climate change today

Climate change today, in the past and in the future

Since the 1970s, growing carbon dioxide emissions and resource depletion due to human activities have been raising concerns for global warming and climate change1. The science behind this phenomenon and its human cause is ever more unequivocal for every IPCC publication2. But this is not the first time there has been a great shift in the climate on Earth. How is the climate changing today? How did it change in the past and how will it be evolving in the future?

Climate variability in the past

The Earth, as one among many objects in space, is subject to several external variabilities. The way it rotates around its axis and how it orbits around the Sun is not constant but cyclical. The amount of solar irradiance received on the Earth’s surface has cycles as well3. As a result of these cycles, and other factors such as volcanic eruptions, environments and global temperatures have greatly varied over time. For instance, in the past 5,000 years, the planet has warmed by as much as 4 to 7ºC4.

How is the climate changing now?

The release of fossil fuel and other greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere have made climate change a large-scale phenomenon in a much shorter timeframe. As a result, living species cannot adapt as effectively. Moreover, extreme weather events are getting worse and more frequent5, causing more heat waves. NASA lists several other consequences to global warming: the temperature rise is leading to changes in precipitation patterns, sea level rise, stronger and more intense hurricanes, and the thawing of polar ice sheets6.

Future perspectives for the changing climate

The IPCC developed several scenario pathways that could happen from now to 2100. They are called “Representative Concentration Pathways” and represent the amount of greenhouse gas concentration in the atmosphere7. Where we stand along these pathways depends on the mitigation and adaptation measures to climate change that are taken. If we want to stay under the 1.5ºC warming advocated by the IPCC8, there is a need of more policymaking and cooperation between countries. Despite the United States withdrawing from the Paris Agreement in November 20199, countries around the world continue to stay committed to tacking the challenges of climate change10.

climate change today and in the future
IPCC Pathways11

1 Meadows DH, Meadows DL, Randers J, Behrens III WW. The Limits to Growth. 1972.

2 IPCC Science report: climate change unequivocal, human influence at least 95% certain. European Commission. 2013 Sept 27.

3 Buis A. Why Milankovitch (Orbital) Cycles Can’t Explain Earth’s Current Warming. NASA Global Climate Change Blog. 2020 Feb 27.

4 Riebeek H. Global Warming. NASA Earth Observatory. 2010 June 3.

5 Russel R. Climate change and extreme weather: Science is proving the link. DW. 2018 April 11.

6 The Effects of Climate Change. NASA Global Climate Change Facts.

7 Climate Change 2014: Synthesis Report. IPCC. 2014.

8 Special Report: Global Warming of 1.5C. IPCC. 2018

9 Pompeo MR. On the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Agreement. U.S. Department of State. 2019 Nov 4.

10 European Climate Change Programme. European Commission.

11 Image from NewClimate Institute

climate change bill

The climate change bill —what is it?

Government decisions are key to enacting change in countries. This is also the case for the climate crisis1—the government develops climate change laws that can help the country tackle environmental issues. A climate change bill is a soon-to-be law drafted by the United States’ Congress for this purpose; and they have developed several in the last few years2.

Previous climate change policy initiatives

The scope of the initiatives taken by the US government in terms of environmental protection legislation vary depending on the president. Under Barrack Obama’s presidency, opponents to his climate legislation proposals prevented the making of large changes. For example, a cap-and-trade policy bill failed to be approved by the Senate and House of Representatives in 2010. The bill would have helped dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the country3. However, despite some failures, Obama managed to successfully develop policies against climate change4. Unfortunately, Donald Trump worked to dismantle them during his presidency5. The revoked climate change policies were namely a Climate Action Plan to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, an executive order on climate change, a law for water protection and the role of the US in the Paris Agreement6.

However, since 2018, there have been some developments on climate policy in the US7.

Some recent climate change bills and policies

In the past two years, there have been notable initiatives in law-making for the climate:

  • The Green New Deal in 2018 fuelled debates and received considerable media coverage. Though not containing precise details on how to specifically make it work, it first proposed a plan to fight climate change and social inequalities8. This would be done by developing renewable energy, free education and healthcare, developing environment and public works9, among other measures. It is now being broken down into smaller bills to be voted on by the Congress10.
  • The Climate Action Now Act is a bill on climate change passed by the House in March 2019. This bill looks to hold the country accountable to its promises outlined in the Paris Agreement. However, it may not be approved by the Congress11.
  • The HR Energy Standard is an energy policy proposal developed in 2019 looking to push for more clean energy innovation to protect natural resources and use fewer fossil fuels such as natural gas.12

If new bills in favour of climate action become laws, the renewed interest in climate change shown by the US Congress2 could lead the country into a greener path and into meeting climate targets in the near future.


References

1 The pressure to make the post-covid rebound green. The Economist. 2020 May 1.

2 Congress Climate History. Center for Climate and Energy Solutions.

3 Davis JH, Landler M, Davenport C. Obama on Climate Change: The Trends are “Terrifying”. The New York Times. 2016 Sept 8.

4 McCarthy J. 7 Ways Obama Helped Protect the Planet From Climate Change. Global Citizen. 2017 Jan 18.

5 Kann D. Trump’s rollback of climate change regulations will be felt far beyond his presidency. CNN Politics. 2019 Sept 4.

6 Park M. 6 Obama climate policies that Trump orders change. CNN Politics. 2017 March 27.

7 Roberts D. At last, a climate policy platform that can unite the left. Vox. 2020 May 27.

8 Roberts D. The Green New Deal, explained. Vox. 2019 Dec 21.

9 Holden E. What is the Green New Deal and how would it benefit society? The Guardian. 2019 Feb 11.

10 Green M. Democrats to move on from Green New Deal. The Hill. 2019 Mar 28.

11 Irfan U. The House just passed its first climate bill in a decade. Vox. 2019 Mar 27.

12 H.R.2597 – Clean Energy Standard Act of 2019. Congress.GOV.