Climate change is one of the most pressing issues we are facing today, and its impacts have put the lives of millions around the world at severe risk. Climate change includes both global warmings driven by human-induced emissions of greenhouse gases and the resulting large-scale shifts in weather patterns.
What Are Greenhouse Gases and How Does It Affect the Planet?
The greenhouse effect is a natural process that warms the Earth’s surface. When the Sun’s energy reaches the Earth’s atmosphere, some of it is reflected back to space and the rest is absorbed and re-radiated by greenhouse gases.
Greenhouse gases include water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, ozone, and some artificial chemicals such as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs).
The absorbed energy warms the atmosphere and the surface of the Earth. This process maintains the Earth’s temperature at around 33 degrees Celsius warmer than it would otherwise be, allowing life on Earth to exist.
What Is Global Warming?
Global warming is the long-term heating of Earth’s climate system observed since the pre-industrial period due to human activities, primarily fossil fuel burning, which increases heat-trapping greenhouse gas levels in Earth’s atmosphere. The term is frequently used interchangeably with the term climate change, though the latter refers to both human- and naturally produced warming and the effects it has on our planet. It is most commonly measured as the average increase in Earth’s global surface temperature.
Since the pre-industrial period, human activities are estimated to have increased Earth’s global average temperature by about 1 degree Celsius, a number that is currently increasing by 0.2 degrees Celsius per decade. Most of the current warming trend is extremely likely the result of human activity since the 1950s and is proceeding at an unprecedented rate over decades to millennia.
The Effects of Climate Change
The evidence for rapid climate change is compelling: warming ocean, shrinking ice sheets, glacial retreat, decreased snow cover, sea-level rise, declining Arctic Sea ice, extreme weather events, ocean acidification, and so on.
The effects of Climate Change are extreme and such as changes will continue through this century and beyond; temperatures will continue to rise; frost-free season (and growing season) will lengthen; the precipitation patterns will change; there will be more droughts and heatwaves; typhoons will become stronger and more intense; sea level will rise two and a half meters by 2100 and the Arctic likely to become ice-free.
- Carbon dioxide levels in the air are at their highest in 650,000 years.
- Nineteen of the warmest years have occurred since 2000.
- In 2012, Arctic summer sea ice shrank to the lowest extent on record.
- Satellite data show that Earth’s polar ice sheets are losing mass.
- The global average sea level has risen nearly 178mm over the past 100 years.
- At 1.5° warming, climate-related risks to human health, livelihoods, food security, human security, water supply, and economic growth will all increase.
Global Commitments to Address Climate Change
The Paris Agreement sets out a global framework to avoid dangerous climate change by limiting global warming to well below 2°C and pursuing efforts to limit it to 1.5°C. It also aims to strengthen countries’ ability to deal with the impacts of climate change and support them in their efforts.
The Paris Agreement is the first-ever universal, legally binding global climate change agreement, adopted at the Paris climate conference (COP21) in December 2015.
The EU and its Member States are among the close to 190 Parties to the Paris Agreement. The EU formally ratified the agreement on 5 October 2016, thus enabling its entry into force on 4 November 2016. For the agreement to enter into force, at least 55 countries representing at least 55% of global emissions had to deposit their instruments of ratification.
Understanding Carbon Neutral, Net Zero Carbon Emissions
Carbon neutral, negative, net zero, zero emissions, low carbon, climate-positive… As more nations, organizations, and individuals take bold climate action, more terms describing that action are flying around. But what do these terms mean? How do they differ?
Carbon neutral - You are carbon neutral if the amount of CO₂ emissions you put into the atmosphere is the same as the amount of CO₂ emissions you remove from the atmosphere. Your impact is neutral, zero. Putting it bluntly, you're maybe not making it actively worse, but you're not making it better either.
Carbon negative - Carbon negative takes that idea a step further. You are carbon negative if the amount of CO₂ emissions you remove from the atmosphere is bigger than the amount of CO₂ emissions you put into the atmosphere. Your impact is positive, meaning you're actively doing something to better the climate.
Net zero, net zero emissions - Net zero is broadly the same as carbon neutral: Emissions are still being generated, but they’re offset by the same amount elsewhere. The “net total” of your emissions is then zero.
The confusion here is that sometimes net-zero is used to talk about all greenhouse gases and sometimes it’s used to talk only about CO₂. Technologies play a big part in “net zero” as well: If a process generates CO₂, but also captures and stores it, it can be net zero. An example of this would be a coal-fired power plant that’s fitted with carbon capture and carbon storage tech. A plant like this could possibly qualify as net zero.
China’s Commitment to Carbon Neutrality
Chinese President Xi Jinping pledged at the United Nations General Assembly in September 2020 that China would reach peak carbon-dioxide emissions by 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality before 2060.
The State Council has drawn up the draft outline for the 14th Five-Year Plan for Economic and Social Development and Long-Range Objectives through the Year 2035. The draft outline sets major quantified objectives and tasks for economic and social development during the 14th Five-Year Plan period. One of them is promoting green development and ensuring harmony between humanity and nature. One of the major tasks for 2021 mentioned in the report is enhancing pollution prevention and control and ecological conservation and promoting continuous environmental improvement.
China is currently a world leader in the adoption and production of green technologies like solar panels, wind turbines, and electric vehicles. China manufactures about one third of the world’s wind turbines, over two-thirds of the world’s solar photovoltaics, and close to three-quarters of the world’s lithium-ion battery cells, which are essential for electric vehicles.
China’s strength in renewable energy is partly due to strong government support and investments, such as the nearly US$28 billion the government has invested in clean energy since early 2020. While significant, this figure is just a fraction of the RMB 100 trillion-plus (US$15.45 trillion) that the Chinese government expects to spend from 2020 to 2050 to build a clean energy system that will be 70-80 percent from non-fossil fuel sources.
Making Net Zero Emissions A Reality
While companies and countries around the world are scrambling to formulate policies and action plans to come closer to their carbon-neutral targets, the movement has to begin with each one of us. As individuals, we all play very important roles in determining the outcome of these commitments, merely by the choices we make in our daily lives with regard to the food we eat, the clothes we wear, the modes of transport we use, the types of buildings we live in, and the commodities we purchase.
- Food production accounts for one-quarter of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions and takes up half of the planet’s habitable surface.
- Meat and dairy specifically account for around 14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions and are also the primary source of methane emissions, a potent greenhouse gas.
- If the world is to meet its target of limiting global warming to “well below” 2°C, changes to our diets is a crucial step
- Shifting to a plant-based diet could save almost 8bn to 14bn tons of CO2e a year by 2050
- The fashion industry accounts for around 10% of global carbon emissions and nearly 20% of all wastewater
- To align with the international goal of limiting global warming to below 2°C, the fashion industry would need to cut emissions by 80% by 2050
- Reusing, swapping, donating, or shopping for secondhand clothes can reduce our individual carbon foot significantly
- Transport accounts for around one-fifth of global CO2 emissions and around 24% if we only consider CO2 emissions from energy
- Road travel accounts for three-quarters of transport emissions. Most of this comes from passenger vehicles – cars and buses – which contribute 45.1%. The other 29.4% comes from trucks carrying freight.
- Bike-sharing could reduce CO2 emissions by 4.8 million tons annually in China
- Taking the train instead of a flight is one of the easiest ways to drastically cut down our carbon footprint
- Electric vehicles powered by renewable energy and other new clean technologies like hydrogen fuel cells are the future of the transportation industry
- Greenhouse gas emissions from buildings arise from the manufacture and transport of the materials used in construction, use of fossil fuels for heating and cooking and use of electricity for space heating and cooling, water heating, lighting, and plug loads
- Buildings generate nearly 40% of annual global GHG emissions
- The building industry must eliminate all GHG emissions from the built environment by 2040 to meet Paris Climate Agreement targets
- Emissions reductions can be achieved by improving insulation levels, retrofitting existing building stock, integrating renewable energy systems, and supporting innovative green building designs.
At Green Initiatives we strongly believe that climate change and global warming leading to biodiversity loss is one of the most serious crises humankind is currently facing and is a huge threat to future generations all around the world. Individuals, companies, governments, and all institutions need to act immediately and take strong measures to address this issue and rethink their priorities while making decisions.
The Clock Is Ticking, Take Action Today!