can increase the occurence of heat strokes, especially in large metropolitan areas. Climate change can also impact the geography and physical landscape of many global ecosystems resulting in loss of sea ice and coastal erosion.
Climate change is a complex topic. The systems that keep our earth alive are complex and integrated, meaning that a simple change in temperature can have cascading effects on humans, animals and plants. However, there are global movements helping to mitigate our impacts on climate change and to help communities adapt to survive under these changing conditions.
The Paris Agreement (2016)
At the Conference of the Parties in Paris, on December 12 2015, parties of the UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) reached an agreement to combat climate change and intensify the actions needed to develop a sustainable low carbon future. On April 22, 2016, the Paris Agreement was signed by over 100 parties - one of the largest single-day signing of national accords!
The central goal of the Paris Agreement is to keep global temperature rises below 1.5 degrees celsius, by reducing harmful emissions and strengthening nations ability to prepare for and manage the impacts of climate change. The agreement is not legally binding and nations can voluntarily set their own emission targets, but are required to monitor progress, and review and re-assess their actions and targets every 5 years.
Canada was one of the first countries to sign and ratify the Paris Agreement. Under the agreement, Canada set a target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 30% below 2005 levels by 2030. As of 2020, the Paris Agreement has been signed by 195 Parties and ratified by 189 Parties, representing 97% of global emissions.
Check out this resource that tracks nations progress towards their Paris Agreement emission goals:
The Sustainable Development Goals (2016)
In 2016, the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals came into full force with over 183 committed nations. These goals were a global call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and improve the lives and prospects of everyone, everywhere.
Since climate change impacts many aspects of human and environmental well-being, many of the Sustainable Development Goals address climate change mitigation and adaption. Another way of visualizing how the Sustainable Development Goals relate to climate change is through the "Wedding Cake model".
Image from: Stockholm Resiliency
This model visualizes how several SDGs are directly related to the Biosphere and climate action, but also how they are all interconnected and supported through partnerships and collaborations.
What can we do to help?
To combat climate change we need collective action, which means everyone has a role to play. Governments are responsible for developing frameworks that impact guidelines, policies and acts, but we also have a role to play in our everyday life. One of the simplest ways we can reduce our impact on the earth is by changing how we view and use resources. The Earth can produce everything we need to survive - food, water and energy- but it can take a lot of energy to produce these resources and we are using some of them at a rate that is not sustainable, putting strain on the earths systems and contributing to climate change. When these resources are wasted, the energy and other resources that into making them are wasted as well.
Here are some easy ways everyone can help combat climate change!
- Be conscious of how we are using our natural resources - such as food, water and energy - and make an effort to reduce waste and increase efficiency!
- Learn more about climate change and how our actions impact the world around us!
- Share with others! Climate change is a collective issue, so share what you learn with others, participate in discussions and learn from others, and encourage others to do the same. Remember to always check your sources and make sure they are reliable!
Check out these resources to learn more about climate change and how it's impacting the Frontenac Arch Biosphere!