What is climate change?
Climate change describes a change in the average climate conditions in a region over a long period of time. Global climate change describes a change in global conditions.
What causes climate change?
Climate change is due to the increase of greenhouse gases – GHG - concentration in the atmosphere which causes the additional greenhouse effect. This additional greenhouse effect “traps” energy, which is absorbed mostly by the ocean, resulting in the increase of its temperature, and partially by the atmosphere and ice melting, leading to the increase of global atmosphere temperatures, the melting of sea ice, ice sheets and glaciers.
Why is climate change an existential threat to our societies?
The increase in temperature of the atmosphere and the oceans cause extreme weather events such as droughts, cyclones, typhoons, and heat waves to be more intense and more frequent. The increase in temperature is causing some parts of the world to face unbearably high temperatures. The melting of glaciers is reducing the availability of fresh-water resources. The combined effects of the melting of ice sheets and the increase of sea water temperature is causing sea level rise threatening millions of people living in low-lying islands and coastal cities.
These effects are threatening millions of lives and impacting massively agricultural yields, marine and terrestrial biodiversity, causing nothing less than the increase of extreme poverty, famine, social unrest and people's migration.
What is the situation today?
2015 to 2022 were the hottest years on record globally, due to ever-increasing greenhouse gas concentrations and accumulated heat, according to the World Meteorological Organisation, which looked at six leading international temperature datasets. 2022 was also the eighth consecutive year in which the global temperature was 1°C above pre-industrial levels.
Where do the GHGs come from and what are the main sources?
The main GHGs causing the greenhouse effect are Carbon dioxide - CO2, Methane – CH4, Nitrous Oxyde – N2O and the ozone depleting substances.
As shown in the below graph, climate change is in great part due to the energy consumption of human activities: industry, transport and use in buildings (heating and cooling).
Since the pre-industrial era, the global direct primary energy consumption has been multiplied by 20. This value is expected to continue increasing at a steady yearly rate of 3 to 3.6%. This growth is driven mostly by Asia where the energy demand should increase by 60% by 2040. The CO2 emissions from energy result mostly from the combustion of fossil fuels (81% in the energy mix in 2018) coal, oil and gas.
Methane and Nitrous Oxyde are mainly due to agriculture, forestry and other land use. Approximately 40% of methane emissions are from cattle and 12% from rice paddies.
80% of deforestation is for agricultural purposes, most of which to make space for cattle, to grow cereals to feed the animals we eat (77 billion animals per year) and for palm oil.
What is the worst-case scenario?
The worst-case scenario is the business-as-usual scenario, which would lead to overall temperature increases of 4º to 5ºC by 2100. The good news is that there is already a policy response to climate change to avoid this scenario, which started with the creation of IPCC – Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change - in 1998, was followed by several initiatives including the 2015 Paris Agreement (COP 21) and the Kyoto Protocol.
The more worrying news is that the pledges made by countries at the COPs are mostly insufficient to avoid climate catastrophe, and that most of the countries that ratified the Paris Agreement are failing to meet their targets, leading us to an expected temperature rise of around +3°C by 2100.
What is the best-case scenario?
Climate change cannot be stopped but the increase in temperature can be limited to well below 2º. This is what we should all be targeting for if we want our planet to be liveable for ourselves and our children in 2050 and after.
The best case scenario, which requires mitigation strategies to reduce and eliminate the carbon footprint of human activities, also requires the use of adaptation strategies to limit the impacts of climate change. It also requires nature-based solutions for carbon sequestration, such as reforestation and carbon capture technologies.
How do we achieve the well below 2º scenario?
To achieve this best-case scenario, we need to ALL work together, as individuals, organisations, communities, cities, and countries to align with the 2015 Paris Agreement goals. This means that, at a global level, we have to peak emissions ASAP, decrease by half our global emissions by 2030, be carbon neutral by 2050, and carbon negative after that.
To reach the CO2 emission reduction goals, fossil fuels will have to be phased out and replaced by clean energy, but the targets cannot be met without a significant reduction of our energy consumption.
Year on year, energy consumption must be optimized, reduced and then replaced by clean energy. A challenge that we should all be involved in.
What did we learn during the COVID19 crisis?
To achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 we need a global reduction in carbon emissions of about 7.5% per year, every year. This level of reduction was achieved during the COVID lockdowns, which means we would need a COVID crisis every single year!
This continuous reduction can therefore only be achieved through structural and systemic change.
Are the annual COPs a source of progress in the right direction?
While many see the COPs as moving too slowly, it is important to remember that 196 countries plus the European Union are parties to the Convention!
Getting them all to agree on a global strategy takes time, and countries need physical spaces and time to share.
Step by step, the annual COPs are showing some successes: the creation of a loss and damage fund, the increase in adaptation funding, the role of the IPCC in raising awareness among the public, governments and decision-makers, the commitment to limit global warming to 1.5° C above pre-industrial levels...
But the pace is definitely too slow and the private sector needs to step in.
What does this mean for my organisation?
What is important to understand is that we will all be impacted by climate change, and that we all have an impact on climate change, as individuals, organisations, communities, cities, and countries.
As an organization, the negative impact on climate change can be measured with a carbon footprint. Carbon footprinting is the exercise of quantifying and analysing the organisation’s GHG emissions for all operations and activities. This exercise will identify the sources of emissions and the opportunities to reduce them. Browse The Matcha Initiative Carbon Management & Carbon Footprint section to start your carbon footprinting.
The negative impact climate change will have on an organization can be assessed through a climate risk assessment. This exercise will allow to identify and quantify three types of risks:
The positive impact climate change will have on an organization can be assessed through the identification of opportunities that arise from it, and from the actions taken to mitigate the climate crisis. These opportunities include new market opportunities, business model resilience, competitive advantage and cost savings.
Where should I start?