Climate change refers to long-term changes in temperature and weather patterns. These changes can be caused by natural causes, such as changes in the solar cycle. But human activity has been the main cause of climate change since the 19th century, especially the burning of fossil fuels such as coal, oil and natural gas .
The burning of fossil fuels produces greenhouse gas emissions, which act like a blanket around the planet, trapping the sun's heat and increasing temperatures.
Greenhouse gases that cause climate change are carbon dioxide and methane. Sources of these gases include gasoline used in cars, or coal burned for indoor heating. Clearing land and forests also releases carbon dioxide. Landfills are a major source of methane emissions. Energy, industry, transport, construction, agriculture and land use are all major sources of emissions.
Greenhouse gas concentrations at their highest level in 2 million years
Emissions continue to rise. As of now, the temperature on Earth is 1.1°C warmer than it was at the end of the 19th century. The past decade (2011-2020) has been the warmest on record.
Many people think that climate change means mostly higher temperatures, but this is just the beginning. Because the Earth is a unified system and everything is interconnected, changes in one area can cause changes in all other areas.
The consequences of climate change now include extreme droughts, water scarcity, major fires, sea level rise, floods, melting polar ice, catastrophic storms, and loss of biodiversity.
People are experiencing climate change in different ways
Climate change affects our health, food production capacity, housing, safety and jobs. Some of us, such as those living in small island states and other developing countries, are already more vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Conditions such as rising sea levels and flooding have grown to the point where entire communities have been forced to relocate, while prolonged droughts are putting people at risk of starvation. In the future, the number of "climate refugees" is expected to increase.
Every little bit of global warming will have a big impact
In a series of UN reports, thousands of scientists and government reviewers have agreed that limiting global temperature rise to no more than 1.5°C will help us avoid the worst impacts of climate change and keep our climate livable. However, according to the current national action plan, global warming is expected to reach around 3.2°C by the end of the century.
Emissions that cause climate change come from all corners of the world and affect everyone, but some countries produce far more emissions than others. The 100 countries with the least emissions accounted for 3% of total emissions. The top 10 emitters accounted for 68 percent. Everyone must take climate action, but individuals and nations with bigger emitters have a greater responsibility to act first.
The challenges are huge, but so are the solutions
Many climate change solutions can bring economic benefits while improving our lives and protecting the environment. We also have guiding global frameworks and agreements such as the Sustainable Development Goals , the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Paris Agreement . The three broad categories of actions are: reducing emissions, adapting to the impacts of climate change, and financing the necessary adjustments.
Shifting the energy system from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources such as solar or wind will reduce the emissions that drive climate change. But we must act now. While a growing coalition of nations has committed to net-zero emissions by 2050, about half of the reductions must be in place by 2030 to keep warming below 1.5°C. Between 2020 and 2030, fossil fuel production must fall by about 6% annually.
Adapting to the consequences of climate change can protect people, families, businesses, livelihoods, infrastructure and natural ecosystems. It covers current and possible future impacts. Adaptation is needed all over the world, but the most vulnerable people with the fewest resources must now prioritize how to respond to climate disasters, and the rewards for doing so can be high. For example, early warning systems for disasters can save lives and property and can provide benefits up to 10 times the initial cost.
Pay now, or pay a heavy price in the future
Climate action requires significant financial investment from governments and businesses. But climate inaction is even more costly. One of the key steps is for industrialized countries to meet their commitments to provide developing countries with $100 billion a year so they can adapt and move towards a greener economy.
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