THE KEY ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES
What is climate change?
When we talk about climate change, we are talking about the way that human actions have added to natural variations in the Earth’s climate, leading to a dangerous rise in global temperature. This in turn is leading to ice melting, rising sea levels, changing weather patterns and growing seasons, and other direct impacts on human, animal and plant life and health.
1.5°C Rise in Temperature – The Committee on Climate Change warns that “there is no clear threshold where climate change moves from safe to dangerous. We can expect some disruptions and irreversible losses of natural habitats and resources, even with a 1.5 or 2°C temperature rise. However, with rapid global action to cut greenhouse gas emissions, we can still reduce the likelihood of global temperatures increasing by more than 1.5 – 2°C. On the other hand, if we take no action, global temperatures could increase by 4°C or more by the end of the century.” Capping global temperature rises at 1.5°C is a vital aim of all climate change mitigation strategies.
Net Zero Carbon Emissions – We know that climate change is the result of greenhouse gas emissions caused by human activity. Having net zero carbon emissions, or reaching carbon neutrality, means that carbon emissions are balanced with carbon removal. The States of Guernsey defines this as: “Balancing the emissions that are produced as a community with activities that absorb, capture or reduce those emissions so they are equal. This applies to all greenhouse gas emissions (not just CO2) and is expressed in units of CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent).”
Tipping Points – Scientists have identified a number of critical ‘tipping points’. These are thresholds which, if crossed, could trigger large-scale and irreversible changes that will have a significant impact on global warming. Urgent action on climate change may prevent some of these tipping points being reached. Others may already be in motion, and our actions need to focus on mitigating the worst damage.
Why should we care about climate change?
Climate change, on the scale we are now experiencing, is a direct result of human activity, and it will take human activity to mitigate the damage we have caused.
The effects of climate change around the world include major changes in weather patterns, rising sea levels, and loss of vital habitats. In turn, this creates food and water insecurity, affects the spread of diseases, increases global poverty, increases the displacement of people (migration) and threatens critical infrastructure (particularly in low-lying areas
These impacts have already begun and potentially they threaten human survival, and so require urgent local and international action, particularly as there is a time-lag between emitting greenhouse gases and the resultant warming. Future generations will bear the cost of our inaction.
Adapting to a rapidly changing climate is made more difficult today in a world of seven and a half billion people, where many communities are not sustainable (such as ours) or resilient to change (such as those in the poorer and worst affected areas) and competition for resources results in conflicts, as does the mass movement of displaced people.
Why does it matter here in Guernsey?
Guernsey is at the very end of supply lines on which it is utterly dependent and so is vulnerable to the increasing probability of disruptions caused by the consequences of Climate Change. We have a vulnerable low lying coastline where most of our population live and critical infrastructure sits. Changes in rainfall patterns are increasingly causing flooding and the collapse of infrastructure. It is putting additional pressure onto our already struggling biodiversity and natural environment. In June 2019, the States formally recognised that we face a climate crisis, and agreed that “Guernsey must address the climate and ecological crisis at both local and international levels.” In 2020 they agreed a Climate Change Policy & Action Plan, which now needs to be put into practice as a priority.
Guernsey will not be sheltered from the effects of climate change, and our actions as an Island contribute to it – or can help to mitigate it, if we take the right steps now.
Additionally, there is a reputational risk to our outward facing economy if we don’t willingly demonstrate our desire to be part of the solution.
Where can I find out more?
• Royal Society: The Basics of Climate Change
• BBC: What is Climate Change? A really simple guide
• Committee on Climate Change: What is Climate Change?
• States of Guernsey: Climate Crisis Amendment (see detailed explanatory note and references)
• Wikipedia: Carbon Neutrality (Net Zero Carbon Emissions)
• States of Guernsey: Mitigate Climate Change – States of Guernsey Climate Change Policy & Action Plan
• Carbon Brief: 9 Tipping Points that Could be Triggered by Climate Change
• National Geographic: Climate change driving entire planet to dangerous ‘tipping point’
• IPCC Special Report: Global Warming of 1.5°C
• Green Facts: Impacts of a 4C Warming