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Climate 101

Author: Angelik Nehme, Staff Writer Published: 28 Nov 2023

As the global community grapples with the urgency of climate change, it has become imperative that individuals comprehend the intricacies of this complex phenomenon. It is no longer a distant threat; the consensus among scientists indicates that climate change is an imminent reality that requires our immediate attention and collective action. The purpose of this article is to serve as a rudimentary guide -a Climate Change 101, if you will- that shows its key aspects, from its causes and repercussions, to the initiatives to mitigate its results.

The Basics

Green Talk

“Climate change” encompasses global warming, which is the long-term warming of the planet, while also referring to the more extensive scope of changes. These changes include a rise in sea levels, diminishing mountain glaciers, quickening ice melt, and more. Additionally, the words climate and weather do not mean the absolute same thing: while weather denotes short-term atmospheric changes, climate encompasses longer-term alterations, typically spanning 30 years or more. Despite distinctions, weather and climate are interconnected, and shifts in climate influence weather patterns. In climate change discourse, the terms carbon neutral and net zero appear often, and while some use the terms interchangeably, others make a distinction between them. Carbon neutral means carbon emissions exist, but are being offset to balance the carbon output. However, “Net zero” is the ideal state that refers to the condition where human-induced greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are reduced to the minimum achievable levels from the get-go, and any residual emissions are counterbalanced by an equal quantity of GHG removals brought about by deliberate human efforts. Achieving net zero is the goal, and it necessitates decarbonisation efforts, as it includes more than just offsetting, but also minimising emissions.

Some Science

Climate change stems from a shift in the Earth's energy balance—how much solar energy is absorbed and radiated back into space. While natural phenomena, like variations in solar energy and volcanic eruptions impact the Earth's climate, they do not account for the observed warming trends. Human activities since the Industrial Revolution have substantially increased the levels of greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the Earth's atmosphere. These GHGs capture the sun's energy, causing the Earth's temperature to rise. The primary contributor to this warming is carbon dioxide (CO2). The significance of CO2 results from its vast emissions, enduring presence in the atmosphere, and diverse sources across industries. The amount of CO2 released from fossil fuel burning in electricity generation, transportation, and industrial processes among other industries have added to its concentration in the atmosphere. Additionally, there are other noteworthy GHGs like methane and fluorinated gases that have a higher Global Warming Potential (GWP). The long-lasting presence of major greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, persisting for thousands of years, means that their warming effects have enduring consequences on the climate, affecting both current and future generations.

The Situation and Implication

Scientists shed light in a series of United Nations reports on the need to restrict the rise in global temperature from preindustrial times to 1.5°C. However, despite their alarming tones, policies currently in place suggest a trajectory towards a 2.8°C increase by the end of the century. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) emphasizes the necessity of achieving net zero emissions by 2050 to limit the Earth's long-term average temperature increase to below the 1.5-degree mark. Achieving net zero involves reducing greenhouse gas emissions as much as feasible, and offsetting any remaining emissions by natural processes like absorption by oceans and forests. This necessitates a global effort to offset emitted greenhouse gases from activities such as burning coal, oil, and natural gas by removing an equivalent amount from the atmosphere.

Climate 101

A Look into the Effects of Climate Change

There is a list of potential effects that scientists are warning us about for the future, and we have already begun to witness the consequences of climate change on numerous fronts. The increase in global temperature can affect agriculture, infrastructure, and productivity. It increases mortality rates through heatwaves and affects health in a myriad ways that include insect and rodent related diseases and air quality. Changes like wildfires, droughts, and extreme rainfall are taking place faster than scientists previously evaluated. Europe faces a predicted 60 to 80 cm rise in sea levels by the century's end because of melting ice, impacting areas vital for the EU's economy. This poses risks of flooding and freshwater scarcity, affecting agriculture and drinking water. Climate change has made droughts more common and long-lasting, which can impact access to clean water for human consumption, animals, and agricultural purposes.

Economic Sectors at Risk

It is no secret that climate change can have a detrimental impact on the economy, as numerous sectors could potentially suffer because of it. Kyriakopoulou, Kyriacou, and Pearson (2023) have published an explainer under the Grantham Research Institute at the London School of Economics, which discusses how maritime transport is directly impacted by the climate, given that ports will cease to operate in case of an alarming rise in sea levels, and that trade in general is affected by hurricanes and floods. In addition, developing countries and communities dependent on agriculture are especially at risk, given that temperature changes and heat waves can damage crops, raise food prices, and impact agricultural productivity. The tourism sector likewise is affected by climate change, given that people would choose to cancel their flights if their destination area suffered through a flood or hurricane.

Some Efforts to Combat Climate Change

United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is a worldwide agreement serving as the basis for collective endeavours to tackle climate change. It convenes yearly meetings, such as the Conference of the Parties (COP), providing a platform for countries to engage in negotiations and dialogue on climate policies.

The Paris Agreement

The Paris Agreement is a legally binding international treaty on climate change within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Its aim is to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius past pre-industrial levels, while attempting to limit the increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Countries that are parties to the agreement submit nationally determined contributions (NDCs) outlining their climate action plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in line with the Paris Agreement goals. Furthermore, they specify strategies in NDCs for bolstering resilience and adapting to the impacts of climate change.

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development

The 13th SDG in the 2030 agenda adopted by the United Nations in 2015 is titled: "Climate Action." It stresses on the importance of quick action to fight against climate change and its consequences.

Companies and Communities

Many climate tech companies are employing their efforts towards fighting against climate change with innovative and efficient technologies. One example is UNDO, which contributes to climate mitigation efforts by speeding the natural geological process of weathering, enhancing the removal of billions of tonnes of CO₂. Another example is Climeworks, which provides carbon dioxide removal services by employing air capture (DAC) technology. Additionally, Carbon Capture specialises in developing and deploying direct air capture machines designed to remove CO2 from the atmosphere.

Potential for a Brighter Future

Addressing climate change requires a comprehensive strategy involving an array of solutions. These solutions include shifting towards renewable energy, enhancing energy efficiency, transitioning towards sustainable transportation, implementing carbon capture and storage, and promoting sustainable practices in agriculture. Overall, a collective effort involving individuals, businesses, governments, and international collaboration is necessary to effectively combat the challenges posed by climate change. Additionally, the World Bank and global partners are urging implementation of an agenda to speed the global utilisation of clean Hydrogen as a low-carbon energy medium to counter climate change and strengthen energy access in developing countries.

So, Now What?

There is no denying that fighting against climate change and implementing solutions pose challenges to individuals and institutions. Understanding the fundamentals of climate change is the first step towards meaningful action. Now, it is crucial that we transition from awareness to engagement through embracing sustainable practices and advocating for responsible policies on local and global fronts. We must keep in mind that some developing countries and disadvantaged communities suffer the consequences of climate change disproportionately. Climate change does not care about borders, so we must advocate collectively for better care of our planet.

Angelik Nehme graduated with an MSc in Development Economics & Policy from the University of Manchester. She has a BSc in Economics with a track in Political Science and international Affairs. She whished to put her skills to good use, by reporting about international issues. She is keen on economic development matters, and she favours sustainable growth.


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