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Climate Change - Code Red!

“[This report] is a code red for humanity. The alarm bells are deafening, and the evidence is irrefutable: greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel burning and deforestation are choking our planet and putting billions of people at immediate risk.” - António Guterres, the UN secretary general

 

On August 9th, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which is the “world’s leading authority on climate science” (Harvey, 2021), released its sixth report since 1988. The report states that human activity was to blame for the effects of climate change we have been experiencing for the past years: melting polar ice caps, rising sea levels, extreme weather like heat waves, floods and droughts. If we continue to be like this, the Earth’s temperature is likely to increase by more than 1.5℃ due to human activities in the next 20 years. The number ‘1.5’ may not sound like a large number, however, even with a rise in 1℃, the Earth’s ecosystem collapses; so far, since 1850~1900, there has been an increase of 1.1℃ which has caused a devastating impact on our world. In order to prevent this, the IPCC sternly warns that there is a need for every country to come up with a new plan on how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

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The greenhouse effect occurs when UV or visible light radiation from the Sun warms up the surface of the Earth. The Earth radiates and emits infra-red radiation which is absorbed by the greenhouse gas molecules in the atmosphere. They trap the energies in the atmosphere, and those energies are re-radiated in all directions which heats up the Earth. However, this greenhouse effect is a natural process and without it, the temperature of the Earth would be much lower which also becomes a problem. What causes global warming is the enhanced greenhouse effect - increase in the greenhouse effect. This occurs when there is an excessive amount of greenhouse gasses due to human activities.

Some major greenhouse gases are:

 

  • Carbon dioxide (CO2)

  • Product of combustion

  • Plants remove CO2 during photosynthesis which is a process called carbon fixation, however, this effect is reduced again because of one of the causes of global warming, deforestation.

  • Water vapour (H2O)

  • Methane (CH4)

  • Produced from livestock animals

  • Nitrous oxide (N2O)

  • Produced from livestock animals and industries

  • Ozone (O3)

  • The ozone layer (region of the atmosphere) is important for us as it absorbs high-energy UV photons from the Sun which are harmful to us. However, it also traps the heat from infra-red radiation.

  • Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) 

  • Released due to industrial activities

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“Major climate changes inevitable and irreversible” (Harvey, 2021)

 

The seriousness of global warming is evident with the extreme events occurring around the world. Heatwaves and wildfires in Australia, flooding in Bangladesh, drought in South Africa and storms hitting Southeast Asia including Thailand. Already, there are some long-term impacts of global warming that we cannot take back. To minimise the effect of climate change, we all have to work together to lower the carbon footprint.

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Video: https://youtu.be/SB60Ls2O2ik - Climate crisis: one month of flash floods, wildfires and heatwaves

Were there any measures to prevent further climate change? Yes, an example is the Paris Agreement. The Paris Agreement is a legally binding international treaty on climate change adopted in 2015. It aims to keep the increase in temperature rise to well below 2, preferably at around 1.5 degrees celsius, compared to the pre-industrial levels. It was the first agreement which brought nations together with the common goal of reducing global warming.

 

The Paris agreement requires changes in economic and social sectors of the country. It has a 5-year cycle and at the end of the cycle, countries have to submit their plans for climate action known as the nationally determined contributions (NDCs). They also form long-term low greenhouse gas emission development strategies. Countries in part of the Paris Agreement help each other for financial, technical and capacity building support. 

 

“Achieving net zero will require action from everyone” (Vallance, 2021)

 

Truthfully, we have not achieved much to the point where we can reach the Paris Agreement goals or stop climate change. However, we have made small and large steps, which are crucial to start changing the world. There have been a few changes made such as charging plastic bags and people are slowly becoming more aware of the problem. Furthermore, more and more countries and companies established laws and goals to carbon neutrality targets, zero-carbon solutions are becoming more competitive across economic sectors, etc. Following this trend, we will be able to achieve zero-carbon solutions becoming competitive in sectors representing over 70% of the global emissions. Many a little makes a mickle.

 

“You must take action. You must do the impossible. Because giving up is never an option.” - Greta Thunberg

By Ena Hashimoto and Jiwon Yoo (Year 13 Students at Bangkok Patana School)

Sources:

Patrick Vallance, “The IPCC Report is clear: nothing short of transforming society will avert catastrophe”, 2021, Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2021/aug/09/ipcc-report-transforming-society-avert-catastrophe-net-zero?CMP=Share_AndroidApp_Other [Accessed 23 August 2021]

 

Fiona Harvey, “Major climate changes inevitable and irreversible - IPCC’s starkest warning yet”, 2021, Available at: 

https://www.theguardian.com/science/2021/aug/09/humans-have-caused-unprecedented-and-irreversible-change-to-climate-scientists-warn [Accessed 23 August 2021]

 

IPCC, “Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis”, 2021, Available at: https://www.ipcc.ch/report/sixth-assessment-report-working-group-i/ [Accessed 23 August 2021]

 

IPCC, “The Paris Agreement”, 2021, Available at: 

https://unfccc.int/process-and-meetings/the-paris-agreement/the-paris-agreement [Accessed 23 August 2021]

 

Byony Firth-Bernard, “The most inspiring Greta Thunberg quotes”, 2020, Available at: https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/uk/lifestyle/a33602835/greta-thunberg-quotes/ [Accessed 23 August 2021]