Tuesday, March 25, 2014
The Causes, Consequences and Solutions of Climate Change
By Bakampa Brian Baryaguma
[Dip. Law (First Class)–LDC; Cert. Oil & Gas–Mak; LLB (Hons)–Mak; GC Candidate–GCA]
The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, 1992 (hereinafter, the FCCC), in the preamble thereto, has acknowledged climatic change as ‘a common concern of humankind.’  Climate change knows no boundaries because its effects cut across and transcend borders. Mr Hakan Altinay has rightly observed that,
There is no other force that has made national borders as porous as climate change, because emissions from different parts of the globe go to the same atmosphere and have the same consequences. Even the most powerful country cannot insulate itself from the effects of climate change. Climate change is a paradigm case for our global interdependence. 
Climate change basically results from changes in climate, which refers to the weather conditions of a place or area such as conditions of rainfall, temperature, wind and humidity.  Climate change is defined under Article 1(2) of the FCCC 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 climate variability observed over comparable time periods.’  It also ‘... refers to any change in climate over time, whether due to natural variability or as a result of human activity.’  Climate change essentially represents unusual or abnormal variations to the expected climate of an area and its subsequent effects on other parts of the earth over a long period of time.
2. Causes of Climate Change
Climate change results from many factors like human activities (otherwise known as anthropogenic factors), which amplify levels of greenhouse gas (GHG)  concentrations and emissions, as well as natural changes in the internal and external dynamic processes of the earth. Over the years, countries have emitted significantly amounts of GHGs which have resulted in global warming, leading to climate change. By 2010, Japan and Saudi Arabia for example, had emitted a total of 1298.888 and 542.0966 Mt CO2e respectively. 
A. Impact of Human Activities
Human activities are the most probable cause for the rapid changes in world climate. Some of them include the following:
1. Poor Land Use
Poor land use practices like bush burning and clearing for agriculture i.e. crop growing and animal rearing, cause land degradation. Eventually, they result in emission of GHGs into the atmosphere, thereby contributing significantly to climate change.
Uncontrolled cutting down of trees exacerbates water run-off, thereby undermining erosion control, resulting in causing and accelerating climate change in the long run.
B. Impact of Natural Changes
Natural changes in the internal and external dynamic processes of the earth alter the energy balance of the climate system, by negatively affecting the absorption, scattering and emission of radiation within the atmosphere and at the earth’s surface.  Some of them include the following:
1. Sunlight Variations
Variations in sunlight intensity amplify GHG levels, leading to increased temperature that destabilizes and affects global weather patterns, which culminate into long term climate change.
2. Sea level rise
Sea level rise increases damage from coastal flooding, thereby contributing to losses of coastal wetland and mangroves. 
3. Consequences of Climate Change
There are several drastic consequences of climate change on people and the natural environment, including the following:
A. Land Infertility
Climate change has affected the suitability of land for crops, livestock and pasture. There have been reductions in rainfall, leading to increased temperatures. These have resulted into long severe droughts, which in turn have precipitated conflicts among people for arable and grazing land.
B. Water Scarcity
Drought has caused an acute scarcity of water for agricultural, commercial and domestic use. Specifically, shortage of water for agriculture causes declines in food production, hence resulting in rising food prices that affect poor people the most.
C. Trans-boundary Pests and Diseases
Pests and diseases have historically affected animals and plants depending on their geographical location, but today, climate change is altering their distribution through changes in weather conditions like temperature and moisture, such that pests and diseases which were initially unknown in some areas are now there.
4. Solutions of Climate Change
Though very challenging, climate change is not a mind boggling problem. It can be solved through a range of adaptation and mitigation responses.  Adapting to the impacts of climate change reduces our vulnerability to weather and climate related events like floods, droughts and storms, while mitigating the impacts of climate change by reducing GHG emissions, reduces the rate and magnitude of change.  As discussed below, we need to promote the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) and in particular, the following adaptation and mitigation options and/or strategies should be embarked on and implemented in various sectors of our economies.
A. Promoting the Clean Development Mechanism
The Clean Development Mechanism is envisioned in the Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, aiming to promote sustainable development in countries through projects that reduce GHG emissions.  We should mitigate the detrimental effects of climate change by decoupling carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from economic growth. 
B. Adaptation Options and/or Strategies
We can capitalize on, for instance, the following areas in the respective sectors: water – efficient water-use and irrigation; agriculture – improved land management e.g. erosion control and soil protection through tree planting; infrastructure and settlement – land acquisition and creation of marshlands/wetlands as buffer against flooding; energy – use of renewable sources. 
C. Other Mitigation Options and/or Strategies
We can capitalize on, for instance, the following areas in the respective sectors: energy – improved supply and distribution efficiency; transport – more fuel-efficient vehicles; agriculture – restoration of cultivated peaty soils and degraded lands; forestry – planting of trees to act as carbon sinks. 
Climate change threatens to decimate mankind. But we can take charge of the situation – individually and collectively – by doing everything within our power, to adapt to and mitigate its impacts. Mr Hans Joachim Schellnhuber has rightly noted, that ‘it is not the sufficient contribution that is needed, but the necessary contribution.’  Together, we can manage climate change.
Notes and References
1. United Nations, FCCC/INFORMAL/84, GE.05-62220 (E) 200705
2. In his introductory remarks of week 4 of the Global Civics lecture series on climate change.
3. A.S. Hornby, with A.P. Cowie and A.C. Gimson, Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary of Current English (1983), at 155.
4. United Nations, supra note 1.
5. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Climate Change 2007: Synthesis Report (2007), at 30.
6. The following are greenhouse gases (GHGs) as per Annex A of the Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change: carbon dioxide (CO2); methane (CH4); nitrous oxide (N2O); hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs); perfluorocarbons (PFCs); and sulphur hexafluoride (SF6), the most important of which is carbon dioxide, according to the IPCC, supra note 5, at 36. These gases trap infra red radiations from the earth’s surface and reflect it back to the earth, thus warming it. They behave like a greenhouse, hence the name greenhouse gases.
7. World Resources Institute, Climate Analysis Indicators Tool (2013), available online at http://cait2.wri.org/wri/Country%20GHG%20Emissions?indicator=Total%20GHG%20Emissions%20Excluding%20LUCF&indicator=Total%20GHG%20Emissions%20Including%20LUCF&year=2010&chartType=geo (accessed on 18-03-2014, at 00:29 hrs.) According to WRI statistics, the world’s five topmost emitters are China (10,385.54 Mt CO2e), United States of America (6866.923 Mt CO2e), Russia (2326.102 Mt CO2e), Japan (1298.888 Mt CO2e), and Germany (926.665 Mt CO2e). Please, note: Mt CO2e = million tones of carbon dioxide equivalent.
8. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, supra note 5, at 37.
9. Ibid., at 33.
10. Ibid., at 56.
12. The Kyoto Protocol is a follow-up of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, 1992. It calls on industrialized countries to take the lead in protecting the climate system. Article 3 (1) states that, ‘The Parties included in Annex I shall, individually or jointly, ensure that their aggregate anthropogenic carbon dioxide equivalent emissions of the greenhouse gases listed in Annex A do not exceed their assigned amounts....’ The Protocol mainly concerns developed countries, since developing countries are not bound by formal emission requirements, although it appreciates that effectively addressing climate change will eventually require a global effort, such that it calls upon parties thereto to engage developing countries in controlling future emissions. Hence, Article 10 of the Protocol for instance, empowers all parties thereto, ‘taking into account their common but differentiated responsibilities and their specific national and regional development priorities, objectives and circumstances,’ to, among others, under paragraph (b), ‘Formulate, implement, publish and regularly update national and, where appropriate, regional programmes containing measures to mitigate climate change and measures to facilitate adequate adaptation to climate change.’
13. International Energy Agency, World Energy Outlook, 2012, at 243. The IEA finds that, ‘Sluggish economic growth, high unemployment and limited access to cheap capital pose immediate hurdles to decisive action on climate change mitigation.’ Ibid.
14. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, supra note 5, at 57.
15. Ibid., at 60. The International Energy Agency, supra note 13, at 254, shares the view that fuel economy and greater biofuels use will be the overall most important mitigation measure in the transport sector in 2035.
16. In his lecture remarks of week 4 of the Global Civics lecture series on climate change.