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Discussing the issue of Climate Change and the attempt to minimize its harmful
effects worldwide: A Background Paper
By Amro Faraj, edited by Lana Khan
1. Abstract
This background paper will look into climate change and excessive
global warming with extensive details on the evidence of its existence,
the causes, effects/consequences and what has been done to slow down
this harmful process.
2. Description and Definition of the Issue
Extreme weather events are increasing rapidly in the last decade as a
result of climate change. Climate change can pose severe threats to
world peace if not attentively addressed by nations around the world in
efforts to reduce the rate at which it is occurring.The effects are as
stated but not limited to:
● Change in Rainfall Patterns: In last couple of decades, excess rainfall,
droughts, hurricanes and floods have become quite frequent. While
few areas experience plenty of rainfall, there are areas that face
droughts throughout the year.
● Depletion of Arctic Ice: Although the greenhouse effect is necessary
for mankind to survive on this planet, an increase in greenhouse gases
causes temperature to rise which can result in harmful effects to the
ecology and environment. The increase in temperature of atmosphere
has resulted in shrinking of arctic ice.
● Wildfires: The hot and dry conditions causes wildfires to spread across
dense forests and makes it a perfect recipe for disaster. They not only
reduce green cover but also push forest animals towards higher
altitudes. This therefore leads to animals becoming endangered in
these areas.
● Heat Waves: The large amount of greenhouse gases released from
industries, vehicles, agricultural activities increases the concentration
of carbon dioxide and heats up the atmosphere. The increased
temperature then causes heat waves and makes it extremely difficult
for people to adapt.
● Loss of Wildlife Species: Wildfires, deforestation and shifting habitat
have caused several species to become endangered, pushed few of
them towards extinction and the remaining involuntarily migrating to
safety. If experts are to be believed, one-fourth of Earth’s species could
become extinct by 2050. In 2008, polar bears were added to the list of
animals that could become extinct due to rise in sea level.
● Rise in Sea Level: Glaciers are at risk of melting at astonishing rates
which could lead to mass flooding in low lying areas such as
Bangladesh or possibly resulting in complete submersion in water.
● Shifting Habitat: Prolonged heat waves, deforestation, wildfires and
high temperatures have pushed plants and animals towards higher
altitudes, thus generating a low chance of survival for indigenous
species who are now having to be moved more towards extinction.
● High Temperatures: The continuous increase of greenhouses gases in
the atmosphere has caused temperature to rise which is known as the
greenhouse effect. Although the greenhouse effect is vital for the
survival of mankind, an increase in these gases beyond a limit will
only create harmful effects for us and the environment. During the last
century, earth’s average temperature rose by 1 degree Fahrenheit
which in itself is a cause of concern.
3. Glossary of the Issue
IPCC- Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. First set up in
1988 under two UN organizations, the IPCC surveys the research on
climate change happening all around the world and reports to the
public about the current state of our scientific knowledge.
Greenhouse effect- the trapping of heat by a layer of greenhouse gases
surrounding the Earth. Examples of those atmospheric gases are
carbon dioxide, methane, water vapor and nitrous oxide.
Global Average temperature- long-term look at the Earth’s
temperature, usually over the course of 30 years, on land and sea.
COP and UNFCCC- These two abbreviations are best described
together as they work hand-in-hand. The United Nations Framework
Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is an environmental treaty
that nations joined in 1992, with the goal of stabilizing greenhouse gas
concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent
dangerous human interference with the climate system. Meanwhile, the
Conference of the Parties (COP) to the UNFCCC is a yearly
international climate conference where nations assess progress and
determine next steps for action through the UNFCCC treaty.
Mitigation- refers to an action that will reduce or prevent greenhouse
gas emissions, such as planting trees in order to absorb more carbon
dioxide. It can also include developing and deploying new
technologies, using renewable energies such as wind and solar, or
making older equipment more energy efficient.
Ppm- stands for “parts per million,” which is a way of expressing the
concentration of one component in the larger sample.
Climate scientists and activists use the term to describe the
concentration of pollutants.
4. History of the Issue
1965 - U.S. President Lyndon Johnson tells Congress: "This generation
has altered the composition of the atmosphere on a global scale
through ... a steady increase in carbon dioxide from the burning of
fossil fuels."
1988 - British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher tells the United
Nations: "The problem of global climate change is one that affects us
all and action will only be effective if it is taken at the international
level. It is no good squabbling over who is responsible or who should
1988 - The United Nations sets up the Intergovernmental Panel on
Climate Change (IPCC) to assess the scientific evidence.
1992 - World leaders agree with the U.N. Framework Convention on
Climate Change, which sets a non-binding goal of stabilising
greenhouse gas emissions by 2000 at 1990 levels, a target not met
1995 - The IPCC concludes for the first time that humans are causing
global warming, saying: "The balance of evidence suggests a
discernible human influence on global climate."
1997 - The Kyoto Protocol is agreed in Japan; developed nations agree
to cut their greenhouse gas emissions on average by at least 5 percent
below 1990 levels by 2008-12. The United States stays out of the deal.
2001 - The IPCC concludes it is "likely," or at least 66 percent
probable, that human activities are the main cause of recent warming.
Late 2001 - President George W. Bush notes the U.S. National
Academy of Sciences says greenhouse gases are rising "in large part
due to human activity." He adds: "Yet, the Academy's report tells us
that we do not know how much effect natural fluctuations in climate
may have had on warming. We do not know how much our climate
could, or will change in the future."
2007 - The IPCC says it is "very likely," at least 90 percent certain,
that humans are to blame for most of the observed warming trend of
the past 50 years. It also said warming of the planet was
2009 - A conference of 193 countries agree in December to "take note"
of a new Copenhagen Accord to fight climate change, after U.N. talks
in Denmark. The accord is not legally binding and does not commit
countries to agree a binding successor to the Kyoto Protocol when its
first stage ends in 2012. The conference did recognize "the scientific
view that the increase in global temperature should be below 2 degrees
Celsius" and "deep cuts in global emissions are required."
2010 - A deal among 190 nations to slow climate change throws a
lifeline to U.N.-led talks.
2011 - More than 190 nations meet in Durban, South Africa, to try to
agree what is to be done after the first stage of the Kyoto Protocol
expires in 2012 and on a Green Climate Fund to channel billions of
dollars to poorer nations to green their economies and help them
protect against the effects of climate change.
5. Current Status
In 1995, years after the possibility of global warming was announced,
scientists and experts still do not agree on whether or not there truly is
a problem. The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) had
once hoped that sooner or later the data from each group of researchers
would converge and there would be agreement on both sides.
Unfortunately, there does not appear to be total agreement anywhere in
the near future. Scientists now feel the uncertainty of both their
measurements and their ability to predict the future will probably not
decrease significantly in the next ten to fifteen years.
While there is no consensus, the IPCC has recently reported in a draft
document that, "global warming observed during the last century is
unlikely to be entirely due to natural causes." This is the first time the
IPCC has ever blamed human activity, although many researchers have
regarded global warming as both real and anthropogenic for some time
now. Perhaps the official release of this document will bring change,
but it most likely will just create more speculation without action. The
final version of the latest IPCC document is due to come out sometime
in late 1995 or early 1996. The final version will be sent to nations
participating in the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change to
use in setting domestic policies and creating international agreements
on the environment.
At a time when it perhaps may be crucial to take action against global
warming and its main causes, it appears the U.S. government does not
feel there is much of a problem. As many people know, the Republican
Congress does not appear to be very sympathetic to environmental
concerns. During the past summer, the House Science Committee
recommended eliminating global climate change research with the
EPA, and reduced the budget for the National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration's global climate change programs by a
third. $2.7 billion in cuts are also expected to NASA's Mission to
Planet Earth program within the next five years. The critics of climate
change research have labeled it as "scientific nonsense" and complain
that funding levels assume that global warming has been proven.
Supporters claim they know there will be global warming, but they do
not know the degree to which it will occur.
Perhaps the most important question for environmentalists to ask
themselves is not whether there is global warming or to what degree it
is occurring, but instead what is being done to prevent greenhouse gas
emissions into the atmosphere. The Electric Vehicle Association of
America reports that there are 2,000 to 2,300 "highway capable"
electric vehicles currently in operation. The Los Angeles Metropolitan
Transportation Authority owns 294 natural gas-powered buses that
reduce pollutants by 450 tons -- a decrease comparable to removing
7,000 cars from the road. People are indeed becoming more
environmentally aware and conscious that their actions can have an
large impact on the earth. However one question must be asked- is it
too late?
7. Works Cited