Although the novel coronavirus takes up much space around the whole world at the moment, there are nevertheless other topics which are at least as urgent. These include wars, regional crisis, humanitarian catastrophes and particularly, climate change. The phenomenon of global warming is not limited to any country, region or season because it affects everyone. The only difference is that some people or areas are more affected than others. Relating to this issue, this essay argues that climate change poses one of the biggest threats to every life on earth, if not the biggest in the foreseeable future. To analyse how far climate change can be seen as a global issue, this essay begins by considering different attitudes towards climate change, using examples of Greta Thunberg, US President Donald Trump and the Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Secondly, this essay considers various implications of global warming, differing between impacts on islands and mainland, with reference to a case study of the Canadian Arctic. Lastly, this essay takes a closer look at the roles of global actors in establishing and monitoring guidelines for combating global warming, by using the example of the United Nations Climate Summits.
Climate change is, according to the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), defined as being `a change in the state of climate […] that persists for an extended period’ (UNFCCC 2011, p. 1), and the world’s biggest threat (Rosane 2019). This has been a result of a global poll, taken by the Pew Research Center in 2018 (Rosane 2019). It demonstrated that approximately 67 per cent of those polled considered climate change as the greatest threat for their country, followed by the Islamic State with 62 per cent and cyberattacks with 61 per cent (Rosane 2019). Following this evidence, many people have the opinion that the global population has looked away for too long, while burdening the environment with greenhouse gases of cars, planes or industrial plants. Hence, human beings are nowadays constantly facing consequences of climate change, like a rising global temperature that cannot be returned into its pre-industrial condition. The possibility of preventing a worsening of the recent situation (Jackson et al. n.d.) can only be achieved when people globally take action against climate change and in particular, governments show more responsibility and accountability (Levermann 2019).
One of the persons representing the opinion that everyone needs to take action, is the Swedish climate activist and student, Greta Thunberg. She began to hold strikes in front of the Swedish Parliament in Stockholm every Friday in 2018, instead of attending school (Augustyn et al. 2020). By her engagement in protesting against climate change, she started to gain attention from politicians and citizens all over the world. Her campaign has received big global response which led to millions of followers attending Friday protests under name of Fridays for Future (Augustyn et al. 2020). They gather their strength to fight together against climate change and for a better future, while blaming in particular, politicians for their inaction (Augustyn et al. 2020). People’s engagement, no matter which age, race, religion or nationality, has a significant impact on global climate policies. It exerts pressure on national governments to pay close attention and to take more action against the threats of climate change (Amelang & Clermont 2019). It is the intention of global climate movements to stress that global warming is an irreversible phenomenon, the impacts of which can only be minimised when governments and individuals act according to common rules.
Relating to this, acting solely is an issue that politicians like US President Donald Trump and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison prefer to do. In Trump’s opinion climate change is a Chinese creation to undermine the international competitivity of US-American productions (Merica 2017). Because of this, he declared to leave the Paris Agreement on climate change until 2020 (Meyer 2019). This agreement has determined to limit the global rise in temperatures to a maximum of 2 degrees celsius (UN 2015, p. 3) compared to levels of the 19th century (Allen et al. 2018, p. 51). In contrast, Morrison refused, particularly during the bushfires in 2019/20, to change his policies in order to reduce Australia’s expansion of coal mining and export. He clarified that scientists cannot prove that recent bushfires were triggered by Australia’s coal mining and resulting greenhouse gas emissions (Karp 2019). Therefore, he denies that his coal policy is an increasing threat for climate change (Karp 2019).
This comparison between Thunberg on the one hand, and Trump and Morrison on the other, highlights that many people take action in fighting climate change to avert further environmental catastrophes. Climate deniers, however, consider these as unnecessary, notwithstanding the consequences for human beings and the earth’s environment. This causes a split in human race concerning global warming. Actions against climate change get started slowly and it becomes a more urgent issue in history of humankind.
Furthermore, global warming has different negative impacts on land and ocean. The mean global water temperature of seas is rising, especially since the 1980s (IUCN 2017, p. 1), which leads to melting glaciers, to an increase of sea levels and floods (IUCN 2017, p. 2). With reference to a report of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change about small island developing states, scientists predict climate-induced sea-level rises between nine and 88 centimetres until 2100 (UNFCCC 2005, p. 15). Subsequently, this will minimise the quantity of drinking water of island states (Thomas, Schleussner, Kumar 2018, p. 2198) and endanger health of its residents. In future, human life is likely to be unable on islands such as the Maldives (UNFCCC 2005, p. 16).
This changing environment and its impacts on human life can be illustrated by a case study from the Canadian Arctic with a special focus on the community of the Inuit (Archer et al. 2016, p. 16). Scientists interviewed them about their daily lives and existing restrictions they experience as a result of climate change (Archer et al. 2016, p. 15f.). A particular issue is the changing consistence of ice (Archer et al. 2016, p. 21). Those interviewed stressed that the ice melts earlier and the ice formation happens much later than in centuries before (Acher et al. 2016, p. 21). Concurrently, the existing ice gets thinner and the number of summers without ice increases, like results of this study have shown (Archer et al. 2016, p. 21). Therefore, scientists compared the average days without ice. They found out that years between 1968 and 1998 had an average of 60 days without ice, whereas years between 2004 and 2014 recorded some periods of up to more than 100 days (Archer et al. 2016, p. 21). This threatens the Inuit’s hunting lifestyle which has a negative impact on their access to food and on their income (Archer et al. 2016, p. 21). These growing issues, particularly islanders and coastal inhabitants need to address in future, emphasises that climate change generates a domino effect of global implications.
A similar process can also be watched onshore. Rising mean temperatures and missing rains lead to extreme droughts. They exist for months or even for years and can in particular, be observed on the African continent (Shepard 2018, p. 38). As a result, numbers of people who are starving, dying of thirst and being displaced increases (Von Grebmer et al. 2019, p. 5). With reference to a report of the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), more than two billion people globally faced a lack of food security and 820 billion were hungry in 2018 (FAO et al. 2019, p. 3). Because of this, they are more vulnerable for impacts of climate change than others (FAO et al. 2019, p. 3).
In addition, periods of aridity lead to an increasing poverty rate and inequality within the entire world population, in particular, between industrialised and developing or underdeveloped countries (Islam & Winkel 2017, p. 15). This is because countries of the First World are more capable of coping with impacts of climate change and thus, less vulnerable (Islam & Winkel 2017, p. 15). Disadvantaged people of the Third World conversely experience a higher loss of financial resources because of destroyed crops and dead herds. Therefore, they lose their livelihood which complicates them to survive (Islam & Winkel 2017, p. 15). This comparison of consequences of climate change on islands and mainland, demonstrates that ethnic groups are and will be affected in different ways. And even if this paper differed between kinds of consequences, there is no clear classification. Those mentioned effects are representing a small number and are supposed to be an illustration of the threat for all lives on earth.
Finally, climate change has an international significance, not only regional (Steiner n.d.). For this reason, it is important to look at the role and tasks global actors, such as international or intergovernmental organisations, have taken in fighting climate change and its impacts. Global actors are defined as `refer[ing] […] to any social structure which is able to act and influence and engage in the global or international system’ (Lunds Universitet 2018). These include the United Nations and the European Union, but also industrialised countries like the United States or China which play a dominant role in world politics as well (Lunds Universitet 2018). In unions countries have the opportunity and power to act jointly in establishing common guidelines, making compromises, developing opinions and proposals, in order to create an effective framework for reducing global warming and its consequences (Steiner n.d.).
The most important international actor in establishing climate policies are the United Nations (Steiner n.d.). Every year this union hosts international climate summits to assess the current situation in order to adapt taken steps and adding new ones if necessary (Mountford 2019). Results of these are mainly influenced by reports of the IPCC, which make recommendations and evaluate possible solutions to minimise impacts of climate change in future (Mountford 2019). Milestones of those summits were the Kyoto Protocol of 1997 and the Paris Climate Agreement of 2015. The Kyoto Protocol engaged every member state to take measures in order to minimise their emitted carbon dioxide by 5,2 per cent between 2008 and 2012, compared with their emissions in 1990 (Augustyn et al. 2007). Accordingly, criticism arised because developing countries, like China, have been exempted from this regulation (Augustyn et al. 2007). With the accord of Paris 2015, those regulations were replaced. The new agreement binds all ratifying states to reduce their `energy-related carbon dioxide emissions by more than 70 per cent by 2050 compared to 2015 levels’ (UNFCCC 2017) by converting to renewable resources (UNFCCC 2017). This example of how nations work together in order to develop and pass common policies, stresses the urgency of climate change once again. Only if every country adapts its policies to common guidelines, progress on global scale will be achievable.
To conclude, this essay has demonstrated why climate change is the biggest challenge the world’s population has to cope with, now and in future. It has shown different attitudes towards global warming which make the enforcement of common global guidelines more difficult. It has highlighted that changes, caused by this phenomenon, can be observed everywhere on earth but the real impacts differ between regions. Lastly, it has stressed the importance of global actors to find a solution in fighting climate change. Concerning the future, effects of climate change will not decrease until all countries in the world will legally adopt and impose far-reaching measures. Even then, it will take centuries or thousands of years, until the severity of those consequences will begin to decline. In the meantime, the number of natural disasters and people affected by that will increase.
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