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Why climate change is everyone's business

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By Laura Basconi

· 6 min read


Climate is both a complicated and a complex system with two main actors: the atmosphere and the ocean. However many other things on the planet (e.g. cryosphere, soil, biosphere) and above (e.g. sun, meteorites) influence climate, having the potential to change it. Since the industrial revolution, the anthroposphere has been influencing climate with the main (but not unambiguous) trend of increased global average temperature (currently +1.81°C higher than pre-industrial era). Climate change is both complex and complicated system and, as with all complex problems, it requires complex solutions, or at least complicated ones.

Complex and complicated system

Any complicated issue can be divided into building blocks, simpler portions that might be solved one by one. On the other hand, a complex system accounts for nonlinear dynamics and/or chaos. Being chaotic or in simple terms unpredictable, a complex system is difficult to solve and predict in its entirety. We are lucky enough that climate change causes are all well known. If these changes in gigantic forces, such as the ocean and the atmosphere, were not caused by humans we would have never gotten close to solving anything. The anthropogenic causes of climate change are, so to say, a blessing for us all, because we know what we need to do to stop climate change. Humanity needs to phase out fossil fuels.

Climate is a dynamic, nonlinear, and chaotic system. In simpler words, climate changes are difficult to predict as small changes in one state can result in large differences in a later state (butterfly effect, Lorenz, 1963). What needs to be delivered to anyone, and not just practitioners, is that no one should mess around with such systems. Here small changes in initial conditions, as the present ones, can become exponential over time. Once they will reach exponential growth, they are impossible to halt! 

Climate change causes

Climate change has been caused by an excess of greenhouse gasses (GHG) in the atmosphere, released by humans since the start of the Industrial Revolution (in the late 1700). Over time, the ocean, which has a much higher heat capacity than air, has absorbed 94% of the heat in excess from the atmosphere. This buffer capacity increased the sea surface temperature (SST). The ocean surface is the portion much in contact with the atmosphere which is why it was the layer to warm sooner and faster. However, over decades the hot water mixed with deeper water column layers, carrying warming towards the sea floor. The danger here is that the deepest water, thanks to the global Ocean Conveyor Belt, needs decades to mix with the surface water so humans have no clue of the consequences of a warmer ocean over time.

Holistic approach for climate actions

Climate action is urgent to avoid reaching the unpredictable state, thus no actionable stakeholders can be left behind. Any national or international action plan needs to bring around the table the public sector (e.g., policy and decision-makers), private sector (i.e., Industries), and individuals.

The former is where, to me, the biggest multiplier dwells. Indeed, policy-makers with a really small action (i.e., write and pass laws) can have a bigger impact: on a municipality, on a region, on a state, or a nation. To make it simple, a law that would reduce the use of cars two days a week will avoid around 0.15 Kg CO2e per Km - imagine the impact on a whole State for a whole year. Do you see the multiplier now, right?

The latter, the private sector is definitely where much of the impact comes from. Together with an increase in quality of living (i.e., needs required by individuals), the industrial sector is where we need fast decarbonization and transitioning away from fossil fuels. Certainly, there are easier sectors to decarbonize and difficult ones, the so-called Hard to Abate (HtA), but this is not the point of this article.

Political successful stories to draw inspiration from

Some of these actors are already on the move. Europe showed its global leadership in climate actions at COP28 in Dubai with the Green New Deal and the ambitious target of net emissions of greenhouse gasses (CO2e) by 2050

Besides California which is already a leader in environmental protection. Two other American states: Massachusetts and Maryland have aspired to be climate leaders. Massachusetts's climate goals seek to achieve net zero GHG emissions in 2050 and to increase permanent nature conservation to at least 40% by 2050. Even more ambitious, the Maryland state wants to tackle climate and pollution together with the reductions of both typologies of dangerous gasses of 60% by 2031 and be on track for the net zero by 2045 (to see more, Maryland Climate Pollution Reduction Plan). 

Copenhagen (DK), Valencia (SP), and Lahti (FI) are on track to become carbon-neutral by 2025. They are reaching it by urban journeys by bike, foot, or public transport, while its home and business heating systems are shifting toward renewable sources. 

Private sector successful stories to draw inspiration from

By 2050, Microsoft will remove from the environment all the carbon the company has emitted, either directly or by electrical consumption since it was founded in 1975 with an intermediated goal of carbon negativity by 2030. 

The Santander Bank has been 100% carbon-neutral in operations since 2020 and has set ambitions to reach net zero by 2050. 

Generally, renewables and EV producers are definitely on the bright side of the story. Nevertheless, it is important to consider this sector as not completely free of emissions (see Tesla, impact report 2022 or this article for a review).

Eventually, there are the enablers (i.e., firms that help others in reaching sustainable mindsets and targets) and the climate-friendly startups and firms which were born to produce alternative materials to carbon-intensive ones. Eventually, small artisanal productions are winners too. They usually have a high ethic and consciousness and have a small market.

Teleconnections among stakeholders

Teleconnections are significant relationships or links between weather phenomena at widely separated locations. The same teleconnections can be seen among stakeholders who are all directly and indirectly connected. Regardless of individuals shifting to more sustainable diets, the food industry needs to change. Regardless of the European Union agreing to permit solely the sales and registration of electric vehicles (EVs) or internal-combustion engine (ICE) vehicles operating only on carbon-neutral fuels (e-fuels) after 2035, the automotive industry needs to change. 

Whether a law avoids single-use plastic, individuals need to change their behaviors when they do shopping. These are solely a few instances in which indirect mechanisms can play an enormous role, in avoiding worsening climate change in both direct and indirect ways.

Current track of climate change

Global temperature has already registered an increase of +1.2°C compared to the 1850-1900 period and extreme events have increased in frequency and intensity as predicted by the International Scientific Committee. Whether we act business-as-usual we will have countries with an increase in temperature of +5.21°C by the end of the century (2100). Whether countries keep all the Nationally determined contributions (NdC) promises the world will still exceed the safe limit for humanity of 1.5°C, reaching the global +2.7°C by the end of this century

Make the best choice, get the climate back on the right track.

illuminem Voices is a democratic space presenting the thoughts and opinions of leading Sustainability & Energy writers, their opinions do not necessarily represent those of illuminem.

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About the author

Laura Basconi is an expert in the impact and mitigation of climate change, ecosystem services and environmental restoration. Over her time in Academia, she has always cared about the dissemination of the hard scientific concepts, which led her to her first interactions with corporate entities in search of impact reduction.

Laura is currently Climate Change Mitigation Manager at AWorld, the official platform of the United Nations and the European Commission, for the empowerment of citizens of the world towards climate action. She got a bachelor's degree in Biology from Bicocca University in Milan and one in Marine Biology and Ecology obtained from the University of Salento. After four years of research mainly based in Ca' Foscari University (Venice, Italy) and the NIOZ research center (Texel, Netherlands), Laura became a PhD in Science and Management of Climate Change.

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