Climate change is considered by many scientists to be the most serious threat facing the world today.
With the term Climate Change we indicate the changes in climatic patterns due to anthropogenic activities: the composition if the atmosphere is being altered because of the pollutants and the chemicals that are emitted by industrial processes and activities. These greenhouse gases prevent heat from escaping the earth’s surface, altering the thermal balance of the earth which consequently warms up. This is illustrated in this diagram:
[Source: Earth's Annual Global Mean Energy Budget , Kiehl, J. T. and Trenberth, K. E., 1997]
The UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) research demonstrates that global warming is "unequivocal" and that human activity is the main cause of the changes in climate that we are experiencing today and that we will experience in the future.
[Source IPCC Anthropogenic emissions of CO2, CH4, N2O and SO2 for the six SRES scenarios WG1 TS17]
The IPCC, in a 2001 report, predicted atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere would increase to between 540 and 970 parts per million (ppm) by 2100, compared to 280ppm in pre-industrial times. As a result, the IPCC in 2007 concluded that global temperatures will increase by 1.1 and 6.4 degrees C by the end of the century. This range describes the uncertainties of future greenhouse gases reductions (6 scenarios have been modeled) and of some scientific uncertainties about the prediction models. Any temperature changes within these boundaries will have profound consequences for human life. We cannot ignore anymore the amount of global effects such a rise will have. Evidence around the globe is showing increasingly frequent mega droughts, rapid changes to ecosystems, spread of parasitic diseases, intense weather events such as storms and floods, freshwater shortages, dramatic melting of the Arctic ice cap. The disappearance of land and sea ice from all continents is probably the most tangible impact of climate change.
In particular the temperatures in the Arctic have been rising at twice the rate of the global average. The Arctic summer sea ice has declined in extent by a third since the 1950s and on current trends will be almost gone by 2050.
[Source: Arup Drivers of Change: Climate Change. Card 16]
But the latest findings reveal that the Arctic Ice cap could actually melt much earlier than 2050, as soon as 2013! Each year scientists use satellites to measure the area of the Arctic ice cap as it grows and shrinks with the seasons. In winter it normally reaches about 5.8m square miles before receding to about 2.7m square miles in summer. Last summer, however, things suddenly changed. For day after day the sun shone, raising water temperatures by 4.3C above the average. According to Marika Holland and Professor Mark Serreze, from the University of Colorado’s National Snow and Ice Data Centre, “The key new idea is that as the ice thins it reaches a point where it becomes very vulnerable. It gets so thin that it can get broken up or just melt away very easily. Once that happens it could be very hard for it ever to recover, especially if we get more hot summers. This year is going to be crucial.”
The climate will continue to change for years to come, even if it were possible to cut greenhouse gas emissions immediately, thus solutions to this global issue need intergovernmental coordination and need to be adopted efficiently and promptly. These should include technological solutions (phasing out coal plants, expanding renewable energy sources and public transport, creating new efficiency standards for industrial processes, vehicles and buildings) and behavioural solutions (travelling/holidays, shopping/consuming, recycling, using energy efficiently).
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is universally recognized as the world's most authoritative voice on the science of climate change.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was established by the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) in 1988 to assess the scientific, technical and socio-economic information relevant for the understanding of human induced climate change, its potential impacts and options for mitigation and adaptation.
The IPCC's assessment reports are benchmarks in humanity's understanding of climate change.
• In February 2007, the IPCC released the Fourth Assessment Report titled Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis, which concludes that global warming is "unequivocal" and that human activity is the main driver of this warming, asserting with near certainty (more than 90 percent confidence) that carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping greenhouse gases from human activities have been the main causes of warming since 1950.
• In April, 2007, the IPCC released the Summary for Policymakers that evaluates "Climate Change Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability", in which opportunities are presented to limit the risks and costs of climate change through both emissions reductions (mitigation) and resilience strategies to adapt to the future impacts of unavoidable warming.
• On May 4, 2007, the Summary for Policymakers to the Fourth Assessment Report was approved, describing strategies required for the Mitigation of Climate Change. Many of the solutions presented in the report focus on existing technologies such as switching from coal-fired power to renewable energy sources, improving energy efficiency in buildings and introducing more effective economic incentives.
• The Synthesis Report has been released by the IPCC at the end of 2007. It provides an integrated view of climate change as the final part of the IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report (AR4).
For more information, please visit www.ipcc.ch