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What is climate change

What is climate change?

Climate Change is the defining issue of our time and we are already experiencing its impacts on an unprecedented scale. While the climate does go through natural climatic cycles, over the past century human activity has caused global temperatures to increase far beyond any natural variabilities. Global temperatures have already risen by 1 degree when compared with preindustrial levels and as temperatures continue to increase, consequences such as rising sea level, and more extreme weather events will threaten people and planet more than ever. In order to effectively tackle climate change we must act rapidly. The longer we delay, the more difficult and costly it will be to prevent further warming and adapt to the unavoidable effects of climate change.

Why is our planet heating up?

Global warming is driven by an increase in concentration of greenhouse gases resulting from industrialization, deforestation, and large scale agriculture. These gases cause heat from the sun to be trapped in the Earth's atmosphere which causes the planet to heat up. Since the industrial revolution the concentration of greenhouse gases has risen steadily causing a continuous rise in global temperatures. Major greenhouse gases include:

  • Carbon dioxide: the most abundant greenhouse gas, accounting for about two-thirds of all greenhouse gases. It is largely the product of burning fossil fuels.
  • Methane: is released from landfill waste, escapes into the air when fossil fuels are extracted from the Earth and is produced by livestock as they digest food and is released from the breakdown of their waste.
  • Nitrous oxides: released by burning fossil fuels, farming practices such as adding lots of fertilisers, as well as some industrial and manufacturing processes.
  • Other gases: chlorofluorocarbons most commonly known as CFCs were found to be damaging the Earth's ozone layer that protects the Earth from the sun's rays, so countries of the world agreed to stop using these chemicals which has led to a reduction in CFCs in the atmosphere.

What is the Climate Emergency?

In 2018 the United Nation's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued an important warning that the world must act now to limit global temperature rise to within 1.5 degrees Celsius by the end of the century compared to preindustrial levels. The report calls for rapid and far reaching action, stating that if we wait till 2030 to act it will be too late stop global temperature rise from exceeding this safe level.

Since the publication of this report, countries around the world have declared that we are experiencing a climate emergency. The Scottish and UK government declared a climate emergency in Spring 2019. There is no single definition for a climate emergency but many see it as an acknowledgement of the urgent need to tackle the crisis.

What is Climate Justice?

The impacts of climate change are experienced by everyone. However these impacts are not felt equally or fairly.

Low income communities in rich countries and the majority of people living in developing countries are least responsible for causing the climate crisis. According to a 2015 Oxfam report, the richest 10% of people produce half of Earth's climate-harming fossil-fuel emissions, while the poorest half contribute a mere 10%. The Carbon Majors Report (2017) found that 100 companies produce 71% of all greenhouse gas emissions.

In fact, the effects of climate change intensify existing inequalities. This is because the poorest and most vulnerable people live in areas that will be worst affected by the climate crisis. They also have the least resources and technology to reduce their emissions and adapt to the impacts of climate change. The concept of climate justice looks at climate change from a human rights perspective, recognising the importance of tackling the climate crisis in a way that promotes human rights and addresses social justice issues.