The Earth has existed for 4.5 billion years- with its timespan being divided into various eras & periods. Throughout these periods,the earth suffered climate changes which have affected our planet’s surface.
These changes in climate have been key to the shaping of our Earth’s geographicalfeature as well as to the origin and evolution of life on this planet. Forinstance, during periods when the Earth has frozen, not even bacteria havesurvived. For those reasons we must understand climate and the impact of climatechange.
Climate canbe defined as the weather found in a particular area over a long period oftime. Climate includes factors such as averagetemperatures, average humidity, average amount of rainfall, among others. Onthe other hand, climate change involves the statistical alterations in weatherpatterns documented over a number of decades (documented for at least 30 years).For example, over the span of the last 650,000 years, the Earth gone through seven glacial events. In previous timeperiods, these drastic climate changes have resulted as a response toenvironmental factors (volcano eruptions, etc), or even the position of the sunregarding earth’s surface. However, recent variations in climate patterns resultfrom human interaction with the environment (and atmosphere).
During the 18thcentury, the Industrial Revolution gave way to new machinery where coal wasused as fuel. Eventually, the exploitation of coal gave rise to an oil industry,which is of immense economic value to countries like the United States. However,fossil fuel exploitation does not benefit the environment nor the atmosphere. Althoughfossil fuels are natural resources, they are non-renewable, meaning that oncethey are consumed, they are not replenished. Above all, fossil fuels-which arehydrocarbons- produce a great amount of gas emissions when they are burned.
Whengases such as methane or carbon dioxide are released into the atmosphere, theydo not leave the Earth. Instead, they accumulate and form a thick layer thatacts as a greenhouse. In other words, these gasses form a barrier which allowsheat to trespass into the atmosphere, but does not allow the exiting of gassesor heat. Under normal conditions, the sun’s rays would reach the Earth and mostof the heat would escape the atmosphere. However, greenhouse gasses trap thesun’s heat in the atmosphere, thus resulting in increased global temperatures.
Likewise,the practice of deforestation contributes to climate change. On average, 3.5 to7 billion trees are cut down every year, therefore limiting the source ofcarbon dioxide absorption. Since there are less plants to absorb carbon dioxideand produce oxygen, the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere keeps accumulatingmore and more. Scientists have documented the increase in carbon dioxide levelssince the 1950s and have compared them with the previous carbon dioxide levels foundthroughout Earth’s time span.
Since 1950, the carbon dioxide levels surpassedthe levels found in other time periods. Likewise, the carbon dioxide levels inthe atmosphere have only kept increasing during the last 70 years. During theearly 2000s, global warming (the name given to our current climate change) waspopularized to educate humans on the origins of climate change and its impacton the environment. According toscientists, the temperature increases brought on by climate change result indroughts, hurricanes, heavier rainfall and the melting of ice caps. For thesereasons, the United Nations has taken responsibility of regulating countries’impact on global warming. The Paris Climate Conference (COP1)- that took placein Paris- lasted from November 30th to December 11th, 2015. The resulting agreement-The Paris Agreement- set the guidelines for each participating country tofollow in order to reduce global warming impact.
Every participating countrywas required to submit an outline showing how they planned to protect theenvironment. As part of this agreement, each country had to report theiremission levels on a constant basis. The Signing Ceremony took place on April22, 2016, where 175 countries participated. However, the Paris Agreement was officializedduring a Signing Ceremony, on April 22, 2016. Nonetheless, it was finallyenforced one month after 55 of the participating parties had complied withtheir paperwork (November 4, 2016). Later on, more countries- such as Armenia,Iraq, and Chile- signed the agreement.
Currently, all countries- with theexception of Syria and Nicaragua- have signed the Paris Agreement. Currently,195 countries are part of the Paris Agreement. According to the United Nations,this agreement has a purpose of “keeping a global temperature rise this century wellbelow 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels”. Inaddition, it serves as a way for each nation to reflect on its collectiveactions resulting in global warming. Likewise, after engaging in critical thinkingand discussion, each country should focus on solving these environmentalproblems. In addition all countries had to present pledges known as Nationally determined contributions (NDCs). In orderfor a nation to take part in an agreement, there needs to be a signature and aratification.
The signature is an agreement made between delegates of differentcountries. After the signing of an agreement takes place, the state mustapprove of said agreement. When the state confirms and communicates itsconsent, the ratification takes place. NDCs- originally named Intended Nationaldetermined contributions- are required once a country completes theratification process. These pledges require a form of mitigation, which consistsof an action plan to lower climate change.
It also requires a form ofadaptation, which involves preparing for future atmospheric/natural disasters thatcan result from global warming. For instance, engineers may buildinfrastructure that withstands earthquakes, or cities may create an emergencyplan for hurricane season. On thecontrary, the creation of these mitigation and adaptation blueprints does notguarantee a change unless the NDCs are enforced. Although 195 countries havesigned the agreement, not all have ratified. In other words, many of thesecountries have not yet started working on their NDCs, meaning that these havenot provided a solution to environmental problems.
Similarly, there arecountries that have ratified and have provided NDCs, yet have not done their work.Many times, countries do not have the economic means to abilitate their NDCreforms. Other times government officials dismiss global warming because theydo not believe it is a real threat. These types of officials traditionallybelieve that efforts against climate change cost time and money which could beinverted in other areas. For instance, Donald Trump-the president of the UnitedStates- denies scientific evidence sustaining climate change. To add on, he hasexpressed his wish for the United States to withdraw from the Paris Agreement.
In these types of situation where governments fail to respond, small groups ofpeople work on implementing NDCs. These people – who are not part of thenational government- educate and persuade the people that make impactingdecisions. Contrastingly, countries with strong leaders who follow on theserules have better success when implementing NDCs.