Climate change is one of the greatest challenges of our age
We all have our own view of the climate and climate change. Those at one end of the spectrum are expecting the end of the world, while those at the other consider it to be a load of green hogwash. Yet the fact is that climate change is happening and has been accelerating in recent decades.
The world’s average temperature has risen by 1.1 degrees since 1850. Carbon dioxide levels are about 150 per cent higher than they were before industrialisation – and at their highest in three million years. Ocean surfaces have risen by 26 centimetres, and this rise is speeding up due to factors such as greater glacial melting in Greenland. The Arctic ice mass has dwindled by three quarters over the past 30 years, and by the 2040s the area may be ice-free in summer and autumn.
Floods, heatwaves, droughts, forest fires and powerful tropical storms are increasing, and financial losses resulting from the weather have increased multifold since the 1980s. Human lives have been lost, even in Europe. The 2003 heatwave led to the early deaths of an estimated 75,000 people in Central Europe. 50,000 people in Russia and an estimated 500 in Finland lost their lives as a result of the 2010 July–August heatwave and smoke from forest fires. Weather conditions mainly vary for natural reasons, yet extreme weather is being observed more frequently as the climate changes.
The current coronavirus crisis will most likely increase mortality over the next year, and probably lead to an economic downturn lasting two to three years. If we fail to prevent climate change, we will experience both financial losses and a deterioration in human living conditions for centuries to come. This larger problem is worth addressing with the same vigour that countries are currently employing to curb the impacts of the pandemic.
The good news is that small changes in people’s daily lives can have an impact and the necessary financial investments are reasonable.
Transport is a key sector. The electrification of transport and the growing use of biofuels are just some of the ways in which we can fight climate change on the ground. Fuel choices can also have positive impacts on the climate and air quality. In shipping, for example, the shift from poor-quality heavy fuel oil to gas is a favourable development. Natural gas also generates carbon emissions, but less than fuel oil. There are currently no good ways of removing carbon dioxide from exhaust gases, but development work is ongoing.
Consumers are becoming increasingly interested in transport emissions, and a desire to promote climate-friendly solutions is also the zeitgeist in many companies. There are now an increasing number of alternatives for land transport, yet air traffic and shipping are more challenging. At the moment, it would be difficult to completely abandon fossil fuels. Yet it is still worthwhile seeking energy-saving solutions that are more climate-friendly. Little strokes fell great oaks. In small quantities at least, emissions can be compensated for by binding more carbon in the biosphere. However, this method is quite limited on a global scale and will in no way be sufficient unless the use of coal, oil and natural gas is significantly reduced.
There are ways to overcome the climate issue – we just need to start putting in some hard work. Compared to the coronavirus crisis, the remedies are tolerable and will create new business opportunities.