Climate science and environmental impacts
Understanding climate change
Climate change refers to long-term shifts in weather patterns affecting the Earth. These shifts impact ecosystems and human activities, resulting in rising surface temperatures and more extreme weather events.
Human activities and greenhouse gases
The primary driver of climate change is the increase in greenhouse gas emissions caused by human activities. These include the burning of fossil fuels, deforestation, and industrial processes.
Greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4), trap heat in the Earth’s atmosphere and cause global warming. Some of the most significant sources of greenhouse gas emissions include transportation, electricity production, and agriculture.
Companies and organisations measure their greenhouse gas emissions using different frameworks known as scopes.
Scope 1, 2, and 3 emissions account for direct, energy-related, and other indirect emissions resulting from purchased goods, services, and waste disposal.
Projected risks and global impacts
Climate change poses multiple risks and impacts on the planet. An increase in global temperatures leads to the melting of ice caps and glaciers, contributing to a rise in sea level.
This causes flooding in coastal areas and threatens infrastructure, property, and ecosystems. Droughts, heatwaves, and storms also become more frequent and severe, damaging agriculture, water resources, and human health.
In addition to environmental impacts, climate change has serious social and economic consequences.
It can lead to climate migration, as people are forced to leave their homes due to the effects of climate change. Additionally, it exacerbates global inequality, as the less economically developed countries are often the most vulnerable to its effects.
Efforts to mitigate climate change often involve reducing greenhouse gas emissions, promoting renewable energy sources, and implementing solutions for deforestation.
Policy frameworks and international agreements
The role of the IPCC
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) plays a crucial role in assessing and summarising climate research.
Established in 1988, the IPCC’s primary goal is to provide governments with unbiased, evidence-based information to develop climate policies that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and minimise the impacts of climate change.
The Paris Agreement and beyond
The Paris Agreement is a landmark international treaty adopted in 2015, aiming to limit global temperature rise to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels.
Its long-term goal is to achieve a balance between anthropogenic emissions and removals of greenhouse gases in the second half of this century. This treaty emphasises international cooperation and promotes national initiatives to combat climate change.
In the years following the Paris Agreement, countries continue participating in the annual United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP) to assess progress, improve climate policies, and discuss future objectives.
National contributions and strategies
To achieve the Paris Agreement’s goals, every country is expected to submit its Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), which outline the actions and targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
NDCs must be updated every five years to represent increased ambition over time.
National governments implement various carbon pricing strategies to reduce emissions, such as taxes on carbon and cap-and-trade systems.
Furthermore, countries adopt clean energy policies to promote renewable energy sources, incentivise energy efficiency, and phase out fossil fuels.
Overall, these policy frameworks and international agreements serve as a foundation for global climate action by fostering international cooperation, promoting national initiatives, and driving continuous improvement in efforts to combat climate change.
Mitigation strategies and technological solutions
Renewable energy and energy mix
The global energy mix plays a crucial role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and supporting a low-carbon economy.
Advancements in renewable energy technologies, such as solar, wind, and hydropower, are contributing to the global shift away from fossil fuel energy.
Nuclear power can also help lower CO2 emissions by providing a steady energy source without burning fossil fuels.
Increasing the proportion of natural gas in the energy mix is another method to reduce emissions. Natural gas burns cleaner than coal, emitting fewer greenhouse gases per unit of energy produced.
A diversified energy mix supports a stable energy transition to a more environmentally friendly economy.
Carbon Capture and Storage Technologies
One of the key mitigation strategies is implementing carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies.
These systems capture CO2 emissions from power plants and industrial processes, and then subsequently store them underground.
By employing CCS, it becomes possible to continue using fossil fuels while significantly reducing their carbon footprint.
However, achieving net-zero emissions requires both CCS and other emission reduction measures.
A variety of CO2 capturing methods are available, from pre-combustion to post-combustion, or even oxy-fuel combustion.
The choice of CCS technology depends on factors such as fuel type, industry, and local geology.
Innovative policies for low-carbon growth
Transitioning to a low-carbon economy requires progressive policies and behavioural changes to support these technological solutions.
Innovative policies, such as carbon pricing, encourage businesses and households to adopt low-carbon practices.
Carbon tax and cap-and-trade systems are examples of market-based mechanisms placing a cost on emissions, stimulating eco-friendly behaviour.
Furthermore, carbon accounting methods provide organisations with tools to measure and manage their emissions effectively.
Individuals can also adopt simple ways to reduce their carbon footprint in daily life, for example, by using energy-efficient appliances or travelling using public transportation instead of private cars.
Promoting sustainable consumption and production patterns on a large scale is essential to achieving a low-carbon future.
Understandably, there is often confusion between the terms “carbon neutrality” and “net-zero”.
While being carbon-neutral means offsetting an equal amount of emissions produced, net-zero implies completely eliminating or reducing emissions to lower levels than the carbon sinks’ ability to absorb them.
Both concepts are essential components of climate mitigation.
Economic aspects and the role of society
Balancing economic growth with climate goals
Economic growth is integral to societal well-being, but it can conflict with climate goals.
The need to mitigate climate change requires balancing economic priorities with environmental considerations.
Strategies such as carbon pricing and investing in sustainable industries are being explored to promote a low-carbon economy.
Corporate responsibility and private sector engagement
Companies play a significant role in addressing climate change. They must ensure responsible business practices, reduce their carbon footprints, and engage in the green transition.
The Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD) is an example of a policy that encourages transparency and accountability in the private sector’s impact on the environment.
Public opinion and participation
Society’s attitude towards environmental issues is crucial in driving political and economic action.
Public opinion influences the implementation of policies, such as carbon taxes, which can help to internalise environmental costs.
Encouraging behavioural change, raising awareness through climate change education, and promoting public participation can strengthen society’s commitment to climate objectives.