What is global warming?

What is global warming?

Is the world heating up? Are all the claims about greenhouse gas emissions just empty talk? Or are there figures to support arguments that global warming, the world’s greatest environmental threat, is happening...right now?

The year 2005 was the warmest on record, jointly with 1998.

Perhaps more disturbing is the fact that the 10 warmest years globally since 1856 have occurred in the last 15 years. Figures compiled by the UK Meteorological Office and the Climatic Research Unit of the University of East Anglia for the World Meteorological Organisation, show that, in descending order, the 11 warmest years ever measured have been: 1998 & 2005 (joint), 2002 & 2003 (joint), 2001, 1997, 1995, 1990 & 1999 (joint), 1991 & 2000 (joint).

Global warming does not happen by default. It is a man-made problem. Every bit of coal, every litre of oil or gas that humans burn adds to the load of gases in the atmosphere that engulf the planet like an ever thicker blanket, trapping heat, smothering people and nature.

If these facts have not convinced you yet that we should care about climate change, take a look at this:

About carbon dioxide (CO2):

  • it remains in the atmosphere for a long time;
  • the main sources of emissions are well-known and accurately documented;
  • there are many commercially available technologies for cutting emissions.
CO2: the main global warming gas

Carbon dioxide (CO2) is the most significant of the global warming gases, accounting for over 80% of global warming pollution. Atmospheric levels of CO2 are now higher than at any time in the past 420,000 years. And this is all due to human action.

CO2 mainly from coal, oil and gas

Around 97% of the CO2 emitted by western industrialised countries comes from burning coal, oil and gas for energy. We spew approximately 25 billion tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere every year. That's about 800 tonnes every second! Not surprisingly, a global temperature build-up on this scale is seriously disrupting the natural balance of the world's climate.

Sources: Climatic Research Unit and the UK Meteorological Office Hadley Centre for the World Meteorological Organization. NOAA – United States National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration.

Impacts from the equator to the poles

The impacts of global warming are evident from the equator to the poles. Coral reefs bleached by increasing sea temperatures... forests struggling to move to higher, cooler locations...polar bears under pressure as polar ice shrinks...glaciers melting on every continent ….the list goes on and on. All around the world people can see evidence of areas and species harmed by global warming. But this is not a problem which has appeared overnight - it's 30 years since scientists first alerted the world to the dangers of climate change. How much longer are we going to allow it to continue?

The change in nature starts to have serious impacts on people and economics. The insurance industry puts potential economic damage caused by global warming impacts at hundreds of billions of dollars each year.

Climate Witnesses tell their observations of change.

Immediate reductions needed to stabilise concentrations

According to the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), it would take an immediate reduction in CO2 emissions of at least 60% just to stabilise concentrations in the atmosphere at their present level. Whilst this kind of immediate reduction simply isn’t possible, the IPCC’s figures show how much needs to be done to put the brakes on global warming.

Without the introduction of effective climate protection policies, carbon emissions will continue to rise making it nigh impossible for mankind to correct the damage it has caused.

We need to stay below 2°C

WWF believes that temperature rise should stay well below 2°C in order to avoid dangerous climate change. It has already been shown
that 2°C would bring with it a set of devastating impacts to coral reefs, arctic systems and local communities. The Earth cannot afford to go above this.

What can we do?

We must start reducing emissions now and stay on a low emissions track to avoid loading the atmosphere with too much CO2. In scientific terms this means staying well below a concentration level of 450ppm (parts per million) in the atmosphere. This means cutting emissions rapidly and deeply far below current levels.


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