About Climate Change

Difficult questions - simple answers

Do people have an influence on the climate change?

  • Climate change is a natural phenomenon which has occurred many times before on Earth, and depends on factors such as: solar activity, the properties of the surface of Earth, and composition of the atmosphere.
  • There is no doubt that now another climate change takes place - during the last hundred years the average global temperature rose by 0.74°C[1], the sea level increased for the first time since the last ice age (over 20cm since 1870, and the pace of the increase is getting faster), glaciers melt and the snow cap of the Northern hemisphere decreases.
  • The climate change from distant history is attributable, above all, to the fluctuations of Earth’s orbit, Sun’s cycle and volcanic activity. These processes continue, but their influence on the observed climate change is generally too insignificant to explain the current situation (studies show that, for example, the Sun may be responsible for not more than 10% of the current global warming[2]).
  • The key element is the activity of humans who, since the beginning of the industrial revolution (around 1750), started to affect the natural environment on global scale:
    • deforestation and burning of fossil fuels - the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere increased by 30% compared to the pre-industrial era (in the prehistoric times the concentration was invariable) and - according to the studies on glacier cores - it is currently the highest since 650,000 years
    • the use of synthetic fertilisers and animal farming on industrial scale - the concentration of methane and nitric oxide in the atmosphere in the second half of the 20th century was growing 2-6 times faster than in any other period of our era before 1800.
  • What is more, the changes occur at an unprecedented pace (for example, the changes in CO2 concentration and in global temperature similar to those taking place in the 20th century took 5000 years during the periods of ice age!)
  • The changes on the global scale cannot be confused with the local trends (which may be positive or negative) or, even more so, with the changing weather!

Sources: IPCC4 2007; The Science of Climate Change (Australian Academy of Science)

What can be done to stop / limit the extent of the climate change?

  • Every one of us may contribute to stopping or, at least, limiting the climate change. These actions do not require expert knowledge or a lot of time or money, it is enough to bear in mind the best interests of the natural environment when making everyday decisions.
    • Reduce the use of electric energy - at home and at workplace. It is possible by choosing energy-saving equipment (marked with A, A+, A++ symbols) with thermostats and time switches. Changing light bulbs to energy-saving ones can save up to 80% of energy. Lamps and equipment should be turned off whenever we are not using them, electric equipment should not be left on stand-by, and cell phone (laptop, shaver, etc.) chargers should not be left plugged in when charged.. Insulation of buildings, decrease in heating and sealing up of windows and doors will contribute not only to lowering the energy consumption, but also to lowering your bills.
    • Save water - by remembering to close the tap (also when brushing your teeth) or by installing a special spout which by optically increasing the water jet helps lower water consumption. Taking a shower instead of a bath, turning the washing machine and the dishwasher on only when they are fully loaded, and putting a cover on pots when cooking helps save not only water, but also energy.
    • Save paper - by printing on both sides of a sheet of paper, using sheets of paper printed on one side for notes and working printouts, storing documents in electronic version instead of paper one, or by collecting waste paper - 1 ton of wastepaper saves 17 trees.
    • Rationalise transport - use of public transport or the increasingly popular eco-driving (economic style of driving) will contribute to reduce the emissions from transport.
    • Become a conscious consumer - using bags for multiple use, limiting of use of throw-away packaging, buying products made of recycled materials, buying food and other products in the right amount (not excessively) will not only decrease the amount of waste, but also the amount of energy needed to produce what we consume.
  • Actions of individuals in the area of climate change have major significance but they alone will not suffice. Countries are the entities that have at their disposal the relevant tools to make efficient policy in the area, create regulations for industry, set the technical standards or finance agriculture modernisation programmes. At the same time, because the problem of climate change is of global nature, wide international co-operation is necessary - otherwise the endeavours of some countries may be thwarted by the careless policy of others.
  • The co-operation has been started at the so-called Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, during which the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change was adopted. The Convention aims at reducing the emissions of greenhouse gases, the main culprit of the human-induced climate change of the industrial era. Only by controlling the emission of CO2 and other greenhouse gases humankind may stop the accelerating pace of climate change and limit the damages caused by the extreme weather phenomena occurring over and over again.

Is the UNFCCC process efficient in the battle with the climate change?

  • The UNFCCC process has universal range - all UN states take part therein. What is more, works on a new agreement are currently ongoing which will set binding reduction aims for everyone.
  • So far, the UNFCCC process brought measurable results in the form of national mitigation and adaptation programmes helping countries to make more rational, pro-ecological and pro-development policy, or in the form of organising markets for emissions trading.
  • The participation of all countries is key for the efficiency of the UNFCCC process. This aim is achieved at the stage of negotiations, and such is the planned shape of the new climate agreement.
  • The new agreement should set the reduction aim which will stop the drastic climate warming in future. It will be legally binding for all parties, which will ensure its efficiency. Even if the armed forces or court of law do not guard the treaties (apart from the special role of the International Court of Justice), it is in the best interest of the countries to abide by the commitments, considering the benefits the Treaty alone creates, and due to the care to maintain good relations with other parties of the international community.

 



[1] It does not seem a lot, but we have to remember that during the so-called Little Ice Age, between the 16th and 19th centuries, temperatures in Europe were only 1°C lower and still the Baltic Sea froze occasionally. And that cooling was only local (the average temperature on Earth did not fall significantly), while the temperature rise during the industrial era refers to the whole globe! The scale of warming in individual regions may be even greater.

[2] Forester, P., et al., “Changes in atmospheric constituents and in radiative forcing”, Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis Contribution of Working Group I to the Fourth Assessment Report of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, CUP, Cambridge, 2007;

Lean, J.L., et al., “Detection and parameterization  of variations in solar mid- and near-ultraviolet radiation (200-400 nm)”, Journal of Geophysical Research-Atmospheres 102, 29939-29956, 1997.