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The climatic conditions of the earth have changed significantly over the centuries. This can be noticed from the geological evidence of changes in sea levels and ice ages. The patterns of human activity over the centuries also give good evidence of climate change.
It is unclear what caused the climate changes in the past, but scientists have listed possible causes like volcanic eruptions, the sun’s effects, and changes in ocean currents (Pelling 2011 p. 17). The evidence of climate change at present is mainly seen in the sharp increase in global temperatures over the past few decades.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fourth Assessment Report arrived at the conclusion that climate change was happening at present. Atmospheric and oceanic temperatures have reached record high levels that have never been witnessed in the last 500 years and most likely for over 1000 years (IPPC 2008 p. 34).
The effects of climate change can be seen in many areas, with one of the most common pointers being the increased frequency of natural disasters. Industrialization and deforestation increase the levels greenhouse gases in the earth’s atmosphere, and this has consequently led to an increase in droughts, floods, hurricanes and other natural disasters.
Current Approach to Climate Change
A look at the statistics indicates that climate change is a major issue that requires a serious approach in order to mitigate its effects. For the period from 1995 to 2004, disasters caused 890,000 deaths and affected a total of 2.5 billion people, with losses estimated at US$ 570 billion (IPCC 2008 p. 46). The number of disasters recorded almost doubled for the period running from 1995 to 2005, and this is cause for major concern.
Other plausible explanations for this increase include population growth and the increase in the number of climatic disasters of a lower magnitude. However, the increased cases of droughts, storms, and very high rainfalls in different places are indicative of the culmination of the effects of climate change, and major disasters are yet to follow in the future (Schipper & Pelling 2006, p. 117).
Some positive statistics show that there are now fewer people dying as a result of disasters as compared to previous centuries. This is particularly so for widespread flooding and drought, which have in the past claimed hundreds of thousands of human lives.
This reduction can be attributed to improved systems for monitoring climatic patterns, providing early warning of impending disaster and general preparedness (Sietz & Boschutz 2011 p. 82). The responses of governments and international organizations through measures like evacuations and food aid have also helped save a lot of lives.
However, this trend could be on the reverse since the past few decades have seen a rise in the baseline level of deaths, which can be attributed to a growing population with a majority of the poor living in disaster prone areas. It is the poor people that feel the full impact of disasters and other effects of climate change.
Any progress that has been made towards poverty reduction over the years can be undone due to the damages caused by these disasters (Pachuari 2004 p. 137).
Many people in the population expect their respective governments to shield them from the risks of disaster at all costs (Wilkinson 2012 p. 156). They do not seriously consider the risks that they may be putting themselves in from the choices they make, especially concerning where they settle and the socio-economic activities that they engage in.
Experts have proposed an approach that decreases the chances of the population suffering impending disasters, regardless of whether they are related to climate change or not.
This idea of disaster risk reduction or adaptation can be implemented in several ways. These include public awareness programs, early warning systems, and environmental protection. These efforts also require serious political commitment and administrative input from respective governments.
Politics, Institutions and Climate Change
Disaster risk reduction and climate change are closely related, yet they are usually discussed under different policy spheres at both national and international forums. In recent years, those concerned with disaster reduction have actively contributed to discussions on climate change, and have proposed concepts for adaptation.
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There have been efforts to combine the efforts towards disaster reduction and climate change. There are several UN processes geared towards risk reduction. They include bodies like the United Nations Office of the High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States (UNOHRLLS) and the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).
The Small Island Developing States have already recognized the need to reduce the risks of climate change, and have come up with the Mauritius Strategy on sustainable development. The World Trade Organization (WTO) is also helping poor countries that depend on agriculture how to reduce risk and adapt to climate change.
Experts emphasize that the most of the efforts towards reducing climate change and disaster risks should be made at community and state levels. This calls for an integrated approach that unites the efforts of all the concerned sectors under a common framework. Some of these sectors include education, infrastructure, health, and environment.
It has been noted that most of the disaster risk reduction efforts in many countries are handled by the armed forces or emergency management bodies that usually have few connections with other concerned ministries like environment, finance, or economic planning. Many countries are now looking at how to integrate these efforts for better coordination and collaboration between all the major stakeholders (Willis 2005 p. 175).
The public needs to be actively engaged in disaster reduction efforts to complement the efforts by the government and international bodies. The private sector also has a lot of expertise when it comes to disaster management and risk reduction, and their in put should be sought to boost the efforts that are already in place.
Climate change is now the leading cause of many disasters happening all over the world. As a result, the efforts at mitigating the effects of climate change are closely related to disaster risk reduction, and the two must be approached by combining efforts.
Future projections for climate change
Experts are now using computer-based models to try to predict future climate patterns. These models incorporate important factors that affect the atmosphere and the oceans, like the projected increase in greenhouse gases due to socio-economic activities. The results released by the IPCC based on the computer models paint a very grim picture.
Surface air temperatures for the globe are expected to increase by 1.1-6.4 degrees Celsius while seas levels are expected to rise by 18 to 59 cm by the year 2100 (IPCC 2008 p. 58). The acidity of the oceans will increase while the planet will experience heat waves and high precipitation events will become more common. The high precipitation will mainly be seen at higher altitudes while the subtropical areas will see less rainfall.
The continuous rising of tropical sea surface temperatures will cause the tropical cyclones, like typhoons and hurricanes, to become more intense. This will be seen in the higher peak wind speeds and more accompanying precipitation (citation).
Expected effects of climate change
Melt water from the top of the mountains supply more than one sixth of the planet’s population with their water needs. These are people living mainly in the dry tropics and mid latitudes, and they are likely to experience a significant reduction in water supply by the middle of the century. There will be higher precipitation in some areas and this is most likely to result in more floods.
The mid and high altitude areas may initially benefit from higher agricultural output due to the increased precipitation. However, in the lower altitude areas, crop production will be heavily affected due to the increases in temperature and frequency of droughts and floods. There will be more people facing hunger and this will cause displacement and migration of large populations.
Those societies, settlements, and industries located at the coastal areas and river flood plains face the highest risks from the effects of climate change. Also under threat are those countries whose economies are heavily dependent on climate-sensitive resources.
The extreme weather patterns have become a common occurrence and with increased intensity, and the economic and social costs of damages resulting from these events will increase. This is more so for places undergoing rapid urbanization. The negative impact of climate change on health is a major concern.
Heat waves, storms, droughts, floods, and fires are likely to cause more injuries and deaths. Other threats to health will come from malaria, diarrhea, and malnutrition. The projects aimed at improving public health especially in the poor countries will suffer a huge setback as a result of disasters (Mehta 2000 p. 89).
Climate change is expected to affect all countries, but the nastiest effects will be experienced by people in poor countries and the poor segment in developed countries. The poor have a tendency to live in high-risk areas like flood plains, yet they do not have properly built houses.
Their economic activities are also dependent on climate, like agriculture, and they have no capacity to cope with the effects of climate change (Madan 2010 p. 67). This means that the low incomes of the poor are likely to fall further, and the rates of illness and death will increase in many developing countries.
Africa already suffers from numerous problems like endemic poverty, armed conflicts, and other disasters yet it lacks the institutional capacity to deal with these situations. This makes the continent extremely vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Drought is set to continue being a major problem in Africa, and it has been shown that sub-Saharan Africa has become drier during the 20th century.
Agricultural production and water supply are expected to reduce significantly, with some projections putting a reduction in agricultural yields by up to 50% by the year 2020 (Low 2005 p. 248). Asia has been keen on sustainable development but this is set to come under strain as climate change puts more pressure on natural resources that are already under threat from urbanization and industrialization.
Dealing with Climate Change
The world has slowly awaken to the fact that climate change is a major concern, and countries are now trying to discuss and negotiate ways of dealing with the problem, mainly under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
It has been widely accepted that greenhouse emissions arising from human activity are the main problem, and focus is now on how to reduce these emissions (Levine, Ludi & Jones 2011, p. 46). There is a lot of contention on how to go about reducing greenhouse emissions, as it calls for radical changes that will affect the society in a major way.
The use of fossil fuels, industries, urban development, and general land use all need to be changed drastically and this is likely to affect many people in a huge way hence the resistance. The efforts at reducing greenhouse emissions are referred to as “mitigation”.
Some of the proposed mitigation actions include switching to renewable forms of energy, development of low-energy technologies and reducing reliance on energy-intensive products. It also involves environmental management and conservation efforts targeting forests and soils. The second plan of action in response to climate change involves finding ways of managing its impacts.
The amounts of greenhouse gases that have already accumulated in the atmosphere mean that the world cannot escape the impacts of climate change. This is reinforced by the continued emissions before the mitigation efforts take full effect.
It is widely accepted that the impacts of climate change are coming or are already here, and some effort is being put towards lessening these impacts. These efforts towards coping with climate change are referred to as “adaptation”.
Proposed adaptation efforts include early warning systems, better building designs, improved agricultural practices, and putting in place social safety nets for the poor. Adaptation and mitigation efforts should go hand in hand for complimentary effect (Jones et al. 2010 p. 79).
Geological and anthropological evidence indicate that the earth has experienced climate change before. It is difficult to point out the real reasons behind climate change in the past. However, climate change is happening now, and much of it is due to human activity.
Both atmospheric and oceanic temperatures have reached record highs that have not been experienced for hundreds of years. The effects of climate change are already being felt, especially due to the increased frequency of disasters all over the world. These changes have mostly affected poor people living in disaster prone areas (Baker 2012 p. 28).
The most common effects are extreme weather conditions like heavy rainfall that results in widespread floods, and prolonged drought that causes famine and denies the poor a source of livelihood through agriculture. There have been efforts towards addressing climate change as the world continues to witness its devastating effects.
However, there seems to be several hindering factors, mainly at local and national levels (Dasgupta & Baschieri 2010 p. 56). Most countries lack the capacities and institutional frameworks to deal with climate change, and there has also been slow reaction from governments yet they are expected to play a significant role in the whole process.
Efforts at addressing climate change revolve around mitigation actions aimed at reducing greenhouse emissions, and adaptation actions meant to reduce the impacts of climate change.
Mitigation requires some drastic measures that are bound to affect many people in a significant way, and this has caused a lot of debate. As for adaptation, it has come to be accepted that climate change is already causing problems, with more to come so people are trying to find ways of lessening the impact.
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