A Brief Introduction to Climate Change: Part II

After David Attenborough’s powerful documentary ‘Climate Change- The Facts’ was aired on prime time TV and a week of Extinction Rebellion protests in London gained global attention, Yasna Palmeiro-Silva tells us more about its effects on global health. In part two of the series, we discover some of the efforts being made to tackle climate change and how we can all play our part.

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“Warming of the climate system is unequivocal.” Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) have defined climate change as “a statistically significant variation in either the mean state of the climate or in its variability, persisting for an extended period (decades or longer).”

Additionally, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) has defined climate change as “a change of climate which is attributed directly or indirectly to human activity that alters the composition of the global atmosphere and which is in addition to natural variability observed over comparable time periods.”

Therefore, some key ideas about climate change are:

  1. It is a significant variation of climate over decades

  2. It is attributed to human activity

  3. It is happening now

Changes in the climate have caused different global impacts on natural and human systems. Climate change has been changing precipitation patterns and altering water resources as well as migration patterns of terrestrial and marine species. Besides, some studies have suggested that climate change can influence population health and exacerbate existing inequities.

Because of extreme weather events, heat waves, changes in precipitation patterns, droughts, etc., the population can experience more respiratory diseases, heat-related illness and cardiovascular failures, such as myocardial infarction and stroke. Furthermore, climate change can influence a variation in water-borne and vector-borne disease patterns, increasing the risk of malaria, dengue, and diarrheal disease in some parts of the world. Nonetheless, these health-related impacts are not distributed equally around the world because social determinants of health modify the effect of climate change. In other words, the most vulnerable people, such as children, women, the elderly, and people who live in low-income countries are the most affected.

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Its countries such as Ethiopia, where people are hit the hardest from drought as a result of climate change.

According to all the evidence exposed previously, we know that climate change is happening now and is primarily affecting the world’s most vulnerable people. Also, we know that climate change has not happened by magic, it has happened because of the actions of humans. Our consumption patterns of food, transportation, energy use, waste management, among others have been releasing tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere each year, so now we must take actions to try solving the problem.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has proposed that we should move from inefficient transport and energy systems to a situation with clean energy, sustainable transport, food systems and healthy diets (10).

In that sense, in order to take effective actions, we should know what sustainable transport or sustainable food means. Unfortunately, sustainability has multiple terminologies. The Oxford Dictionary gives two important ideas about it. It defines sustainability as: (11)

  • The use of natural products and energy in a way that does not harm the environment.

  • The ability to continue or be continued for a long time.

Similarly, a commonly accepted definition related to sustainability is sustainable development, which was promoted by the Brundtland Commission in 1987, and it says that sustainable development is a “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”.

Consequently, we should take actions that account for the present and future population, regarding its growth and well-being; but at the same time, these actions should balance the development of the economy, society, and the environment. To reflect these needs, in 2015, the United Nations launched a set of 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs) that “are the blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all”.

Goal 11 declares that by 2030, cities should provide sustainable transport systems for all; enhance inclusive and sustainable urbanization; reduce the adverse per capita environmental impact of cities; provide safe, inclusive and accessible green and public spaces; support positive economic, social and environmental links between urban and rural areas, etc.

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The EU has set a goal of reducing emissions from transport by 60% by 2050 compared to 1990 levels.

Moreover, goal 13 supports the idea of taking urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts, and some targets are strengthen resilience and adaptive capacity to climate-change hazards; integrate climate change measures into national policies; promote mechanisms for raising capacity for effective climate change-related planning, and more.

As you can see, these are very ambitious goals considering the certain countries current attitudes to tackling global warming. In my opinion, they will be achievable just if all of us contribute to this cause, and I would like to highlight that “us” goes beyond isolated individual actions. I think that effective actions are interconnected at three levels: macro level (or government level), mid-level (communities or cities), and micro level (individuals). For example, if you want to recycle, your city/community may support you, but your government does not have a good policy on recycling, maybe your action of recycling will be not so much effective. This may cause you to think that change depends on my government and I cannot do anything…

Let me say to you… no! Our actions matter. And each of us has an enormous power to influence policies, community decisions, and other individuals. First of all, each of us should be conscious of climate change and the consequences that our actions have on the environment. Then, you can increase your political participation, get involved in different social networks, and vote! Moreover, you can be an excellent agent of change in your community, whichever it is! Community engagement and social empowerment give individuals a sense of efficacy and promote new ideas.

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We have the power to make more conscious choices everyday.

Finally, at an individual level, you can make sustainable decisions every day, but also you can empower other people to make them! Some examples are a reduction of your consumption, reusing items, and recycling. Also, choose walking or cycling to uniand adopt a plant-based diet. In fact, the United Nations has launched a campaign called Take Climate Action, which recommends everyday actions, so, you can join it here.

In conclusion, climate change is happening now, since we have been releasing several tonnes of CO2 to the atmosphere for centuries. Instead of crying and running in circles, we need to act now because time is ticking down. Being more sustainable is an important way to take our responsibility for climate change.

Gower Street, London

Missed the first of the two part series? Find it here.

About the author: Yasna Palmeiro-Silvais a PhD student in Global Health at UCL, with an interest in climate change and it’s influence on human health. You can find her on Twitter.

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