Climate change is one of the greatest long term challenges facing the world today. It refers to the change in average weather across the earth over a long period. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change states that the last three decades have seen a warming of the Earth’s surface higher than that of any previous decade since 1850. It is estimated that global average temperatures have increased by 0.85 degrees Celsius in the last 160 years. This rise in the Earth’s temperature is commonly referred to as ‘global warming’.
The increase in the Earth’s temperature is caused by what is termed the ‘greenhouse effect’. This allows the Sun’s rays to enter the Earth’s atmosphere but stops their heat from escaping back into space. The greenhouse effect is caused by ‘greenhouse gases’, the main ones being carbon dioxide, methane and water vapour.
Greenhouse gases were important in transforming the Earth from being extremely cold during the ice age to a much more habitable state. Since the industrial revolution, however, humans have produced much higher levels of greenhouse gases, particularly carbon dioxide, through the burning of fossil fuels such as coal and oil. The result is that more of the Sun’s heat is trapped and is extremely likely to be the reason for the recent increases in the Earth’s temperature.
The warming of the Earth has serious implications for all life on the planet. Melting ice glaciers from the Arctic and Antarctic could result in rising sea levels causing flooding. The warming could further result in severe droughts in certain places. Weather in general could be much more extreme and difficult to predict. Those in developing countries are likely to feel the biggest impact of climate change.
We have a responsibility to minimise our impacts on climate change and adapt to inevitable climate change. This requires significantly reducing the amount of fossil fuels we use, minimising waste and more sustainable use of the Earth’s resources and taking steps to deal with extreme weather events.