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Climate change is one of the most demanding challenges of our time, with far-reaching implications for the planet and its inhabitants. In recent years, the impact of climate change has become increasingly evident, with rising temperatures, extreme weather events, and shifting ecosystems.
Understanding the main factors contributing to climate change is crucial for finding effective solutions to this global catastrophe. So, what are our current climatic markers saying?
In March 2023, the UN’s climate science authority issued a significant study on the climatic variability brought on by anthropogenic sources.
In the 2021 report, the IPCC (The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) warned about the unforeseen and potentially irreversible ways that human involvement is altering the climate in its most recent report in 2021. To safeguard the most sensitive ecosystems and populations on the planet and limit global warming below 1.5oC, scientists indicated that this decade would require significant emissions reductions.
Scientists are now monitoring the health of the climate more than ever in the wake of this research. Here are some crucial events for decoding climate change in 2023 and unveiling its prime causes.
Among the most efficient methods to scale up carbon capture is through increasing tree plantation and maintaining habitats that absorb carbon. However, the world’s forests are vanishing at a startling rate. Recent findings show tropical forests’ degradation rate is far higher than the recovery rate.
This has an impact on the amount of carbon that tropical forests store. As per the study published in 2022, the loss of forest carbon in the tropics was twice as high between 2015 and 2019 as it was between 2001 and 2005. One of the major worries is that, due to deforestation and drier circumstances, over 25% of the Amazon rainforest currently releases more carbon than it can absorb.
With a retreat to 14.62 million sq km, Arctic sea ice has reached its 5th-lowest maximum ever recorded. In addition to being an indicator of global climate change, the rapid melting of the Arctic Sea also causes climate change.
The albedo effect, or the snow and ice’s ability to reflect heat, is being diminished. Sea ice continues to disappear as the white reflecting surface gives way to a dark, heat-absorbing top as the ice begins to recede. Since satellites began monitoring it in the late 1970s, sea ice around Antarctica is presently thinner than it has ever been. According to the US National Snow and Ice Data Centre, on February 13, just 1.91 million sq km of the area was covered due to stronger-than-average winds, higher water, and air temperatures. This was the 2nd year when Antarctic Sea ice coverage decreased below two million square kilometres, setting a record low. On February 25 of last year, the previous record-breaking low of 1.92 million sq km was attained.
The major worry, though, is the melting of Antarctica’s ice sheets, which might cause catastrophic sea levels to increase. 150 billion tonnes of ice mass are being lost from Antarctica each year. Compared to the West Antarctic ice sheet, which might result in a rise of 3–4 meters, the East Antarctic ice sheet could cause a possible sea level increase of 52 meters.
Martin Siegert, co-director of the Grantham Institute, estimates that in the last 50 years, humans have increased atmospheric CO2 by 100 ppm. The Mauna Loa observatory in Hawaii predicts that there will be 419.2 parts per million (ppm) of CO2 in the atmosphere this year. Last year, the worldwide average was 417.2 ppm. The last time this happened was around during the Pliocene era, about four million years ago. We won’t be able to limit warming to 1.5oC if atmospheric CO2 levels keep rising.
Last year the IPCC warned that removing CO2 from the atmosphere is crucial because even big emissions cuts won’t be enough to curb global warming. However, technologies to capture and store CO2 are still emerging, very expensive, and as yet unproven.
The IPCC’s 6th assessment report issued a warning that even significant reductions in emissions won’t be sufficient to stop global warming. However, CO2 capture and storage systems are still in their development stage, extremely costly, and unreliable.
Regarding temperature, since records were kept in 1880, 2022 ranked the sixth-hottest year. In 2022, the ocean temperatures reached a record high. Since 2010, there have been 10 hottest years on record. There are many more warm days and heat waves in almost all geographical locations. Higher temperatures exacerbate heat-related ailments and make it more challenging to work outside.
The year 2022 was the hottest on record for 28 nations, including the UK, China, and New Zealand.
The past year was a La Niña event instead of an El Niño event, which is marked by a broad band of warm water that occurs in the Pacific Ocean every few years. The year 2022 would have been substantially hotter without La Nia’s cooling effect.
Scientists from the independent research organization World Weather Attribution claim that all of these incidents were made more likely by climate change.
Permafrost, the earth that has been frozen for 2 or more years, is heating quickly over the northern hemisphere. This is problematic because when permafrost thaws, a significant amount of greenhouse gases, such as CO2 and methane, are released into the sky.
The fact that more than twice as much carbon is currently stored in permafrost as there is in our atmosphere is alarming since it will contribute to further global warming. Nearly 1,700 billion tonnes of carbon are stored in the soils of the permafrost zone, which covers 23 million square kilometres of Siberia, Greenland, Canada, and the Arctic.
Indigenous tribes rely on the frozen ground to commute and scavenge on the border of the sea ice; thus, thawing permafrost may also harm already-existing infrastructure and have an effect on their way of life.
The sides of active volcanoes are covered in a thick layer of glaciers. Because there will be less pressure on the Earth’s surface as a result of these glaciers melting, this might alter the flow of volcanic magma and result in more powerful eruptions.
When comparing past volcanic data with glacial covers, scientists discovered that eruptions sharply decreased as the temperature dropped and ice levels rose. More investigation is being conducted to learn more about the interactions between glaciers and volcanic activity. However, changes in weather patterns can also result in eruptions outside of regions with a cooler climate.
Local authorities claim that a December 2021 eruption of one of Indonesia’s most active volcanoes was sparked by several days of torrential rain, which weakened the lava dome at the volcano’s summit crater. In 2023, the scientific community and policymakers were able to make significant strides in decoding the prime causes of climate change. By understanding these causes, we can take informed actions to mitigate their impacts.
Here are some of the key factors contributing to climate change:
The growing amount of greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the Earth’s atmosphere is the main cause of climate change. Human activities, especially the generation of energy through the combustion of fossil fuels like coal, oil, and natural gas, release significant amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2). Other GHGs, including methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O) released from industrial processes, agriculture, and waste management, also contribute to the greenhouse effect.
The destruction of forests, primarily through deforestation for agriculture, logging, and urbanization, contributes to climate change. Trees act as carbon sinks, absorbing CO2 from the atmosphere. Deforestation not only reduces the planet’s capacity to capture carbon but also releases stored carbon when trees are burned or decay.
Agricultural practices, including rice cultivation, livestock production, and the use of synthetic fertilizers, emit significant amounts of CH4 and N2O. Methane is released during the digestion processes of ruminant animals and from rice paddies, while nitrous oxide is generated through nitrogen-based fertilizer applications.
Certain industrial processes, such as cement production, iron and steel manufacturing, and chemical production, release large amounts of CO2 and other GHGs. These emissions can be mitigated through technological advancements, process improvements, and the adoption of cleaner production methods.
Degraded soils and land that have lost their carbon content due to unsustainable agricultural practices or land-use changes contribute to climate change. Healthy soils play a crucial role in carbon sequestration, and efforts to restore degraded land can help mitigate climate change.
The expanding global population, coupled with rapid urbanization, increases energy consumption and infrastructure needs. These factors contribute to increased GHG emissions, as more energy is required for buildings, transportation, and industrial activities.
A significant factor in climate change is the transportation sector, primarily through the combustion of fossil fuels in cars, trucks, ships, and aeroplanes. The increasing demand for transportation and the reliance on fossil fuels intensifies GHG emissions. Transitioning to electric vehicles, improving fuel efficiency, and investing in public transportation systems are vital steps toward reducing emissions from the transportation sector. Similarly, the energy sector, including electricity generation, heating, and cooling, is a significant source of GHG emissions. The use of clean technology, increased energy efficiency, and a transition to alternative energy sources are important measures to reduce emissions from the energy industry.
The conversion of forests into agricultural land, particularly for large-scale industrial agriculture, is a significant driver of deforestation and GHG emissions. Expanding sustainable agricultural practices and protecting forests can help address this issue.
Understanding the prime causes of climate change is important for making efficient tactics to mitigate its impacts. The release of greenhouse gases, deforestation, industrial processes, agricultural practices, transportation, and energy consumption are among the key factors driving climate change in 2023.
Addressing these causes of climate change requires a multi-faceted approach involving international cooperation, policy interventions, technological advancements, and individual actions. By tackling these prime causes, we can work to reduce climate change by pursuing a more secure and sustainable future whilst ensuring a habitable planet for future generations. If we take immediate climate action, a habitable existence for everyone is achievable.