What is climate change? Causes and solutions
The great challenge of our time
Read time: 8 min
What is climate change?
Historically, climate change refers to long-term changes in temperatures and weather patterns. These changes may be due to natural causes, but since the 19th century, new forms of production and consumption have contributed significantly to global warming. This fact poses a great challenge to the future of the planet, but we still have an opportunity to slow down this process.
The main cause of climate change is the greenhouse effect, a natural phenomenon that, under normal conditions, far from being harmful it's what allows our planet to maintain the conditions needed to support life. Certain gases in the atmosphere retain part of the thermal radiation emitted by the Earth’s surface after being heated by the sun, keeping the temperature at a level suitable for life to develop. The greenhouse effect is necessary. Without it, the Earth's average temperaturewould be around -15°C.
Main causes of climate change
Since the First Industrial Revolution (we are now at the start of the fourth), our forms of production and consumption have fostered the concentration of these gases in the atmosphere, which multiplies the greenhouse effect and puts our natural ecosystems at risk. Greenhouse gas emissions (GGE) — carbon dioxide (CO2), methane(CH4), nitrous oxide, and certain fluorinated compounds — have a great deal to do with the increase in the Earth’s temperatures. These gases, which are present naturally in the atmosphere, have increased in the last 150 years as a result of a model of development based on a linear economy.
Fortunately, we are in time to mitigate the effects of this process. The UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is an opportunity for countries and their societies to take a new path towards improving the environment and everyone’s lives. Among its proposals are the promotion of a circular economy, the use of renewable energies, reforestation, and the implementation of technologies capable of capturing CO2 and reusing it efficiently.
Differences between climate change and global warming
Global warming may be understood as the cause of climate change and refers to the progressive rise in the planet’s temperatures. On the other hand, climate change includes warming and its secondary effects.
To tackle this issue, in 2015, 196 participants signed the Paris Agreement, an international treaty that aims to limit the rise in temperatures to 1.5 degrees centigrade at most. Its application has allowed numerous countries, areas, and corporations to join together to limit global warming by implementing long-term development strategies.
These strategies include carbon neutrality targets, which refer to the maximum reduction of carbon emissions into the atmosphere and the implementation of compensation measures, such as the reforestation of regions, to mitigate the emissions that cannot be avoided. The aim is to minimize CO2 emissions to stop or slow down the increase in the Earth’s temperature.
Solutions for climate change
Together, we can contribute to improving the quality of our cities and natural environments
There is no doubt that it's necessary to take urgent steps to cushion the effects of climate change. To do so, both countries and companies and even individuals can take steps that will help reduce carbon emissions into the atmosphere.
Coordination among countries (started after the Paris Agreement) is essential since a commitment by governments to not exceed a certain level of emissions annually is indispensable. Therefore, mechanisms are being implemented such as energy taxation (i.e. using taxes on activities that are harmful to the environment as a way of protecting it), carbon pricing, and incentives for innovation in clean energies and new energy vectors such as renewable hydrogen.
In regard to companies, they are firmly committing to sustainable climate solutions, such as emissions compensation initiatives, which seek to create, restore, or protect natural carbon sinks (e.g., forests and oceans), the use of biofuels, and the development of technologies capable of driving the energy transition.
As part of the general population, we can also add our grain of sand to this process with actions such as responsible consumption and consuming local or “zero-mile” products (i.e., products sourced near where we live), recycling, sustainable mobility, energy-saving in our homes, and a reduction in the generation of waste.