Climate change can be described as the substantial fluctuations of global average temperatures over a short period of geological time (Amnesty International, 2021). This has in turn affected the climate in various regions of the world as the shift in long standing patterns involves not only increasing temperatures, but also rising sea levels as glaciers and ice caps of the polar regions melt, shifting wildlife populations and habitats, an increase in unpredictable; often extreme weather events and a plethora of other impacts.
Climate change is a naturally occurring phenomenon as the planet’s climate has constantly changed in the past as well, undergoing periods of natural cooling that plunged the world into ice ages. The reason for concern with our current patterns of change is that global average temperatures have shifted more abruptly than in previous periods.
What has been deemed to be the cause of this is humanity’s overwhelming reliance on fossil fuels to power our world since a technological boom in the mid-20th century at the beginning of the Industrial era. The burning of fossil fuels produces greenhouse gases that trap heat from escaping our atmosphere and include Carbon Dioxide (CO2), methane, nitrous oxide, and smaller trace gases such as hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) and sulfur hexafluoride (SF6). Carbon Dioxide is by far the most abundant by product of burning fossil fuels and according to 2018 estimates has culminated in countries collectively emitting around 50 billion tonnes of CO2e each year (Ritchie & Roser, 2020). Greenhouse gases are at the highest levels they have ever been over the last 800,000 years (Amnesty International, 2021).
Reducing these emissions has been a challenge that has been tackled head on by most of the large developed countries who contribute towards climate change in a major way Most of the countries who are major facets of greenhouse emissions are a part of the United Nations (UN) and are governed by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). This sets out the basic legal framework and principles for international climate change cooperation with the aim of stabilizing atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases (GHGs) to avoid “dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.” Agreements such as the Kyoto Protocol which was adopted in December 1997 to achieve quantified emissions reduction targets as well as the December 2015 Paris Agreement which requires all parties to determine, plan, and regularly report on the nationally determined contribution (NDC) that it undertakes to mitigate climate change. (International Institute for Sustainable Development, n.d.)
As many of the major greenhouse gases remain in our atmosphere for tens to hundreds of years after being released, their warming effects on the climate persist and therefore affects both present and future generations (United States Environmental Protection Agency, 2017). This is one of the reasons why we must be proactive in raising awareness and lobbying for changes before its effects become catastrophic.
By Tiffany Williams