Climate Change in the News

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Some Helpful Information

Frequently Asked Questions

Climate is the long term condition of temperature and rainfall (precipitation) in a country or on the planet as a whole. It is obtained by taking average measurements of rainfall and temperature over a long period of time. For example, we can say that the climate of the Arctic region is characterized by an average temperature of 2 degrees, a precipitation of 100 millimeters and is permanently covered by massive ice sheets. If over the last 25 years or so, we observe that the average temperature of the same area is 3 degrees and the ice sheets which have been frozen for centuries are now melting due to a higher temperature, we can say that the climate is changing.
When the earth’s temperature rises, two things happen to the water in the oceans. One is called thermal expansion – the volume of water expands when it is heated, and so the level of the sea rises. Two, ice sheets melt, and this adds water to the ocean causing further rise in sea level.
REDD means Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest degradation. REDD was recognized as an important part of the climate change strategy agreed at the Bali climate meeting. This is no surprise. While tropical forests account for 6 percent of the earth’s surface, deforestation and degradation account for almost one fifth of all greenhouse gas emissions in the world. However, forests can potentially represent more than one third of the solution to global warming. ‘REDD Plus’ refers to not only deforestation, but also the preservation of forests and enhancement of the stocks of forests that we have. It is one thing to try to reduce deforestation; but for many countries like Guyana, where deforestation is already low, the preservation of forests and the improvement of the quality and density of the forest are also important considerations. REDD and REDD Plus are therefore an important tools for dealing with the mitigation.
In Guyana we can expect Guyana‟s temperature to Rise 1°C– 4°C by the end of the 21st century. Sea level is expected to rise by 1-3 feet by the end of the century also. There will be changes in the pattern of rainfall leading to more intense periods of rainfall and longer dry periods. With 90 percent of our population living on the coast which lies below sea level, and on which much of our agriculture and food production is located, sea level rise and high intensity rainfall will damage our agriculture and destroy our food security. Our road and housing infrastructure also stand to be destroyed.
UNFCCC is the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. It is an Agreement that seeks to control the level of greenhouses gases, such as carbon dioxide, in the atmosphere thus controlling global warming and sea level rise. It was adopted in 1992 at the Rio Earth Summit and entered into force March 21 1994. Since then, some 184 countries have signed on to the Convention. Every two or three years, representatives of all the member countries (Parties) meet in a Conference of the Parties (COP) to review progress and make decisions that will guide action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions . The last meeting in Bali, Indonesia set forth a plan to try to forge a new agreement by the end of 2009. The next COP is slated for Copenhagen, Denmark December 2009.
Parties with commitments under the Kyoto Protocol (Annex B Parties) have accepted targets for limiting or reducing emissions. These reductions average about five percent of 1990 levels over the period 2008 - 2012. These targets are expressed as levels of allowed emissions, or ‘assigned amounts’, over the 2008-2012 commitment period. The allowed emissions are divided into “assigned amount units” (AAUs). If a country reduces carbon emissions below what they are assigned, they are allowed under Article 17 of the Kyoto Protocol to sell this excess capacity to countries that have gone over their targets. So we start with a ‘cap’ on emissions, and if we keep emissions below that cap, we can ‘trade’ it. This is the Cap and Trade mechanism under the Kyoto Protocol. This has led to emissions trading, and because the major greenhouse gas is carbon dioxide, it is called carbon trading. So carbon has become like a commodity to be traded. This is known as the "carbon market."
Recent studies are showing that climate is changing all over the world. When we compare temperature readings taken in the last few decades with scientific studies of tree rings, ice core samples from deep below the ice sheets, and corals, we have found that the earth’s temperature has risen since the industrial revolution began 200 years ago. The facts are all around us. Arctic ice sheets are melting; sea level is rising; tropical storms are becoming more frequent and more intense. The alarming fact is that these changes in climate have been accelerating over the last 15 years.
The KP is an international agreement which is linked to the UNFCCC. It is a legally binding agreement with commits 39 developed countries including the EU (Annex B Parties) to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by specified amounts. The Kyoto Protocol was adopted in Kyoto, Japan, on 11 December 1997 and entered into force on 16 February 2005. The detailed rules for the implementation of the Protocol were adopted at COP 7 in Marakesh, Morocco. Whereas the UNFCCC encourages countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the Kyoto Protocol commits them to do so because it is legally binding agreement,
Under the existing Agreement, projects that reduce carbon dioxide emissions can attract funding, providing a source of revenue for countries that try to lower their Co2 emissions. However, the present rules only reward projects that re-plant forests after they have been cut, or plant new forests where no forest existed before. It does not reward countries like Guyana that have conserved their forests through responsible forestry practices. In effect, it encourages such countries to cut down forests and re-plant to get funding. This is why it is sometimes called a perverse incentive.
The earth’s atmosphere acts like a blanket draped around the earth. It contains certain gases, such as carbon dioxide, which absorb heat from the sun, reducing the amount that escapes back into space. In this way, it acts very much like a greenhouse which traps heat within an enclosed glass building. Without these gases, the earth’s temperature would be very much colder, and life as we know it would be impossible on the earth. Carbon dioxide and a few other gases are called greenhouses gases, and this trapping of heat around the Earth is called the greenhouse effect. However, carbon dioxide in the air has been increasing over the last 200 years. This is due to the burning of fossil fuels such as coal, gasoline, diesel, bunker fuels and aviation kerosene. Because carbon dioxide is increasing in the air, the greenhouse effect is also increasing, and so global temperatures are rising. This rise in temperature is called global warming. ALso, because the increase in carbon dioxide in the air has resulted from human activity such as industries, transportation, heating of homes and cutting of forests, carbon dioxide is called an anthropogenic green house gas; the term ‘anthropo’ refers to ‘human’,
Deforestation accounts for about one fifth of all green house gas emissions which cause global warming. This is more than the combined emissions of all of the cars, trucks, trains and planes in the world. Therefore forests have great potential to curb global warming. Furthermore, forests provide valuable ecosystem services to the world, and serve as a habitat for a wide range of smaller plants. The total carbon content of forests is more than the amount of carbon in the entire atmosphere. It is vital to protect this reservoir of carbon if we want to cut back on GHG and global warming.
Changes in the temperature of the atmosphere result in changes in air pressure, cloud formation and precipitation. Over time, some areas may experience more rainfall with greater intensity, while other areas may experience drought. This can lead to agricultural crop failures, food insecurity and starvation ultimately. Rising sea levels will flood low lying coastal areas such as Guyana, damaging or destroying crops, roads, homes and lives. In the Caribbean, hurricanes will become more frequent, more intense and their tracks will shift. Countries like Guyana which are currently slightly off the known track will begin to experience hurricanes and their associated devastation. Ecosystems will be destroyed, and some species will become endangered and later extinct. These are only some of the effects which are predicted with the data that we currently have. Because the rate of climate change is increasing each year, the effects are likely to get worse.
When you put mesh on your windows to prevent mosquitoes from coming in, you adapt; when you ensure that there are no stagnant pools of water for the mosquitoes to breed, you mitigate. You can see here that adaptation is responding to the effect of something – responding to the mosquito itself. Mitigation is trying to deal with the cause - making sure there are fewer mosquitoes around. Similarly, in climate change, adaptation is responding to the threat of rising sea levels, more intense weather patterns etc. The building of sea walls to keep out the sea; developing hydro power or solar power to reduce dependence on gas and diesel, diversification of agriculture away from the low lying coast, are all ways of adapting to climate change. Mitigation looks at the source of the problem – trying to reduce the amount of Co2 and other harmful gases that go into the air. This can be done by proper management and preservation of forests to absorb Co2; by providing financial incentives to countries and industries to reduce the amount of Co2 they let off (emit) into the air.
The Government of Guyana, in relation to forestry, supports, inter alia: - International proposals to cut deforestation and forest degradation by half by 2020 and by 2030 make GHG emissions from deforestation balanced by new forest growth; and - The proposals of the Informal Working Group on Interim Financing for REDD+ (IWG-IFR), which state that action on deforestation and forest degradation must start immediately and not until the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2013.
When the earth’s temperature rises, two things happen to the water in the oceans. One is called thermal expansion – the volume of water expands when it is heated, and so the level of the sea rises. Two, ice sheets melt, and this adds water to the ocean causing further rise in sea level.
The leaves of plants and trees, in the presence of sunlight, absorb carbon dioxide from the air and store it as carbon in their trunks and branches. A large percentage of wood is actually carbon, which has been taken from the air in the form of carbon dioxide. When we drive a car, run an electrical generator, operate machines in a factory etc, we let off carbon dioxide into the air. The forests of the world take this carbon dioxide and convert it into wood, while putting back oxygen into the air. Forests therefore ‘cleans’ the air and recycles it so that we can breathe good air. By reducing the carbon dioxide in the air, forests reduce global warming and the negative effects of climate change. Because air travels all around the planet, east-west and north-south, a forest in the tropical countries can convert carbon dioxide from Europe or North America. In this way, our forests perform an ecological service to the world.
When we cut down a tree and burn the wood, the carbon that was stored in the wood goes back into the air. Even if we do not burn the wood, if it decays and rots, the carbon goes back into the air. It is ‘emitted’ into the air. So the cutting of forests can be seen as an emission, a ‘greenhouse gas’ emission (GHG emission).

What will happen?

The consequences of climate change

 Change will continue through this century and beyond

Change will continue through this century and beyond

Global climate is projected to continue to change over this century and beyond. The magnitude of climate change beyond the next few decades depends primarily on the amount of heat-trapping gases emitted globally, and how sensitive the Earth’s climate is to those emissions. Effects that scientists had predicted in the past would result from global climate change are now occurring: loss of sea ice, accelerated sea level rise and longer, more intense heat waves.The potential future effects of global climate change include more frequent wildfires, longer periods of drought in some regions and an increase in the number, duration and intensity of tropical storms.

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Temperatures will continue to rise

Temperatures will continue to rise

Because human-induced warming is superimposed on a naturally varying climate, the temperature rise has not been, and will not be, uniform or smooth across the country or over time.

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Frost-free season (and growing season) will lengthen

Frost-free season (and growing season) will lengthen

In a future in which heat-trapping gas emissions continue to grow, increases of a month or more in the lengths of the frost-free and growing seasons are projected across most of the U.S. by the end of the century, with slightly smaller increases in the northern Great Plains. The largest increases in the frost-free season (more than eight weeks) are projected for the western U.S., particularly in high elevation and coastal areas. The increases will be considerably smaller if heat-trapping gas emissions are reduced.

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 Changes in precipitation patterns

Changes in precipitation patterns

Average U.S. precipitation has increased since 1900, but some areas have had increases greater than the national average, and some areas have had decreases. More winter and spring precipitation is projected for the northern United States, and less for the Southwest, over this century.

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  More droughts and heat waves

More droughts and heat waves

Droughts in the Southwest and heat waves (periods of abnormally hot weather lasting days to weeks) everywhere are projected to become more intense, and cold waves less intense everywhere.

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Hurricanes will become stronger and more intense

Hurricanes will become stronger and more intense

The intensity, frequency and duration of North Atlantic hurricanes, as well as the frequency of the strongest (Category 4 and 5) hurricanes, have all increased since the early 1980s. The relative contributions of human and natural causes to these increases are still uncertain. Hurricane-associated storm intensity and rainfall rates are projected to increase as the climate continues to warm.

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 Sea level will rise 1-4 feet by 2100

Sea level will rise 1-4 feet by 2100

Global sea level has risen by about 8 inches since reliable record keeping began in 1880. It is projected to rise another 1 to 4 feet by 2100. This is the result of added water from melting land ice and the expansion of seawater as it warms. Effects that scientists had predicted in the past would result from global climate change are now occurring: loss of sea ice, accelerated sea level rise and longer, more intense heat waves.The potential future effects of global climate change include more frequent wildfires, longer periods of drought in some regions and an increase in the number, duration and intensity of tropical storms.

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 Arctic likely to become ice-free

Arctic likely to become ice-free

The Arctic Ocean is expected to become essentially ice free in summer before mid-century.Effects that scientists had predicted in the past would result from global climate change are now occurring: loss of sea ice, accelerated sea level rise and longer, more intense heat waves.The potential future effects of global climate change include more frequent wildfires, longer periods of drought in some regions and an increase in the number, duration and intensity of tropical storms.

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Climate Change: How do we know?

Evidence of Climate Change

The Earth's climate has changed throughout history. Just in the last 650,000 years there have been seven cycles of glacial advance and retreat, with the abrupt end of the last ice age about 7,000 years ago marking the beginning of the modern climate era — and of human civilization. Most of these climate changes are attributed to very small variations in Earth’s orbit that change the amount of solar energy our planet receives.

Global temperature rise

Global temperature rise

The planet's average surface temperature has risen about 2.0 degrees Fahrenheit (1.1 degrees Celsius) since the late 19th century, a change driven largely by increased carbon dioxide and other human-made emissions into the atmosphere.5 Most of the warming occurred in the past 35 years, with 16 of the 17 warmest years on record occurring since 2001.

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Warming oceans

Warming oceans

The oceans have absorbed much of this increased heat, with the top 700 meters (about 2,300 feet) of ocean showing warming of 0.302 degrees Fahrenheit since 1969.

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Sea level rise

Sea level rise

Global sea level rose about 8 inches in the last century. The rate in the last two decades, however, is nearly double that of the last century.

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Shrinking ice sheets

Shrinking ice sheets

The Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets have decreased in mass. Data from NASA's Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment show Greenland lost 150 to 250 cubic kilometers (36 to 60 cubic miles) of ice per year between 2002 and 2006, while Antarctica lost about 152 cubic kilometers (36 cubic miles) of ice between 2002 and 2005.

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Extreme events

Extreme events

The number of record high temperature events in the United States has been increasing, while the number of record low temperature events has been decreasing, since 1950. The U.S. has also witnessed increasing numbers of intense rainfall events.

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Declining Arctic sea ice

Declining Arctic sea ice

Both the extent and thickness of Arctic sea ice has declined rapidly over the last several decades.

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Decreased snow cover

Decreased snow cover

Satellite observations reveal that the amount of spring snow cover in the Northern Hemisphere has decreased over the past five decades and that the snow is melting earlier.

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Ocean acidification

Ocean acidification

Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, the acidity of surface ocean waters has increased by about 30 percent.11,12 This increase is the result of humans emitting more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and hence more being absorbed into the oceans. The amount of carbon dioxide absorbed by the upper layer of the oceans is increasing by about 2 billion tons per year.

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Glacial retreat

Glacial retreat

Glaciers are retreating almost everywhere around the world — including in the Alps, Himalayas, Andes, Rockies, Alaska and Africa.

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Statistics

  • 407 C02 (parts / mil)
  • 1.7 Temp Rise (F) in last 5 yrs
  • 400 Sea Level (mm / yr)

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