Responding to Climate Change

Not a car in sight. Barcelona’s superblocks have created a car free space in the city centre, now other cities are copying the idea (Photo: JasonParis/Flickr)

Author: Grace Akambe (IB2 Geography Class of 2019)

Disparities in exposure to climate change risk and vulnerability, including variations in people’s location, wealth, social differences (age, gender, education), risk perception

The impact of climate change varies at different scales: some countries are more exposed to the risk of climate change than others. The power to act to mitigate climate change is spread unevenly amongst countries and individuals: LICs e.g. Bangladesh which suffers more from the impacts of climate change do not necessarily have the economic and technological capacity to take action towards the mitigation or adaptation to climate change. On the other hand, HICs and MICs have the technological and financial capacity to mitigate or adapt to climate change. This topic examines the differences in the exposure to risks of climate change.

Important definitions:

  • Resilience: The capacity of individuals, societies, organizations or environments to recover and resume ‘business as usual’ functions and operations following a hazard or other system shock.
  • Mitigation: Any action taken to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, such as using less fossil fuels, thereby helping to slow down or ultimately stop climate change. Mitigation can occur at varying scales by different stakeholders, such as an individual turning off lights to reduce energy consumption.
  • Adaptation: Actions taken to protect people from the harmful effects of climate change without tackling the problem itself.

Characteristics of people and places and their vulnerability to climate change

  1. Location and Vulnerability:

Places such as islands, coastal regions, high or low altitudes, etc. are more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, hence they may want action to be taken to combat it. E.g. Kiribati Island which is 1.8m above sea level is predicted to be submerged by seawater this century due to rising sea levels resulting from climate change. Kiribati has also experienced floods on some of its islands forcing people to migrate to New Zealand. The Maldives is also another Island at risk of the impacts of climate change.

Tidal flooding on South Tarawa, one of the atolls that make up Kiribati. Credit Josh Haner/The New York Tim
  • Age, Gender and Vulnerability:

Young people may be more concerned about climate change due to the irreversible impacts it may have on their future if global temperature increases by 20c. They may launch a campaign for governments to take action towards climate change, thus reducing their vulnerability if governments heed their campaign. For example, the #School Strike 4 Climate campaign was started by Greta Thunberg who skipped school and embarked on a sitdown strike in front of the Swedish Parliament building as a way to campaign for the climate. This has led to multiple school strikes in the UK and other countries worldwide.

  • Risks perceptions and vulnerability:

Some people are sceptical about climate change – whether it’s truly anthropogenic factors changing the earth’s climate or the earth’s natural Milankovitch cycles. For example, Donald Trump is skeptical about the existence of climate change hence his withdrawal from the Paris Climate Change Deal in 2017.

  • Wealth, Education and Vulnerability:

Some countries may not be aware of the impacts of climate change or even its existence hence may fail to take action towards mitigating climate change. Other countries may also be educated on climate change but may feel that they have the capacity to invest in climate change adaptation infrastructures.

Case studies of climate change vulnerabilities:

  • Climate change vulnerability in the Philippines
  • Climate change vulnerability among indigenous Arctic communities

Government-led adaptation and mitigation strategies for global climate change:

Government action to combat climate change can be in the form of mitigation or adaptation. The diagram below shows possible mitigation and adaptation actions taken by governments.

Examples of Mitigation:

  • Investing in renewable energy use
  • Investing in sustainable transportation e.g. electric cars, public transport use, improved fuel efficiencies
  • Building green infrastructures e.g. Beddington Zero Energy Development in London, City hall in Chicago (City hall has 1405m2 green roof).
  • Carbon sinks and storage .i.e. afforestation

Examples of Adaptation:

  • Building higher flood defenses
  • Investing in drought-resistant crops
  • Green infrastructure
  • Health Programs to cater for climate change related illnesses

a) Global geopolitical efforts, recognizing that the source/s of greenhouse gas emissions may be spatially distant from the countries most impacted

Discussions on climate change and how to tackle it have been going on for more than 30 years since the 1980s. Below is a timeline of the agreements and actions made by the global community on the issue of climate change.

  • In 1988, the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was established by the UN Environmental Program and the World Meteorological Organization. IPCC began research on the greenhouse effect and anthropogenic factors that have led to increased levels of CO2, methane and nitrous oxide in the atmosphere
  • In 1992 key political players began to discuss the findings of the IPCC in the Earth Summit in Rio. 190 countries signed a treaty agreeing that actions needed to be taken to reduce GHG emissions to prevent dangerous interference to the climate system
  • In 1997, the agreement made in 1992 was developed into a legal binding agreement to reduce GHG emissions, called the Kyoto Protocol. Countries were required to sign the protocol as a pledge to reduce their emissions however some countries e.g. the US refused to sign the protocol.
  • In 2009, rich countries agreed during the UN meeting in Copenhagen to set up a $100 billion green fund by 2020 to help poorer countries with mitigation and adaptation actions.
  • In 2015 the Paris climate change agreement also called COP21 was established. The Paris agreement commits 195 countries to reducing their emissions of GHGs to prevent future atmospheric temperature from increasing by 20c.

Impact of the Paris Climate Change Agreement on the actions of governments to mitigate or adapt to climate change:

  • AfriScout in Kenya:

AfriScout is an app that uses satellite images to point herders to grazing areas for their cattle. This project was sponsored by the US foreign aid as part of the contribution the Paris agreement compels countries to pay to support developing countries with mitigation and adaptation to climate change. AfriScout aims to help herders navigate through the changing weather patterns in Kenya which has caused the drying out of lands making it increasingly difficult for Masai herders to continue their cattle rearing as most of the cattle die of starvation.

  • Chile Climate change laws:

Countries who have signed the Paris agreement, have implemented laws towards climate change mitigation. An example is Chile’s plan to reform its coal-heavy power sector which began in 2017. The 250 page details on this policy referencing the Paris climate change deal throughout. The government has also announced a coal phase out and has called for 100% renewable energy to be achieved by 2040. There has also been a stop in the building of new coal plants unless the technology to pump the emissions underground is available.

For more info: Chile declares start of coal power phase

Individual actions towards mitigating climate change:

Climate change mitigation actions can occur at varying scales, that is, individuals, local communities, governments etc. An example of an individual action to conserve and enhance the natural environment – one of the aims of the Paris agreement – is:

  • Jadev Payang, an Indian man who single-highhandedly planted over 500ha of trees and educated his community on the importance of growing trees.
  • Another example is the recent increase of the people deciding to be vegetarians or pure vegan after a study that being vegetarian cuts a person’s carbon footprint by half. Livestock contribute 14.5% of GHGs in the atmosphere according to the UNFAO. Hence the increase in people being vegetarians – increased by 600% in the US in three years, 350% and 450% in the UK and Portugal respectively – is significant in cutting GHG emissions.

Going vegetarian could cut your food carbon footprint in half

  • The Paris Agreement has led to an increase in investment in research and development (R&D) to find solutions to climate change and development of renewable energy use. An example is the invention of a tile which generates energy when exposed to sunlight. This tile was invented by researchers at Glasgow Caledonian University in the UK and would be tested in the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. This will increase the use of renewable energy from the sun as the tiles may be used in buildings, thus increasing absorption of the sun’s energy.

Further readings on Climate Change:

Strengths and Weakness of the Paris Agreement:

b)Carbons Emissions Trading and Offsetting

  • Cap and Trade

Cap and Trade is an environmental policy that places limits on the amount of natural resources that can be used, identifies the resource users, divides this amount into shares among the users and allow users to sell their shares if they are not willing to use it.

  • Carbon Emissions Trading (CET):

Carbon Emissions trade involves giving firms and industries a limit to their emissions and fining firms who exceed this limit. The CET also allows for trade of carbon shares between firms and is done in the form of Cap and Trade. This is a scheme which allows for gradual reduction of GHG emissions by industries and firms without much government intervention. CET is a form of environmental economies that gives firms the incentive to reduce their carbon emissions and shift renewable energy use so that they can sell their remaining shares for profit.

Case study: The EU Emissions Trading System (EUETS)

  • The EUETS was developed in 2005 and is the largest Carbon Emissions Trade in the world.
  • The scheme encompasses many industries: power stations, oil refineries, cement factories, among others
  • The EU gives tradable permissions allowance or credit to all firms in the industries involve. One allowance allows the holder to emit 1 tonne of CO2.
  • Firms who exceed this limit are fined increasing the price of their products to the detriment of the firm.
  • Other firms who do not exhaust their limit sell their credit to firms who have reached their limit creating potential profit for their firm
  • Overtime, the tradable emissions allowance is reduced by the EU gradually cutting GHG emissions significantly and moving the economy towards more sustainable sources of energy.

Criticisms or weaknesses of the EUETS

  • Carbon Offsetting:

This a scheme that encourages or requires businesses to sponsor activities or projects to reduce the amount of carbon in the atmosphere e.g. planting of trees as a way to compensate for their own emissions. In simple terms, it is a way of compensating for our emissions. Carbon offsetting can occur at varying scales. For example, individuals can pay offset cost which is extra cost placed on a good which is used to fund climate change mitigation projects by the business or firm (this is referred to as offsetting service provided by some commercial organizations).

Criticism of carbon offsetting schemes:

Carbon offsetting schemes do not directly provide a direct mitigation for climate change. It indirectly encourages emissions as the action taken to compensate for individual emissions do not fully cover the environmental cost of the emission. Also it is difficult to determine the degree of action a person needs to take to completely offset their emissions.

Question: ‘The world’s poorer countries are least responsible for climate change and have most to lose because of it.’ To what extent do you agree with this statement?

c) Technological fixes and Geo-engineering

Geo-engineering is the deliberate large scale manipulation of the planetary environment in order to counteract the anthropogenic climate change. Geo-engineering can help alleviate climate change in two possible ways:

  • Removal of CO2 from the atmosphere and storing it underground or using it to produce coal.
  • Reflection of sunlight radiation back to space to reduce the heat coming to the earth.

Possible ‘technological fixes’ for climate change using geo-engineering

  • Carbon capture and storage (CCS)

This technology aims at capturing released carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels and burying it deep underground. Considering the fact that for years to come the burning of coal will continue to have a very significant part in the global energy budget as its abundant and at a low cost.

This technology works in three stages:

  1. The carbon dioxide is separated from the power station emissions
  2. The gas is compressed and transported by pipeline to storage areas.
  3. It is injected into porous rocks deep underground or below the ocean for permanent storage(geo-sequestration)

CSS could make an enormous difference to the size of the anthropogenic carbon store. The IPCC estimates that CSS

  • has the potential to reduce coal-fired power station emissions by up to 90% and
  • could provide up to half of the world’s total carbon mitigation until 2100

Geoengineering reducing solar radiation

Evaluation of CCS

  1. The technology is not yet mature as it has been piloted at only a handful of coal-fired power stations worldwide.
  2. The cost of running this technology is foreseen to be expensive the technology is complex and still being developed
  3. A lot of accuracy is required in the execution of this project as in order for carbon dioxide to be trapped underground there must be no possibility of any leak to the surface. This therefore raises the uncertainty of how successful this technology may be.               
  4. Pilot projects in the UK were cancelled recently owing to the rising cost (of over US $1billion). The plan had been for carbon to be transported by a pipeline to the North Sea and stored in depleted gas reservoirs. The UK government has cut public spending in many areas because of the global financial crisis and its after-effects
  • Sunlight Reflection Methods (SRM)

SRM technologies aim to readjust the global energy balance by reducing incoming solar radiation. This would help in to offsetting the global heating caused by rising greenhouse gas emissions. These technologies include:

  1. Placing mirrors in near-earth space orbit in order to reflect more sunlight back into space.
  2. Mimicking the global dimming effect of huge volcanic eruptions by injecting tiny sulphate aerosol particles into the stratosphere where they would scatter sunlight back to space.
  3. Whitening lo-level marine clouds by spraying seawater into them, the increased albedo would lead to more reflected sunlight.

Evaluation of SRM

  1. The costs and safety risks associated with this technology raises concern as it requires millions of orbital mirrors making it likely to be highly expensive.
  2. Stratospheric aerosol injections might disturb regional weather systems around the world, including storm systems.
  3. Geopolitical tensions may arise if one country using this technology disrupts another country’s weather.
  4. Aerosol particles destroy stratospheric ozone depletion allows cancer-causing ultraviolet radiation to penetrate the atmosphere.
  5. Screening out some of the Suns radiation will reduce the efficiency of solar power systems.

Civil society and corporate strategies to address global climate change

  • Case study of the response to climate change in one country focusing on the actions of non-governmental stakeholders

Further reading:

Climate Change: Five ways to be resilient


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