Climate change mitigation

Experts agree that whatever is done towards efforts to reduce the accumulation of green-house gases (GHGs) in the atmosphere that has already occurred will not be reversible in the next 50 to 100 years unless an effective way is found to cool the earth. Current changes in the earth’s climate will therefore remain for the foreseeable future.

It is the opinion of climate scientists that human activities that followed the beginning of the industrial age around 1900 are responsible for the change in the earth’s average temperature over the course of the last 100 years. The Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which is the global authority on the subject, has confirmed the role of human activity in contributing to current observed climate change.

“It is extremely likely that more than half of the observed increase in global average surface temperature from 1951 to 2010 was caused by the human activities that have resulted in the increase in GHGs concentrations,” notes the IPPC in a report to policy makers released this year.

There is therefore consensus among experts that the current climate change is the result of human activities. The undisputed cause of climate change is the emission of GHGs particularly carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (NO). These gases trap excess heat generated on the earth’s surface as a result of the conversion of sunlight into heat. The gases prevent the heat from escaping into the atmosphere resulting in global warming. They play the role that the glass covering a greenhouse does, which is to trap heat.

It therefore follows that in order to manage climate change and its impacts, two things are necessary. The first is reduction of GHGs emission. The second is removing GHGs that are already present in the atmosphere.

Any initiative aimed at reducing GHGs emissions or removing them from the atmosphere is referred to as climate change mitigation. 

The most important GHG is CO2. It is not only the most abundant but also the one that takes longest to break down, an estimated 100 years. A variety of efforts to reduce CO2 emission have been tried with different levels of success. These include preventing carbon dioxide produced through the burning of fossil fuels such as petroleum products, natural gas or coal from getting into the atmosphere. Instead of being released into the atmosphere, the CO2 produced is collected and forced beneath the earth’s surface where it is permanently stored.

Other mitigation methods include promoting the use of clean energy such as geothermal, wind and hydro power generation. Others include use of hybrid cars that use both fossil and electrical energy or electric cars, which run purely on electricity, and introduction of energy-saving light bulbs among a range of measures.

Removal of CO2 from the atmosphere is referred to as carbon sequestration.

One of the natural process through which carbon sequestration occurs is photosynthesis, the process by which plants make their food. Increasing forest and vegetation cover is one of the most cost effective ways of reducing carbon dioxide present in the atmosphere. This is the main reason why countries are encouraged to increase their forest cover by planting trees and reducing deforestation.

When forests and other types of vegetation, including marine plants such as sea weed and algae, absorb excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, they are said to act as sinks for the gas.
Activities such as deforestation and clearing of vegetation as happens when large swathes of forest are cleared for timber, firewood or charcoal reduce a country’s capacity for climate change mitigation through natural sinks.

Replacing fossil fuels with other clean energy sources such wind, geothermal or solar, modifying motor vehicle and other engines in order to reduce fuel consumption or make them run more efficiently should be encouraged. Incentives should also be given to encourage use of energy-saving technologies such as fuel efficient cook stoves or replacing ordinary light bulbs with energy saving bulbs, all being ways of mitigating against climate change at household level that we can adopt as individuals.
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