First it was called global warming. Then it was climate change. Now, it's the climate crisis. The words used to describe the biggest challenge humanity has ever faced are evolving as the level of anxiety grows.
Daily we are getting new scientific publications and data confirming that the world is getting hotter, that it is human activity that is driving it and that unless we take action to stop it right now the outcome for humanity, biodiversity and nature will be catastrophic.
It’s not hard to understand that gases like carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide in our atmosphere could have such an effect. After all, we are well used to window salesmen flogging the benefits double glazed or triple glazed windows filled with argon gas to hold in more heat in our homes.
Last year CO2 accounted for 407 parts per million of atmosphere and the figures show that it is rising very sharply and rapidly.
In fact they are able charge a fortune for that warming effect and lots of households are willing to pay for it. So it should come as no surprise to us really that gases do trap extra heat. What might come as surprise to many people, however, is just how little carbon dioxide and other green house gases it takes to trap heat.
Scientists have good measurements of the carbon dioxide (CO2) in our atmosphere going back at least 800,000 years. They clearly show that in all that time we have never had as high a concentration of greenhouse gases as we have now. Last year CO2 accounted for 407 parts per million of atmosphere and the figures show that it is rising very sharply and rapidly.
But just think about that number for a second or two. Four hundred and seven parts per million. That is a tiny percentage. It means carbon dioxide makes up only 0.04 per cent of the entire atmosphere. Just four hundredths of 1%. Miniscule. The fact is that the carbon dioxide in our atmosphere is only a trace gas.
It is lethal. We have been behaving for a century and a half as if carbon dioxide didn't matter.
But just think about that again for another second or two. We now know that such a tiny trace of greenhouse gas is capable of upending our climate systems, threatening our civilisation, destroying biodiversity, and endangering the survival of humanity itself.
It is colourless. It is odourless. It is tasteless. But it is lethal. We have been behaving for a century and a half as if carbon dioxide didn’t matter. We have pumped more and more of it into the atmosphere to power our factories, our homes, our cars, food production and every single aspect our lives. The burning of fossil fuels has driven the level of CO2 in our atmosphere up by 43%.
Even if we could, by some magic, turn off the tap right now stop it, significant damage is already locked in. The carbon dioxide we have emitted is going to hang around in our atmosphere for hundreds and hundreds of years. And every day it is there, it will trap more and more heat, warming our world and pushing our climate systems closer and closer to the edge.
Every little bit of carbon dioxide matters and that we need to act fast to reduce it.
195 Governments have signed up and approved all the recent reports coming from the Intergovernmental Governmental Panel on Climate Change. The story they are telling us, and the evidence they have published says that every little bit of carbon dioxide matters and that we need to act fast to reduce it.
For instance if we could manage to reduce global warming by just a half of one degree Celsius the benefits would be huge including:
- · Saving several hundred million people from poverty
- · Preventing 10cm of sea level rise
- · Saving 10m people in low lying areas
- · Making an Ice-free Arctic ten times less likely
- · Saving up to 30% of coral reef
- · Saving 2.5 million square kilometres of permafrost, tundra, and boreal forests
- · Halving the damage to land-based ecosystems
- · And cutting the loss to global fisheries in half.
However achieving that would mean the rate at which we are planning to reduce greenhouse gas emission would need to more double by 2030 and net carbon emissions would have to be eliminated entirely by 2050.
That is a huge challenge. We have failed so far to reduce our greenhouse emissions in Ireland and we are moving further away from our legally binding commitments to do so.
The Government has finally embarked on a Climate Action Plan that could deliver progress and it is essential that for the sake of us all that it does.
Dangers highlighted by UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
Daily news bulletins are now filled with reports of extreme weather, wildfires, flooding and drought, thawing in the Arctic and distressed populations on the move.
The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change continues to highlight a litany of evidence of the danger we are in.
- Our oceans are warmer, more acidic and less productive.
- Melting glaciers and ice sheets causing sea levels to rise.
- Coastal extreme events becoming increasingly severe.
- 1.4 billion people at risk of rising sea levels.
- Ecosystems and the livelihoods in lowing lying and mountainous regions severely disrupted.
- Oceans absorbing 90 per cent of the heat from global warming.
- Ocean warming reduces the supply of oxygen and nutrients for marine life.
- Sea levels up 15cm in the 20th century. Now rising twice as fast
- Sea level will continue to rise for centuries.
- It could reach 30-60 cm by 2100 even if greenhouse gas emissions are sharply reduced and global warming is limited to well below 2°C.
- Arctic sea ice declining in every month of the year.
- The rate of ice loss of ice Antarctica has tripled in a decade.
- Increases in tropical cyclone winds and rainfall
- Marine heat waves have doubled in frequency and increased in intensity.
- Shifts in the distribution of fish populations.
- Wildfires across tundra and boreal regions.
- More category 4 and 5 tropical cyclones than ever before
- Nearly 50% of coastland wetlands been lost over the past 100 years
- Soil is being eroded 100 times faster than nature can replenish it.
- Temperatures on land up twice the global average
- Food security and terrestrial ecosystems threatened
- Lands subject to droughts up 1% per year for 50 years