In the summer of 2007, the Arctic sea ice that had remained frozen for thousands of years began to melt. Its surface area decreased to a quarter of what it was before. Due to these changes in the Arctic Ocean ecosystem, many animals, including polar bears, have become endangered.
But is global warming a problem only for polar bears?
The threat we are facing now
For the past 100 years, the Earth has become warmer at a faster pace than ever before. The Earth’s temperature has never changed by more than 1°C in the previous 10,000 years, but in the recent 100 years since the Industrial Revolution, the Earth’s temperature rose by 1°C. This phenomenon of the Earth becoming warmer is called global warming.
Reasons the Earth’s temperature is rising
l Human activity
Climate change can occur due to natural causes but the climate change being experienced in the past 100 years has been accelerated by human activity.
l Greenhouse gases and greenhouse effect
Ninety-nine percent of the Earth’s atmosphere is composed of nitrogen and oxygen. The remaining one percent is mostly made up of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, methane, and water vapor. These greenhouse gases create the appropriate temperature for us to live in. Over the past 100 years, the concentration of greenhouse gases in the Earth’s atmosphere has increased by more than necessary, which has warmed up the Earth.
Greenhouse gases are accelerating global warming
Reasons greenhouses gases are increasing
l Indiscriminate use of coal and oil
The biggest cause of greenhouse gases is fossil fuels such as coal and oil, which make up more than 90 percent of the energy source used on Earth today. Fossil fuels are used in thermal power plants that produce electricity, factories that mass-produce various products needed in daily life, and transportation methods such as cars and trains. Although the use of fossil fuels has allowed material abundance and convenience for humankind, it is destroying the Earth’s ecosystem.
l Methane emitted by livestock
Methane emitted by livestock raised for human consumption, especially cattle, has 30 times more global warming potential than carbon dioxide. Surprisingly, about 20% of all greenhouse gases are emitted by livestock. This is more than the amount produced by cars.
l Huge increase in garbage
The tremendous amount of garbage being produced since Industrialization is also a factor. A large amount of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, is produced during the process of breaking down the huge amount of garbage that is generated everyday.
l Indiscriminate deforestation
Forests around the world, including the Amazon rainforest popularly known as the lungs of Earth, are shrinking significantly due to indiscriminate development. When forests shrink, nature’s ability to absorb greenhouse gases is also reduced, which further speeds up global warming.
Effects of global warming felt in our daily lives
Global warming is transforming not just the climate but the Earth’s ecosystem. As climate changes, ecosystems can be destroyed and can lead to big changes throughout the food chain affecting our lives as well.
Effects of climate change on our lives
l Changes in ecosystem
As the temperature increases, the number of mosquitoes who like warm weather is especially increasing at a rapid pace. The spread of mosquitoes leads to spread of infectious diseases and diseases such as malaria and dengue fever are likely to spread event further. Additionally, extinction of marine animals is being accelerated due to rising water temperatures and ocean acidification.
l Increase in natural disasters
As the average temperature of the Earth rises, the sea stores more heat than the atmosphere, and the heated atmosphere and sea change the humidity and wind flow throughout the Earth causing changes in weather. Frequent floods, typhoons, droughts, landslides, and forest fires cause human and property damage and loss of homes.
l Genetic variations
Climate change is changing the size of living organisms and causing many types of physiological phenomena that are different from before. For example, plants such as apricot trees and kiwis that can withstand high temperatures are emerging indicating that fundamental changes are taking place in the global ecosystem.
l Threat to human health
The persisting high temperature creates an environment more favorable for germs and pests to be active. The possibility of the occurrence of highly infectious diseases, such as cholera, diarrhea, malaria, bacterial dysentery, is increasing.
l Acceleration of global inequality
All the problems caused by climate change have greater impact on the poor than the rich. The majority of people whose basic human rights are at risk of being violated due to climate change are those who live in poor countries. By 2050, the number of people who are unable to cope with climate change is expected to exceed 140 million. Climate change is a major factor that further exacerbates the problems of poverty and inequality.
Global warming cannot be ignored any longer
Even if the amount of greenhouse gases were to be decreased immediately, the problems brought by global warming will not be solved soon. It will take at least 100 to 300 years for carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to be normalized to the level before. That is why global warming that has already started is a very serious issue and why we need to raise awareness of the seriousness of the problem and act now.
Everyone needs to participate to stop global warming
International efforts to combat global warming
There have been longtime international cooperation and effort to stop climate change. The international society has been taking global measures to reduce overall greenhouse emissions.
△ November 30, 2015, Paris, France: Then UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and French President Francois Hollande are waiting for other heads of state at the COP21 meeting in Paris. The Paris Climate Agreement was adopted at the COP21 meeting.
l UN’s basic treaty on climate change, UNFCCC
To actively respond to climate change, the international society signed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in June of 1992, promising to address climate change. The key point of the UNFCC treaty is for all signatory parties to participate in stabilizing global warming and for the developed nations, who historically have greater responsibility for greenhouse gas emissions, to take greater responsibility. All signatory parties are to submit annually a national report to the UN about their measures to limit the Earth’s global warming and their nation’s greenhouse gas emission statistics.
l Kyoto Protocol
It is an international convention with legal binding force. The 38 developed nations with historical responsibility for greenhouse gas emissions through active industrial revolutions resolved to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 5.2% from 1990 levels from 2008 to 2012.
l Paris Agreement
Replacing the Kyoto Protocol that expired in 2020, the Paris Agreement became applicable starting January of 2021. The Paris Agreement's long-term goal is to keep the increase of global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the increase to 1.5°C.
National efforts to combat global warming
Each nation is preparing policies and regulations to minimize its greenhouse gas emissions.
l Development of green energy
Each nation is conducting research and development green energy that can reduce use of fossil fuels and improve the environment.
l Environmental certification marks
Governments are preparing various policies related to business and personal production and consumption and encouraging production and consumption of environmentally friendly products. Consumption of such products are being promoted through designation of environmental certification marks.
l Protection and support for those vulnerable to climate change
National level protection and support aimed at residents of farming and fishing areas who are more severely impacted by climate change, people living in poverty who are vulnerable to natural disasters or infectious diseases, and residents living in low-lying coastal areas are being pursued.
l Individual efforts to combat global warming
While international and national efforts to combat climate change are important, individual efforts are just as important. Actions that can be taken in daily lives must be implemented.
l Conservation of energy and resources
If we lower heating by 1°C, 231kg of carbon dioxide can be saved annually per household. Energy can be saved by keeping winter season heating to under 20°C and summer season indoor temperature to between 26~28°C. If we decrease our time in the shower by 1 minute, we can reduce the amount of carbon dioxide produced by 7kg. Installing water-saving shower heads and water-efficient toilets, turning off the faucet while brushing our teeth, and doing laundry after clothes have collected are all ways of conserving energy that we can practice in our daily lives.
l Use of public transportation and bicycles
We can improve our health and the health of the Earth by taking the bus, subway and walking. By walking or riding the bicycle, carpooling and using energy-efficient cars, we can reduce carbon dioxide emissions.
l Use of eco-friendly products
When considering products with the same function, consider using a product that produces less environmental pollution. Select products that are energy-efficient or produce less waste.
l Planting trees
Trees absorb carbon dioxide. A pine tree absorbs 5kg of carbon dioxide per year. Northern Europe, which is heavily forested, have greater absorption level of carbon dioxide and face less pressure of reducing greenhouse gases. Efforts should be made to conserve forests and plant new trees.
The climate environment is an international public good that all nations on Earth enjoy together. Therefore, it is impossible to make one nation or individual take responsibility for climate change. Developed nations that have already industrialized need to take lead and support the climate change response of developing nations to reduce the gap among nations. Policy development and implementation on a national level and individual effort in daily lives are also important.
Our house is on fire!
The time to act is now.