12 facts you need to know about climate change

Arm yourself with the science

1. 2019 was the second warmest year on record.

Confirmed by the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO), the year 2019 was the second warmest year on record after 2016 (see below).

The earth’s temperature tends to fluctuate. What’s worrying is that the earth’s temperature sure has been going up and down a lot more in the last 50 years. The changes we have been seeing over the last five decades alone, would normally happen over hundreds of thousands of years.

Since the industrial revolution, the levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere have been increasing, which correspond to the much faster warming – another important trend.

97% of climate scientists agree that climate-warming trends over the past century are extremely likely (i.e. greater than 95% probability) to be down to human activities, and most of the leading scientific organisations worldwide have issued public statements endorsing this position.?

2. The warmest year on record was 2016.

Due to the combination of a very strong El Niño event and long-term climate change, 2016 remains the warmest year on record.

It’s no coincidence that these two warmest years happened so close together. The period between 2015-2019 and 2010-2019 saw the highest average temperatures on record. Since the 1980s, each decade has been warmer than the one before. Nineteen of the 20 warmest years all have occurred since 2001, with the exception of 1998.

The graph below, from NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS), illustrates the change in global surface temperature relative to 1951-1980 average temperatures.

GLOBAL LAND-OCEAN TEMPERATURE INDEX Data source: NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS). Credit: NASA/GISS

3. Since 1988, global CO2 emissions have risen by well over 40% and they continue to rise.

Since governments and scientists started officially meeting to discuss the need to lower greenhouse gas emissions to avoid a climate catastrophe, global CO2 emissions have gone up by well over 40 percent – and they continue to rise.

“The last time there was this much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, humans didn’t exist.” – Naomi Klein, ‘On Fire: The Burning Case for a Green New Deal.

And as CO2 levels rise, so do global temperatures, and ocean temperatures, and ocean levels.

Since the pre-industrial era, the average global temperature has risen by about 1.1°C. If we continue this way, we are looking at an increase of global temperatures of around 3-5°C by the end of the century, which may not sound like much, but will have catastrophic impacts.

A rise of just 3°C means:??

  • Near-complete melting of the Greenland ice sheet, which means sea levels will rise by 7+ metres, wiping out entire coastal communities??.
  • Agricultural yields will have already fallen rapidly at a 2°C increase, now fish species will become extinct locally at 3°C??.
  • Coral reefs will already be gone; Marine ecosystems may now collapse.??
  • Australia, the Mediterranean, Brazil and Asia will be amongst the 8% of the global population already facing severe water shortages; but at 3°C, almost half of Himalayan high mountain glaciers will be lost. ??

4. The concentration of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere is 408 part?s per million, as of 2018 – this is the highest it has been in 3 million years

It’s taken humans just 50 years to do something the planet couldn’t do naturally in 3 million years.

But to find a time when the concentration of CO2 in our atmosphere was consistently above 400 parts per million, you have to go back 16 million years to the warm part of the Miocene era.

But, why is carbon dioxide so bad?

It’s not all bad. CO2 in the atmosphere works to trap heat close to Earth, so it can retain some of the energy it needs from the Sun, without it all leaking back into space. This process is called the Greenhouse effect, because it is similar to what happens in a greenhouse.

The problem is, CO2 is so good at holding in the heat from the sun, that even a small increase in levels can really turn up the heat on earth – which is what we call global warming (or more accurately now, global heating).

Some of the impacts of global heating are:

  • Much more extreme weather occurrences – severe droughts, severe flooding, longer bushfire seasons, bigger snowfalls, more desertification.
  • The loss of fertile ground, which means we will see the loss of plants, animals and other species that cannot survive in these changing conditions.
  • The acidification of seawater, wiping out coral reefs and ocean life.

This mass extinction of multiple species due to the effects of global heating will itself have a negative impact on the environment, causing a complete shake-up in the natural circle of life.

5. 11% of all global greenhouse gas emissions caused by humans are caused by deforestation

This is comparable to the emissions from all of the cars and trucks on the planet.

Deforestation increases global greenhouse gas emissions in numerous ways:

  • Trees and plants are natural carbon sinks because they absorb CO2 as they grow. When carbon sinks are weaker, the impact of human-caused emissions will be greater.
  • When trees are cut down, they release all the carbon they’ve been storing into the atmosphere.
  • Then there is the question of what the deforesters do with the felled trees – leaving them to rot on the forest floor, or burning then, or processing them into toilet paper, which in turn creates even more CO2 emissions*.
  • Agriculture is responsible for at least 80 percent of tropical deforestation. Forests are burned down to farm cattle or to plant mega crops like soy and oil palm; which is totally counterproductive as all the nutrients locked up in the trees themselves disappear along with the their ashes, so the farmers are left with useless soil.

(*15% of all deforestation is due to toilet paper production, and paper mills are a considerable source of air emissions (CO2, NOX) associated with the production of energy by burning fossil fuels.)

6. Worldwide, the number of climate-related disasters has more than tripled since 1980.

Global heating makes extreme weather more… extreme… and frequent.

The 2003 heatwave that killed more than 70,000 people in Europe should be a twice-a-century kinda thing, in fact recent studies have found it has become a once-in-every-40-years kinda thing, because of global heating.

If this trend continues, people living along the Persian Gulf may find themselves facing regular bouts of self-isolation, as days so hot it will be unsafe to go outside will become more and more frequent.

7. By 2100, it’s estimated 50% of all the world’s species could become exist because of climate change

  • Have you noticed that spring flowers seem to be blooming earlier than usual? You’re not imagining it – warmer temperatures are causing this and it’s a problem for bees, as it leaves less time for them to pollinate. Bumblebees are also forced north to stay in cooler climates because of climate change.
  • Climate change has decreased the reproductive capacity of the already-endangered Asian Elephant, because their habitat has been so badly impacted by lower rainfall and higher temperatures.
  • Giraffes’ main food source is the acacia tree, which are depleting because of climate change.
  • Sea temperature rises are disrupting the migration, feeding and reproductive habits of whales, who rely on specific ocean temperatures for their survival.
  • A very obvious victim of climate change is insects. Remember when you used to drive through the countryside and have loads of dead bugs on your windscreen? Not any more. If we continue at the current rate of warming, about 18% of all insect species would be lost by 2100. If the planet was to warm by 3.2°C, that number would rise to 49%. Insects pretty much keep our ecosystem running, so the negative halo effect of this loss would be absolutely devastating.
  • In the last three years alone, 72% of the world’s coral reefs protected by UNESCO have experienced severe heat stress. Sustained heat stress causes coral bleaching, an often deadly occurrence in which coral starves from a loss of nutrition.

And these are just some of the species endangered by climate change.

8. Around 600 million children (1 in every 4 children worldwide) will live in a region with very limited access to water resources by 2040

According to a report by UNICEF released in 2017, 36 countries are currently facing extremely high levels of water stress. Warmer water temperatures, rising sea levels, increased floods, droughts and melting ice affect the availability and quality of water, as well as sanitation systems. Water resources are being drained due to population growth, increased consumption, and higher demand for water due to industrialisation and urbanisation.

The report states “climate risks should be integrated into all water and sanitation-related policies and services, and investments should to target high-risk populations”.

9. Renewable (“green”) energy is one of the most powerful and effective tools we have in the fight against climate change?

Renewable energy, particularly wind and solar, has experienced huge growth over the past decade. The cost of renewable energy continues to decline, making it increasingly competitive with fossil fuels.

A recent report from the Department of Energy and Lawrence Berkeley National (LBNL) Laboratory found that renewable energy provides a wide range of economic, health, and climate benefits. The report concluded that in 2013 alone, renewable standards across the US saved customers up to $1.2 billion from reduced wholesale electric prices and $1.3 billion to $3.7 billion from lower natural gas prices (as a result of lower demand for natural gas across the power sector).

10. Protecting nature and conserving ecosystems is often more cost-effective than human-made interventions

Conserving ecosystems is ?often more cost-effective than human-made interventions.

In the Maldives, building a sea wall for coastal protection cost about US$ 2.2 billion. Even after 10 years of maintenance costs, it is still four times cheaper to preserve the natural reef.

11. Natural climate solutions could create 80 million jobs, bring 1 billion people out of poverty and add US$trillions in productive growth

Recent analysis by the New Climate Economy has shown that:

“…developing sustainable food and land use-business models could be worth up to US$2.3 trillion and provide over 70 million jobs by 2030. In short, the transition to sustainable food and land use systems represents an opportunity that no country, nor indeed the world, can afford to ignore. Not making the transition, meanwhile, entails risks and costs that no responsible leader should accept.”

12. It will cost less than 0.1% of global GD per year to make the changes humanity needs to adapt to a warming world

The Global Commission on the Economy and Climate released a major report in 2014, which concluded that choosing between tackling climate change and boosting economic growth is a ‘false choice’; and that economic growth and reducing emissions are mutually beneficial.

The report found that:

  • Tripling R&D in low-carbon technologies to at least 0.1% of GDP can drive a new wave of innovation for growth.
  • Building cleaner cities would save over US $3 trillion in investment by 2030 and improve quality of life.
  • Phasing out fossil fuel subsidies can improve growth (currently the subsidies going to fossil fuels are six times those going to renewable energy).
  • Damages to health from fossil-fuel burning cost over 4% of GDP in the 15 countries with highest emissions.
  • Restoring 12% of the world’s degraded lands can feed 200 million people and store 1 billion tonnes of carbon by 2030.
  • Over half of new electricity generation over the next 15 years is likely to be from renewables. Solar prices have fallen 80% since 2008.

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We strive to provide you with the truth about climate change, using scientific research, trends and facts – no #fakenews! But, we are only human, so if you see anything in one of our articles that doesn’t sound quite right (and you have scientific research to back you up, not just an opinion), please get in touch to let us know and we’ll look into it.

New Climate Economy ReportNRDCUnicefLight For The WorldEarth Day OrgThe National StudentFuturismDe GruyterCarbon Stock StudyYale Environment 360Conservation InternationalOn Fire: The Burning Case For A Green New Deal by Naomi KleinYale Environment 360BBCNational GeographicWWFNASAWorld Meteorological Organization (WMO)
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Charli Ferrand

Charli wrote her first novel at the tender age of 9, then dabbled in the idea of becoming a professional ballerina for a few years, before returning to her love of writing, acquiring a BA (Hons) in Journalism, Film & Broadcast from Cardiff University in the UK. A three-month holiday in Australia turned into a 11 year residency, during which Charli cemented her career in PR & Marketing Communications working with some of the biggest brands in the world. She also gained her citizenship, discovered her passion for sustainability and eventually ended up coming full circle, combining her professional skills with her love of the planet and oceans into her role as Editor-in-Chief of Earth Collective. A trained journalist, experienced communications professional and qualified Mental Health First Aider, Charli has her finger on the pulse of the latest political and environmental developments around the world. You can find her writing about current affairs, political activism and mental health.

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