You may have heard people talking about how the weather is very different today than it was ten years ago. You may have noticed changes in the weather yourself. The earth's climate has changed many times over millions of years, sometimes slowly, sometimes very quickly. What makes climate change different today? The world's scientists agree; human activity - mainly greenhouse gas emissions from the burning of fossil fuels for energy - is now causing the Earth's climate to change incredibly fast, taking us far outside natural ranges and towards 'tipping points' beyond which very large-scale consequences may be irreversible.
The latest research from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize for its work, has found that the impacts of climate change are already being felt around the world. The impacts are overwhelmingly negative and will affect poor and vulnerable communities first and hardest. These communities are often the least responsible for causing the problem and have the fewest resources to adapt to the rapid changes. Present day warming has caused a broad range of negative consequences and will continue to create far more unless stopped. The most direct effects of current climate change are on temperature and precipitation patterns. As of 2006, all eight of the hottest years ever recorded were from the last 10 years. As this warming continues, established weather systems will shift and become more extreme, resulting in both more droughts and floods. As sea surface temperature rises, weather-disturbing El Niño events will become more frequent and powerful. Meanwhile, larger, more severe hurricanes, which feed on the heat of ocean waters, will threaten coasts. This trend may already be visible: the last two decades have seen a sharp increase both in the frequency and power of hurricanes.Shifts in temperature and precipitation will be a shock to fragile ecosystems which depend on specific climatic conditions. Many species will be unable to adapt as fast as their environment changes and face sharply reduced numbers or extinction. Scientists estimate that a warming of just 2˚C will put as many as 30% of the world's species at risk of extinction.Plants and animals aren’t the only ones feeling the pressure of changing ecosystems. Many regions will face severe water shortages in a warmer world, creating the potential for conflict. It is believed that the genocide in Sudan’s Darfur region is at least in part a response to water shortages resulting from global warming.Climate change is arguably the greatest danger facing humanity in the years ahead.
In many ways, its effects are already being felt and it is too late to prevent warming entirely. However, the situation is not without hope. Though urgent action is needed, through the combined efforts of governments, businesses, scientists, and individuals, it is still possible to stop even greater tragedies and protect the health of our planet for future generations.You can find out about what other young people are doing to make a difference about climate change on the TakingITGlobal network, or through incredible regional groups such as Stop Climate Chaos (UK), Canadian Youth Climate Coalition, SustainUS, African Youth Initiative on Climate Change, Australian Youth Climate Coalition, and many more. Greenpeace SolarGeneration has very active chapters in many countries around the world.