A pressing global issue: The uncertain future of climate change

Of the many claims that Donald Trump made in his bid for the presidency, one of the most memorable was his dismissal of climate change. Whereas Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton listed ‘protecting animals and wildlife’ and ‘climate change’ as two major topics on her campaign website, Trump’s did not mention safeguarding the environment. On the contrary, he has controversially stated that he is sceptical about climate change, and therefore wants to dismantle the Paris Agreement, a United Nations agreement regulating greenhouse gas emissions. Since taking office in January, however, Trump has said precious little on climate change. This begs the question: how much of what Donald Trump said in his campaign did he actually mean? Until this question is answered, the future of global climate change will remain shrouded in uncertainty.

Globally, billons of tons of greenhouse gases are released into the atmosphere, primarily through the burning of fossil fuels in our everyday lives. First observed during the mid 20th century, climate change has become an increasing global concern, with worrying consequences that will affect the planet for generations to come, such as rising sea levels, an increase in the earth’s temperature, and melting ice in the North and South Poles. These are just the consequences that have been observed up to now, and there is a high possibility that these effects will worsen if greenhouse gas emissions do not decrease. With such an uncertain policy regarding climate change in arguably the most powerful country in the world, it would appear that The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) unsettling predication that emission levels will continue to rise throughout this century could prove to be true.

U.S. Department of Agriculture

Image courtesy of U.S. Department of Agriculture, © 2013, some rights reserved.

The EPA’s calculations include an increase in global temperature within the range of 0.5°F to 8.6°F by the year 2100, with a likely increase of at least 2.7°F. Also, global average temperature is expected to warm at least twice as much in the next 100 years as it has during the last 100 years. The impact of this may be evident in our own lives, and will undoubtedly affect the lives of our children and grandchildren. This causes great concern among many, and now it’s coupled with the election of a president whose campaign policies suggest that he is quite sceptical of climate change. Trump went so far as to tweet in 2012 that ‘the concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.’ With a climate change sceptic holding the top global government office, it is interesting to see how other nations are responding to the imminent threat and increasing presence of global warming.

India, China and Brazil, who are the largest emitters of greenhouse gas in the less economically developed world, acknowledged the accumulating problem that climate change poses at the 2005 G8 summit. The Kyoto Protocol, an international agreement where the United Nations (UN) member countries became legally bound to set targets to reduce global CO2 emissions, came into action after having been initially proposed in 1997. Twelve years later in 2017, however, carbon dioxide levels in the air are at their highest level in 650,000 years. Nine of the ten warmest years on record have occurred since the year 2000, despite the Montreal Treaty being signed in 1997, which was one of the first stepping-stones to reducing climate change. In 2005, Britain committed to reducing levels of CO2 emissions by 60 per cent by 2050, although right now it is debatable as to whether or not this can be achieved. Nevertheless, it remains clear that stricter measures need to be put in place on a global scale for a viable chance of the increasing rate of global warming to slow and eventually cease all together.

More recently, in 2009, the U.S. passed the American Clean Energy and Security Act, which was ‘the first time either house of Congress had approved a bill meant to curb the heat-trapping gases scientists have linked to climate change.’ In 2011, UN climate talks were held in Durban and it was agreed that the EU would put its current emission-cutting pledges inside the legally binding Kyoto Protocol. The deal included reducing emissions from UN countries as well as developing ones, with the hope that it will come into effect by 2020. The internationally agreed threshold regarding global temperature was to attempt to keep the rise below 3.6F/2C, as it was in pre-industrial times.

With a global effort being made to fight climate change, it should follow that levels of CO2 emissions will reduce, rates at which ice caps melt will slow, and sea levels will cease to rise. Global warming was first recognised by U.S. President Richard Nixon in 1969 when he pushed the UN to research environmental topics. Yet despite a global effort CO2 levels are still at a record high, leading the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to state gravely but truly that, ‘Scientific evidence for warming of the climate system is unequivocal.’

Solutions and suggestions to combat global warming and climate change are never at the very top of any politician’s manifesto. Usually climate change initiatives fall by the wayside in favour of more currently pressing (and immediately visible) issues such as immigration or the economy. It is perhaps because the amount of action that can be taken in the immediate future is indeed limited. As detailed above, there are already regulations in place although their effects are slow working and limited, resulting in the current height of CO2 levels and sea levels. Although it is factually incorrect to say that the measures have had a detrimental effect, it may certainly seem that way. For citizens around the world who carry out initiatives such as recycling and try and use, it may seem as though their efforts are in vain, which in itself is frustrating.

Given that all the attempts so far to reduce and eventually halt climate change have not had the best overall effect, it poses the question: how will governments proceed in the future to combat the issue? It is an increasing problem which will have an effect on the majority of countries worldwide, yet there is no universally successful plan to stop it, despite efforts such as the annual Conference of Parties (COP). It is impossible to say for certain what exactly the future will hold in terms of climate change, but is reasonable enough to link an increase in population with an increase in the consumption of fossil fuels. This will only aggravate the ever increasing problem of climate change, bringing with it the implication that, for now, there is very little we can do to see positive effects before the situation worsens exponentially for generations to come.