On a global scale, you might have noticed that a major push for sustainability consists in tackling climate change through reducing greenhouse gas emissions, with the main indicator being CO2 emissions. Are you clear on the key scientifically proven facts about climate change? Can you comfortably talk with friends and colleagues about the actions required to mitigate climate change? Remind yourself of the facts in this course mail.
This article will give you a clear overview of climate change, its causes and scientifically measured evidence and effects. Then flow through the history of international commitments to action, the main strategies to revert the global warming trend, ending with how we influence climate change in the built environment.
“Support” is a larger-than-life sculpture created by Italian artist Lorenzo Quinn for the Venice Biennale 2017 which evokes a powerful message on the effects of Climate Change.
What is the cause of climate change?
Climate regulates all aspects of life in our Earth’s eco-system, and climate change is a pressing global challenge that affects every aspect of human society and ecological systems.
Following investigations by the science community worldwide, it is established that historically recent human activity has been having significant impact on long established climate patterns on planet Earth.
The International Energy Agency (IEA) describes Climate change as “the change in climate (i.e. regional temperature, precipitation, extreme weather, etc.) caused by increase in the greenhouse effect. The greenhouse effect is the process wherein greenhouse gases (CO2 or carbon dioxide, methane, water vapor etc.) in the atmosphere absorb and re-emit heat being radiated from the Earth, trapping warmth.”
There are natural occurrences to the release of CO2, such as volcanic eruptions, but these alone are not as significant as quantities due to human activity.
The human activities contributing to the greenhouse effect could be grouped into the following:
Fossil fuel combustion
Emissions from industrial production
Deforestation (as it inhibits the natural re-absorption of CO2)
While the beginnings of climate change coincide with the industrial revolution, and a massive increase in the use of combustion based machinery, aspects of population growth and other global transformation continue to increasingly impact our environment.
What is the evidence that climate change is happening?
A really clear picture of the issue can be seen by NASA data and images. The graph below, taken from the NASA website, shows the current trend of rising level of CO2in the last 12 years. From the same website, you can visualise very eye-opening time lapses videos and graphs. The image below shows the extent of glacier retreat in the north polar region in just over 30 years.
NASA is an established point of reference in the physical monitoring of the status of climate change and has also published a large portfolio of figures, photos, animations and information relating to various climate measures.
What is the global community doing?
It is important to notice that current global efforts are still looking at slowing this rise as much as possible, and are still quite far from inverting the trend.
Key historical events
Since the 1970s-1980s more and more scientific evidence started to show the effects of human processes on the global climate. As a consequence, governments around the globe have been gathering to discuss what would become one of the biggest challenges of our time, climate change.
The Kyoto Protocol
The first formal document produced was The Kyoto Protocol. This is an international agreement linked to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which – for the first time - committed its parties by setting internationally binding emission reduction targets. The Kyoto Protocol was issued in Kyoto, Japan, on 11 December 1997 and entered into force on 16 February 2005.
The Paris Agreement
More recently, the Paris Agreement released in 2016, aims “to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change by keeping a global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels”. Currently 167 of 197 countries have ratified the agreement.
What is the difference between climate change mitigation and adaptation?
Through your sustainability learning journey, you will often stumble across two important terms relating to climate change: mitigation and adaptation. We will now explain in simple terms what each of these terms mean.
Mitigation involves effective strategies to reduce climate change effects, either by reducing emissions from the sources of greenhouse gases (burning of fossil fuels, industry related emissions) and/or by enhancing the natural “stores” of these gases, such as the forests and soil). Therefore, the goal of mitigation is to avoid significant human interference with the Earth’s climate.
Adaptation involves reducing our vulnerability to the harmful effects of climate change, by predicting and adjusting to expected future climate occurrences. Examples of adaptation strategies are the construction of flood defences, using scarce water resources more effectively, and designing buildings to cope with extreme rainfalls, floods and other extreme weather events.
Although climate change is a global issue, it is felt on a local scale, therefore local authorities are on the frontline of adaptation policies and strategies, with very specific challenges for their own micro-areas.
How do we influence climate change in the built environment?
According to the International Energy Agency, the built environment represents the “largest energy-consuming sector, accounting for over one-third of final energy consumption globally and an equally important source of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions”.
It becomes evident that built environment solutions play a critical role in the way we will be able to change course towards a more sustainable future.
As the creation and operation of the built environment is significantly contributing to greenhouse gas emissions and global warming, built environment professionals have a collective responsibility to understand and implement opportunities to limit further damage and mitigate the effects of climate change where possible.
How can we contribute to address the climate change challenge as actors in the built environment industry? In very simple terms, reducing the emissions involved in manufacturing of products, embodied carbon, construction processes, buildings operation, and infrastructure and transport design.
What is the business value of reducing emissions?
Businesses are increasingly taking bold and decisive actions to help mitigate climate change, whether this is through setting science based targets, measureing and reducing their emissions, or implementing energy reduction projects. A few leading organisations are aspiring to change their business models entirely so as to become net energy or carbon positive and work on decoupling carbon emissions from financial growth. Lower energy consumption (and therefore CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion) and renewable energy solutions can lead to lower operational cost and better building performance for business, good for customers and end users. New technology is rapidly coming to market, to support energy reduction, it is becoming the norm now rather than the exception. Will your business be on the front or back foot in this transforming market?