Scientists at the IPCC have shown that increased levels of GHG in the atmosphere are warming the planet. This creates extreme weather changes around the world. Currently, burning fossil fuels – coal, oil and gas – is the main driver of increased GHG levels.
Under the banner of the UN and Paris Agreement, the world’s countries have come together to declare that urgent action must be taken to lower emissions if we are to maintain a habitable planet that can support the world’s population.
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The greenhouse effect is a natural phenomenon arising from heat-absorbing components, called greenhouse gases (GHGs), in our atmosphere. This natural effect regulates the earth’s surface temperature, allowing life on earth as we know it. Unlike the belief of many people, the greenhouse effect in itself does not threaten our climate. It is only due to our carbon-emitting activities (e.g. traffic, industry, etc.) that GHGs accumulate – as they cannot be completely recycled by our natural ecosystems – which causes temperatures to rise.
The most important GHGs are water vapour (H2O) and carbon dioxide (CO2). Other greenhouse gases include chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O) and ozone (O3). While all GHGs are only present in the atmosphere as trace amounts, their effect is enormous: without the natural greenhouse effect, the earth’s average surface temperature would be only -18˚C instead of the current 15˚C.
Global warming refers to the recent (pre-industrial to present) temperature increase of the earth’s surface and lower atmosphere. In order to keep the negative consequences of global warming under control, the average global temperature rise should be limited to less than 2˚C relative to the pre-industrial level – as was agreed at the United Nations Framework Conference on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Beyond that limit, climate change becomes catastrophic and irreversible.
Scientists are more than 90% sure that global warming is primarily caused by increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases and CO2 emitted by human activities. The mass burning of fossil fuels such as oil and coal, cutting down rainforests (deforestation) and farming livestock adds enormous amounts of GHGs to our atmosphere, increasing the greenhouse effect and global warming. As a consequence, Global temperatures will rise significantly, as will sea levels. We should expect extreme weather events (think: storms, floods, and heat waves) to increase both in frequency and intensity. In turn, this could lead to other indirect effects such as the spreading of tropical diseases to new regions, and forced mass migrations or climate refugees. The negative impacts will be strongest in low-income countries, as they are unable to take the necessary adaptation measures.