Causes, Effects and Evidence Of Global Climate Change and Global Actions to Remedy the Situation - Badiuzzaman Khan
The UN Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change, a group of 1300 independent scientific experts from countries all over the world, concluded overwhelmingly, that human industrial activities during the past 150 years have raised atmospheric carbon dioxide levels from 280 parts per million to 379 parts per million. The Panel also concluded that these carbon dioxide along with methane and nitrous oxide known as greenhouse gases have caused much of the observed increase in global temperature over the past 50 years.
Climate Scientists generally agree that the main cause of the current global warming trend is human expansion of the greenhouse effect-warming that results when the atmosphere traps heat radiating from earth toward space. Certain gases in the atmosphere block heat from escaping. Long-lived gases, remaining semi-permanently in the atmosphere, which do not respond physically or chemically to changes in temperature, are described as “forcing” climate change whereas gases, such as water, which respond physically or chemically to changes in temperature are seen as “feedbacks”.
Gases that contribute to greenhouse effect include:
Water vapor- The most abundant greenhouse gas, but importantly, it acts as a feedback to the climate. Water vapor increases as the Earth’s atmosphere warms, but so does the possibility of clouds and precipitation, making these some of the most important feedback mechanisms to the greenhouse effect.
Carbon Dioxide- An important but minor component of the atmosphere, carbon dioxide, is released through respiration, volcanic eruptions and human activities like deforestation, land use changes and burning fossil fuels. Carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere has increased by a third since the industrial revolution now considered the most important long-lived “forcing” of climate change.
Methane- A hydrocarbon gas produced both through natural sources and human activities, including the decomposition of wastes in landfills, agriculture as well as ruminant digestion and domestic livestock manure management. Methane, though much less abundant in the atmosphere, is a far more active greenhouse gas.
Nitrous oxide- A powerful greenhouse gas produced by soil cultivation practices, namely, the use of commercial and organic fertilizers, fossil fuel combustion, nitric acid production and bio-mass burning.
Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs)- Synthetic compounds of industrial origin used in a number of applications now largely regulated in production and release to the atmosphere by international agreement for their ability to contribute to destruction of the ozone layer.
Human activities in our world have been changing the natural greenhouse. The burning of fossil fuels like coal and oil has increased the concentration of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere. Coal and oil burning processes combine carbon with oxygen in the air to produce carbon dioxide while the clearing of land for agriculture and industry and other human activities have increased concentration of greenhouse gases to a lesser extent.
Changes in the sun’s energy output due to emissions from greenhouse gases have caused the climate to change, sun being the fundamental source of energy driving our climate system. Studies show that solar variability has played a role in past climate changes but several lines of evidence suggest that current global warming cannot be explained by changes in energy from the sun:
Since 1750, the average amount of energy coming from the sun either remained constant or increased slightly;
If the warming were caused by a more active sun, then scientists would expect to see warmer temperatures in all layers of the atmosphere. Instead, they have observed a cooling in the upper atmosphere, and a warming at the surface and in the lower parts of the atmosphere. That’s due to greenhouse gases trapping heat in the lower atmosphere.
Climate models that include solar irradiance changes cannot reproduce the observed temperature trend over the past century or more without including a rise in greenhouse gases.
Scientific evidence for warming of the climate system is unequivocal. Certain facts about earth’s climate are not in dispute:
The heat- trapping nature of carbon dioxide and other gases was demonstrated in the mid-19th century. Their ability to affect the transfer of infrared energy through the atmosphere is the scientific basis of many JPL-designed instruments, such as AIRS. Increased levels of greenhouse gases must cause the earth to warm in response.
Ice cores drawn from Greenland, Antarctica and Tropical Mountain glaciers show that the earth’s climate responds to changes in solar output, in the earth’s orbit, and in greenhouse gas levels. They also show that in the past, large changes in climate have happened very quickly, geologically speaking: in tens of years, not in millions or even in thousands.
The evidence for rapid climate change is compelling:
Sea level rise- Global sea level rose about 17 centimeters in the last century. The rate in the last decade is nearly double that of the last century.
Global temperature rise- All three major global surface temperature reconstructions show that earth has warmed since 1880. Most of this warming has occurred since the 1970s, with the twenty warmest years having occurred since 1981 and with all 10 of the warmest years occurring in the last 12 years even though the 2000s witnessed a solar output decline resulting in an unusually deep solar minimum in 2007-2009, surface temperatures continue to increase.
Warming oceans- The oceans have absorbed much of the increased heat, with the top 700 meters of ocean showing warming of 0.302 degrees Fahrenheit since 1969.
Shrinking ice sheets-The Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets have decreased in mass. Data from NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment show Greenland lost 150 to250 cubic kilometers of ice per year between 2002 and 2006, while Antarctica lost about 152 cubic kilometers of ice between 2002 and 2005.
Declining Arctic sea ice- Both the extent and thickness of Arctic sea ice has declined rapidly over the last several decades.
Glacial retreat- Glaciers are retreating almost everywhere around the world-including in the Alps, Himalayas, Andes, Rockies, Alaska and Africa.
Extreme events- The number of record high temperature events and the number of intense rainfall and flash flood events have been increasing while the number of low temperature events has been decreasing all over the world since 1950. Incidents of storms, tornados, typhoons, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions and every other type of unnatural & unpredictable calamitous events have been on the rise.
Ocean acidification- The carbon dioxide content of the Earth’s oceans has been increasing since 1750 and is currently increasing @ of about 2 billion tons per year. This has increased ocean acidity by about 30 percent.
Global climate change has already had observable effects on the environment. Glaciers have shrunk, ice on rivers and lakes is breaking up earlier, plant and animal ranges have shifted and trees are flowering sooner.
Effects from global climate change predicted by scientists in the past, namely, loss of sea ice, accelerated sea level rise and longer and more intense heat waves are now occurring. The IPCC forecasts a temperature rise of 2.5 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit over the next century. According to IPCC, the extent of climate change effects on individual regions will vary over time subject to the ability of different societal and environmental systems to mitigate or adapt to change. It predicts that increase in global temperature of less than 1.8 to 5.4 degrees Fahrenheit above 1990 levels will produce beneficial impacts in some regions and harmful ones in others. Net annual costs will increase over time as global temperatures increase. The potential future effects of global climate change include more frequent wildfires, longer periods of drought in some regions and an increase in the number, duration and intensity of tropical storms.
The first international agreement linked to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is the Kyoto Protocol adopted in Kyoto, Japan, on 11 December, 1997 and entered into force on 16 February, 2005. The major feature of this Protocol is that it sets binding targets for 37 industrialized countries and the European community for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions .These amount to an average of five per cent against 1990 levels over the five-year period 2008-2012. The major distinction between the Protocol and the Convention is that while the Convention encouraged industrialized countries to stabilize GHG emissions, the Protocol commits them to do so. The detailed rules for implementation of the Protocol were adopted at COP 7 in Marrakesh, Morocco, in 2001 and are called “Marrakesh Accords”.
Recognizing that developed countries are principally responsible for the current high levels of GHG emissions in the atmosphere as a result of more than 150 years of industrial activity, the Protocol places a heavier burden on developed nations under the principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities.”
The agreement largely failed to meet the global objectives due to non-participation and non-cooperation of a few major industrialized countries like the USA (since signed but not yet ratified) & Australia (signed in December, 2007). The international community had thus pinned its greatest bait on the next important international climate change summit meeting held in Copenhagen, Denmark from 29 November to 10 December, 2010.The meetings failed to meet global expectations to announce national targets to reduce GHG emissions in line with national obligations and ended with issuance of the Copenhagen Accord, some of the salient features being:
1.Stabilization of GHG concentration in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system and to keep global temperature rise to below
2. Two degrees Celsius in line with the overwhelming scientific view through long-term cooperative action. Stress the need to establish a comprehensive adaptation program including international support for countries adversely affected by climate change;
3. Agreement to take action to reduce GHG emissions in line with the Fourth IPCC Assessment on the basis of equity so as to hold the increase in global temperature to below 2 degree Celsius and to co-operate in achieving the peaking of global and national emissions as soon as possible, recognizing that the time-frame for peaking will be longer in developing countries for their sustainable development;
4. Enhanced international cooperative action on adaptation measures to reduce vulnerability and building resilience in developing, least developed, small island developing states and Africa through provision of adequate, predictable and sustainable financial resources, technology and capacity building to support the implementation of adaptation action in developing countries by the developed countries.
5. Signatory countries to the Kyoto Protocol commit to implement individually or jointly the quantified economy-wide emission targets for 2020 to be submitted to the secretariat by 31 January, 2010 in the format given for compilation in an INF document to further strengthen the emissions reduction initiated by the Kyoto Protocol. Delivery of reductions and financing by developed countries will be measured, reported and verified as per existing and any further guidelines adopted by the meetings to ensure that accounting of such targets and finance is rigorous, robust and transparent;
6. Non-signatory countries will implement mitigation actions including those to be submitted in the format supplied to the secretariat for compilation in an INF document in the context of sustainable development. Least developed and small island developing states may undertake actions voluntarily and on the basis of support. Nationally appropriate mitigation actions seeking international support will be recorded in a registry along with relevant technology, finance and capacity-building support. These supported nationally appropriate mitigation actions will be subject to international measurement, reporting and verification as per guidelines adopted in the meetings.
7. Recognizing the crucial role of reducing emission from deforestation and forest degradation and the need to enhance removals of GHG by forests, the need to provide positive incentives to such actions through the immediate establishment of a mechanism including REDD-plus to enable mobilization of financial resources from developed countries was accepted;
8. Various approaches including opportunities to use markets to enhance cost-effectiveness and to promote mitigation actions will be pursued. Developing and low-emitting economies should be provided incentives to continue to develop on a low-emission pathway;
9. Scaled up, new and additional, predictable and adequate funding as well as improved access shall be provided to developing countries to enable and support enhanced action on mitigation. Collective commitment by developed countries is to provide new and additional resources approaching USD 30 billion for the period 2010-2012 with balanced allocation between adaptation and mitigation. Developed countries further commit to a goal of USD 100 billion a year by 2020 to address the need of developing countries. A significant portion of such funding should flow through the Copenhagen Green Climate Fund.
The Copenhagen Summit on Climate Change was followed up by another Climate Change Conference in Cancun, Mexico, in December, 2010, during which a set of significant decisions were taken by the international community to address the long-term challenge of climate change collectively and comprehensively through concrete actions known as Cancun Agreements signed on 11 December, 2010.
Subsequent to the Copenhagen Agreement, many countries including all industrialized countries submitted their respective plans to the Climate Change Secretariat for controlling GHG emissions. A compilation of these economy-wide emission reduction targets has meanwhile been officially published and will be followed up under the Climate Change Convention. A process of international assessment on the implementation of these targets will begin in 2011.
Industrialized countries agreed to boost the regular reporting of progress in emission reductions every two years. They also agreed to develop low-carbon development strategies or plans. The guidelines for strengthened reporting were to be worked out for submission to UNFCCC secretariat by 28 March, 2011.
The Kyoto Protocol’s Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) was strengthened through a loan scheme to drive major investments and technology from industrialized countries into environmentally sound and sustainable emission reduction projects especially to those areas of the developing world which have not yet benefitted as much as they could and which have fewer than 10 such activities registered. Governments agreed to allow carbon capture and storage projects in the CDM upon fulfillment of a range of technical issues and safety requirements. To resolve these issues, further technical work will be carried out in 2011 with the aim of arriving at a final decision in Durban, South Africa.
Governments agreed that the Kyoto Protocol’s emission trading and project-based mechanisms, which encourage clean technology investment from industrialized to developing countries, will continue to be available to developed countries as an additional means of meeting their own emission reduction targets.
The Cancun Agreement on land use, land use change and forestry called for the submission of reference levels for forest management in the GHG accounts of respective countries so that they don’t get credited for removals of carbon dioxide that are naturally absorbed by their forests. The reporting and subsequent technical assessment of these reference levels is important for a decision in Durban to regulate GHG emissions and removal of forest-related activities.
The plans submitted by developing countries to limit the growth of their emissions with support from industrialized countries in the form of technology cooperation, finance and help in capacity building are known as NAMAs. A compilation of NAMAs has since been officially published. The Cancun decisions now provide a formal international registry for these plans to be maintained by the UNFCCC secretariat. A separate registry is to be similarly maintained for countries not asking for international support.
It was also agreed that developing countries will also increase reporting of progress towards their mitigation objectives, though in a differentiated way to that of industrialized countries. A process of international consultation and analysis of these biennial reports as well as for measurement, reporting and verification will have to be established during 2011.
Governments also agreed to initiate concrete action on forests in developing nations. The full financing options for implementation of such mitigation actions in the forest area will be addressed during 2011. Establishment of a cost-effective mechanism to achieve mitigation goals will also be considered in Durban. In some cases, implementation of actions that reduce emissions could result in negative economic or social consequences for other countries. Keeping that in view, the governments decided to convene a forum in 2011 to further this issue and to set up a work program to address such consequences.
The conference established the Cancun Adaptation Framework to strengthen action on adaptation in developing countries through international cooperation. It will support better planning and implementation of adaptation measures through increased financial and technical support and through establishing and/or strengthening regional centers and networks. The framework will also boost research, assessments and technology cooperation on adaptation as well as strengthen education and public awareness. An adaptation Committee was also set up for facilitation purposes. The composition and procedures of the committee and its linkages to other institutional arrangements are still to be developed. The conference also established a process for least developed countries and interested developing countries to formulate and implement national adaptation plans (NAPs) to identify and address their medium and long-term adaptation needs. This builds upon the positive experience of LDCs up to now in addressing their urgent adaptation needs through similar plans which were supported via the LDC Expert Group. The mandate of this technical Expert Group was thus extended for another five years. Besides, a work program on how best to tackle loss and damage from climate change impacts in developing countries was formulated. During the following two years, countries will consider options on how to manage and reduce climate change effects on developing countries. This includes the possible creation of a climate risk insurance program. It also includes ways to address rehabilitation from the impacts of such climate change-related events as rise in sea-level.
The financial, technology and capacity-building support agreed in Cancun applies to both mitigation and adaptation actions by developing countries as follows:
Governments will endeavour to make the provision of an agreed fast-start finance for developing countries approaching USD 30 billion up to 2012 more transparent by regularly making information available on these funds as to how developing countries can access them. Industrialized countries are supposed to submit to the Climate Change secretariat by May, 2011 a complete overview of fast-start funding.
To scale up the provision of long-term financing for developing countries, governments decided to create a Green Climate Fund that will function under the guidance of and be accountable to the Conference of Parties (COP) and will be governed by a Green Climate Fund Board comprising 24 members with equal representation from developing and developed countries. This fund will support projects, programs, policies and other activities in developing countries using thematic funding windows. The Fund will be administered by a trustee and supported by a professional secretariat. The World Bank will serve as the interim trustee. Governments decided to establish a Transitional Committee of 40 members to design the details of the Fund. The design phase is to be concluded by the Durban Climate Conference at the end of 2011. Furthermore, the governments decided to set up a Standing Committee under the COP to assist it in exercising its function about mobilization, delivery and verification of long-term finance. Specific roles & functions of this Committee are to be developed.
In the broader context of long-term financial support, industrialized countries committed to provide funds to the tune of USD 100 billion a year by 2020 to support concrete mitigation actions by developing countries implemented in a transparent way. These funds will be raised from a mix of public and private sources.
To strengthen technology development and transfer, governments decided to set up a Technology Mechanism accountable to COP and fully operational by 2012. The mechanism includes a Technology Executive Committee (TEC) to empower the development and deployment of new technologies as well as strive to increase public and private investment in technology development and transfer. The TEC is to hold its first meeting during 2011. TEC also includes a Climate Technology Center & Network (CTCN) to facilitate national, regional, sectoral and international technology networks, organizations and initiatives. The CTCN will aim to mobilize and enhance global clean technology capabilities, provide assistance to developing countries and facilitate prompt action on the deployment of technologies.
Governments also decided to increase capacity- building support to developing countries by empowering relevant institutions, networks and climate change communication, education, training and public awareness at all levels through increased sharing of information by the year 2011. They will be considered in Durban.
Implementing the Cancun agreements means that Governments will want to turn their decisions into action that brings real benefits for people on the ground as soon as possible. It is also clear that while Cancun delivered the shape of a comprehensive international system for collective action to deal with climate change, further details of how to make this system operational will continue to be dealt with among Governments during 2011.