Since the Industrial Revolution, atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases have been increasing steadily. The most notable of these is carbon dioxide (CO2). Since 1960, the CO2 concentration has increased by about 20%. Levels of other greenhouse gases like methane and chlorofluorocarbons have also increased.

greenhouse gas emission from factory
Image credits to @s.alt / Flickr

The latest research indicates that without major reductions in global greenhouse gas emissions, we may cross a threshold into what’s been called “Hothouse Earth” in around 2030—2040. The result could be an Earth with a global average surface temperature 4 to 5 degrees Celsius higher than what we experience now. If that happens, global rainfall patterns will likely shift with significant consequences to the availability of fresh water.

Such an increase in global temperatures is likely to have devastating impacts on human populations and ecosystems, including food production, coastal communities, and natural habitats. There is a high degree of certainty that such devastating climate change is approaching. According to one recent study, Earth has already entered into its next geological epoch—the Anthropocene—where humans have made their mark on the climate system.

The targets of the Paris Agreement are not yet realized despite the global focus on climate change. The agreement’s goals are to limit global warming to “well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit it to 1.5 °C, recognizing that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change.” However, since the agreement was ratified, countries have been working on how they will meet their targets. In fact, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released their special report on 1.5 °C global warming in October 2018 and the next IPCC report will be out within this year 2021. The Paris Agreement itself was an extension of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) that is based on scientific evidence of global warming effects such as rising sea levels, ocean acidification and more frequent extreme weather events to name a few.

The UNFCCC was ratified by almost every country in the world. Most of the countries have ratified it and at least 40 have already implemented their own targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. However, without changing policies, these targets may not be met.

It’s not just about staying below 2 °C or even 1.5 °C, though. There is a voluntary target of limiting the temperature increase to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. To reach this level, greenhouse gas emissions must be kept to less than 450 parts per million (ppm) by 2100 for a 66% chance of avoiding dangerous climate change as represented by a rise of 2 degrees Celsius or more. This is in line with the 1.5 degree Celsius target of the Paris Agreement. However, given that emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) alone have already risen to around 1,400 ppm and are higher than that during the last Ice Age, a level of 350 ppm (or below) must be reached by 2050 if we are to limit warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius.

In terms of global greenhouse emissions, if all countries meet their targets and ambitious actions that fall short of their goals (e.g. the U.S. or Japan), there’s still a chance of limiting warming to 2 degrees Celsius or more. On the other hand, if countries don’t meet their targets and/or fail to make up for the difference with additional actions, the likelihood of avoiding dangerous climate change wanes.

Right now, countries are failing badly at reaching their respective targets and the outlook is not good if we continue on the status quo path we’re on.

A lot of people are concerned about the effects that climate change will have on humans and mother earth as a whole. If we don’t reach our 2030 climate change deadline, it is likely that many natural habitats will be lost and there will be more natural disasters.

It is also believed that climate change can bring about significant changes in crop yields and the availability of fresh water as well.

It’s likely that if we continue on our present course, we’ll cross thresholds that will trigger feedback loops like large-scale releases of permafrost carbon. For example, permafrost contains twice as much carbon as what is currently in the Earth’s atmosphere and if it were to thaw and decay, it could release enough emissions to push us across the 2 degree Celsius threshold.

We can work to cut emissions of greenhouse gases and help keep global warming below the thresholds. Governments can also help by encouraging energy efficiency, long-term planning and increased renewable energy use.

We have a long way to go to address the issue on climate change, but if we do our individual share, everyone can surely make a difference. It’s up to us to make sure that humans don’t cause another Ice Age, as we did with the kilometer-thick ice sheets that blanketed the northern continents during the fatal last glacial period. The world needs a planet where humans can thrive if we want to live on it.

We all know the negative impacts of climate change. It’s happening right now and will only get worse if we don’t take action to prevent it. The United Nations have agreed to cut carbon emissions in order to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases in the Earth’s atmosphere by 2030, so it’s critical that everyone does their part wherever they are.