Scientific and technological innovations have revolutionised our lives but have also brought about many environmental problems. Climate change is the most urgent issue to tackle. But is it too late to reverse the trend?
I The causes and effects of climate change
1 What is climate change?
The Earth’s global climate is changing and the planet is warming up. The Earth’s average temperature has risen about 1°C since the end of the 19th century and the phenomenon is accelerating: 2016 is the hottest year on record and there were four consecutive particularly hot years recently (2015-2018).
This global warming is due to human activities such as farming, deforestation and industrialisation. Indeed, over the past 150 years, industrialised countries have been burning fossil fuels, which has released harmful gases in the atmosphere and produced the greenhouse effect. In the same time, forests (which absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen) have been cut down to serve human purposes.
2 The effects of global warming
The effects of global warming can be seen everywhere: the polar ice caps are shrinking, the mountain glaciers and snow are melting, the oceans are warming and the sea level is rising.
• to reverse the trend: inverser la tendance
• harmful: nocif
• to shrink: rétrécir, réduire
The outcomes are disastrous: the weather has become unpredictable, the complex ecosystems of the different regions of the world are endangered, and a lot of animals and plants have difficulty adapting to the change. Humans are impacted too, especially in developing countries: they have to face record high temperatures, intense rainfalls, floods and droughts and all their consequences.
In 2018, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued a new warning: if nothing is done now, there will be a 3°C temperature increase by 2030, which would be a catastrophe. The report explains that it is vital for the future of the planet to maintain the rise below 1.5°C. It means we only have a few years left to save the world!
II Finding solutions and taking responsibility
Climate change has been caused by humans but humans are also the ones who can take action: it is their responsibility to fight against it now.
The notion of sustainable development appeared in a 1987 report defining it as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. It means we should seek ways of living and working that enable all the people in the world to lead healthy, fulfilling and economically secure lives while protecting the environment. This implies many changes at various levels.
At an individual scale, we can choose a clean energy and green products (for example free of toxic compounds or biodegradable). We can change our eating habits, buy fair trade items, reduce waste and recycle more.
Besides, the main step forward to achieve sustainability is to cut carbon dioxide pollution and invest in renewable energy—solar panels or biomass for example. States and governments have to invest and contribute to innovations.
2 Individual vs collective responsibility
Most nations hesitate to take firm action. Many countries fear that reducing greenhouse gas emissions may harm their economic growth.
The 2015 international Climate Conference in Paris (COP 21) was the first one of its kind to lead to a general agreement: