The latest issue of Conservation Education, YPTE's publication on environmental issues is an update on climate change. We will be serialising it here over the coming days. Here is the final part:-

The problem is already here

In recent years, we have seen Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines in 2013, superstorm Sandy hit New York, New Jersey and other states in 2012, while Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans back in 2005, causing widespread devastation.  Closer to home, the flooding experienced in parts of the UK and Europe in the winter of 2013-14 followed drought in the summer of 2012.  The World Resources Institute shows that globally, there are already 21 million people at risk of flooding while damage caused by flooding costs almost £65 billion per year.  By 2030, the Institute estimates that 54 million people will be at risk of flooding, with repair and prevention costs totalling £340 billion.

On 13 and 14 March 2015, Cyclone Pam struck the 85 islands making up the Pacific Island nation of Vanuatu with terrifying force and winds in excess of 189mph.  90% of the housing in the capital, Port Vila has suffered damage.  The main reason that the human death toll was not higher was that Vanuatu was well prepared for such an event.

In fact, Port Vila is the city most at risk of natural disaster according to the Natural Hazards Risk Atlas and its government had built cyclone evacuation centres in readiness, but nothing could stop the destructive force of the cyclone from destroying the houses, cutting off power to the capital’s hospital and closing all of the schools.

We also need to remember that climate change does not just affect humans.  In fact, we are much less vulnerable than many animal and plant species that will simply be unable to adapt in time to changes to their habitats that a changing climate will bring.  They have the ability to adapt, but this usually happens over hundreds, or even thousands of years.  The speed of the climate change that we are likely to be causing means that in the next 100 years, there will be huge changes to the climates of many ecosystems.  Adaptation to changes that occur at that speed is very rare for animals and plants.  You can read more about the effects of climate change on wildlife here

What do we need to do?

One thing is certain: no individual or even nation acting on its own can make much difference.  We all share this planet and we need to do what we have previously failed to do for most of the time.  That is, to act together to face up to the challenge of climate change, to make changes to the way we live our lives and to adapt our countries to be better protected against the climate change that is already happening.  In December 2015, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change will hold talks in Paris to attempt to get nations to agree to binding targets to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

The European Union has pledged to cut its emissions by 40% of the levels emitted in 1990 by the year 2030.  The USA has announced emissions reductions of 26-28% of 2005 levels by 2025.  China, now the world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitter has pledged to end increases in its carbon dioxide emissions by 2030.  More recently, Zheng Guogang, the head of China’s Weather Bureau has warned that his country faces serious problems from climate change already, with more floods, droughts and extreme weather as a result of temperature increases that are double the global average.  Meanwhile, Chinese Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli has made pledges to develop green energy sources to replace its coal-fired power stations.  This is all good news, but other fast-developing economies like India and Brazil will also have to make commitments for real results to be achieved.  Recent estimates suggest that otherwise, India, Brazil and the rest of the world will be producing 34 billion tonnes of CO2 per year - more than the 22 billion tonnes the EU, USA and China are predicted to be emitting by then if their current pledges become reality.

How can we cut our carbon dioxide emissions?

The answer to this is simple - we need to burn less fossil fuels.  But making the change - ‘decarbonising’ our way of life and adopting CO2-free renewable energy generation on a wide scale is going to be a huge challenge for the next generation at least.  The technologies to harness renewable energies - wind, solar, tidal, biomass and wave energies to name but a few are developing fast. 

In another encouraging development, the UK government has just announced that the 70% fall in the cost of solar panels in recent years has caused it to revise its estimates for the contribution to electricity generation made by solar energy.  They now think that 14 Gigawatts of energy will be generated by solar power (4% of the UK’s requirement) by 2020, up from 5 Gigawatts at the end of 2014. You can find out more about renewable energies here

Making the change to renewables is not going to be a question of flicking a switch.  For example, 80% of the UK’s homes have gas central heating and only 2.3% of cars sold in the UK in 2014 were hybrids, electric or alternatively-fuelled.  That means that 97.7% of new cars sold in the UK in 2014 run on petrol or diesel.  Change is slowly coming though, as 56% more alternatively fuelled vehicles were registered in September 2014 than in the same month the previous year.  Real change will have to happen at government level though.  Recent developments, including restricting the power consumption of new vacuum cleaners sold in Europe and the ending of sales of conventional 100 watt bulbs may seem small changes, but as more and more of these restrictions are imposed by governments across the world, we will start to have increasingly meaningful reductions in our carbon dioxide emissions.

What can I do to help?

  • We have to hope that governments now and in the future are able to show the leadership needed to create the conditions to restrict climate change.  But you can make lots of small differences every day.
  • Turn off lights, TVs, hi fis and other electrical equipment when when they are not in use.
  • Be careful with water.
  • Think about walking or cycling for short journeys and use public transport if possible.
  • Make sure you have low energy lights in your house and find out if it could be better insulated. Ask your parents to turn down the heating by one degree.
  • You could also learn about renewable energy and maybe even persuade your parents to look at the possible benefits of fitting solar panels to your house!

Photo of dried out lake bed in Oregon by Al Case.

If you want to read the whole of Conservation Education now, you can download it here.

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