What is climate change? Really simple guide

What is climate change?  Really simple guide

Image source, Getty Images

Human activities are causing global temperatures to rise, with consequences including more intense heatwaves and rising sea levels.

Things are likely to get worse in the coming decades, but scientists say urgent action could limit the worst effects of climate change.

What is climate change?

Climate change is the long-term shift in Earth's average temperatures and weather conditions.

Over the past decade, the world has been about 1.2 degrees Celsius warmer on average than it was in the late 19th century.

How do humans cause climate change?

Climate has changed throughout Earth's history and natural factors, such as El Niño, can affect the weather for shorter periods of time, as happened in 2023.

But natural causes cannot explain the particularly rapid warming seen in the past century, according to the UN climate body, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

When fossil fuels burn, they release greenhouse gases – mostly carbon dioxide (CO2). This traps extra energy in the atmosphere near the Earth's surface, warming the planet.

What are the effects of climate change so far?

The average global temperature increase of 1.2 degrees Celsius that we have seen in the past decade may not seem like much.

However, it has had a significant impact on the environment, including:

People's lives are also changing.

Why is a 1.5°C temperature rise important and how will future climate change affect the world?

As average temperatures rise, the effects of climate change become worse.

  • Extreme hot days It will be on average 4°C warmer at mid-latitudes (regions outside the poles and the tropics), versus 3°C at 1.5°C.
  • Sea level rise It will be 0.1m higher than 1.5°C, exposing up to 10 million additional people to events including frequent flooding.
  • More than 99% of them Coral reefs will be lost, compared to 70-90% at 1.5°C
  • Double the number Plants and vertebrates (Animals with backbones) will be exposed to unsuitable climatic conditions in more than half of the geographic area in which they are found
  • Several hundred million more the people They may be exposed to climate-related risks and be more vulnerable to poverty by 2050 than at 1.5°C.

The call to limit temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius was partly aimed at avoiding crossing so-called “tipping points”.

Beyond these thresholds, changes can accelerate and become irreversible, such as the collapse of the Greenland ice sheet. However, it is not clear exactly where these thresholds lie.

Image source, Getty Images

Comment on the photo, The Earth's poles are particularly vulnerable to rising temperatures

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, between 3.3 and 3.6 billion people are highly vulnerable to climate change.

People living in poor countries are expected to suffer more than others because they have fewer resources to adapt.

However, the knock-on effects can be felt over wide areas. For example, crop failures associated with extreme weather may cause global food prices to rise.

What are governments doing about climate change?

To this end, “net zero” carbon dioxide emissions must be reached by 2050. Net zero means reducing greenhouse gas emissions as much as possible, and removing any remaining emissions from the atmosphere.

World leaders meet every year to discuss their climate commitments.

The most recent UN climate change summit, COP28, was held in the United Arab Emirates. For the first time, countries have agreed to “contribute” to the “transition away from fossil fuels,” although they do not have to take action.

The next conference, COP29, will be held in Azerbaijan in November 2024.

What can people do about climate change?

Top image from Getty Images. Visualization of climate lines provided by Professor Ed Hawkins and the University of Reading.

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