Combating climate change

We must stop global temperatures from rising to the point where they cause dramatic, dangerous climate change. Since climate change is a global problem, it requires global action, but getting all the nations to agree on solutions is very difficult. This is partly because developed nations rely on the technologies that are causing the problem. They could have a lot to lose by replacing them, but they may have more to lose by risking climate chaos. New, less damaging technologies also provide opportunities for scientific innovation and wealth creation. So gradually, agreements are being forged to combat climate change.

Climate Change Flower

In 2000 BP changed its logo to a flower symbol


As the scientific evidence for climate change has piled up, many media figures have joined or started climate campaigns. They range from music and movie stars to Al Gore, former vice-president of the United States and joint winner of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with the IPCC. He is seen here at the premiere of his 2006 film about global warming, An Inconvenient Truth.


The people who have most to lose from a move away from fossil fuels are the employees of the industries that profit from them. Accordingly in the 1990s, several oil companies formed the"Global Climate Coalition"to obstruct action to combat climate change. But the evidence is now so strong that some oil companies such as BP are funding research into alternative energy, as symbolized by this flower logo.

In 2000 BP changed its logo to a flower symbol


In 1988 the United Nations asked for a high-level scientific assessment of the evidence for climate change. This led to the creation of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC. Its role is to look at all the climate research carried out worldwide, and produce regular, detailed assessments of the scientists' conclusions. The first of these "assessment reports"was released in 1990, and it was followed by updated reports in 1995, 2001, and 2007. Here Bert Metz, co-chairman of one of the IPCC working groups, displays a report during a press conference in 2007.

Average predicted CO2 emissions without reduction

Average predicted CO2 emissions without reduction

T-1-1-1-1-1-1-1-1-1-12000 10 20 30 40 50 60 70 80 90 2100 Year


At a meeting called "Avoiding Dangerous Climate Change"held in the UK in 2005, scientists agreed that if the average global temperature rises to more than 3.6°F (2°C) above its pre-industrial level, this could trigger catastrophic climate change. If nothing is done, we are likely to reach this point by 2050, so experts agree that we must cut global greenhouse gas emissions by 60 percent by 2050. This graph shows how carbon dioxide emissions could increase if we do nothing, and the reduction targets needed.


The world made a start on greenhouse gas reduction in 1997 at a meeting in Kyoto, Japan. Representatives of many countries, as seen above, agreed to aim for a global average reduction of roughly five percent by 2012. This has focused attention on the problem, but a much greater average cut in emissions will be needed in the future.


Under the Kyoto Protocol—and other international agreements to reduce greenhouse gas emissions—countries that cannot meet their reduction targets have to buy "carbon credits" from nations with very low carbon emissions. It sounds like buying a licence to release greenhouse gases, but the total emissions of both nations cannot exceed their combined quotas. High-carbon nations can also fund projects in low-carbon nations, such as restoring forests using native trees like this seedling teak.



This shanty town in Lima, Peru, shows how many people live in cities in developing countries. It is only fair that they should have better living standards, but by improving their lives, they will almost certainly generate more greenhouse gases. To compensate for this, rich nations with high living standards would have to cut their greenhouse gas emissions by more than the global average of 60 percent required by 2050. A country like the US might have to cut its emissions by 80 percent or more—yet each US citizen would still be producing more carbon dioxide than each Peruvian. Many people hope that one day we will move toward a situation where everyone on the planet has a small but equal"carbon ration


Huge cutbacks in greenhouse gas emissions ranging from 60 to 80 percent might seem impossible, or only possible if we completely abandon our comfortable way of life. But by changing the way we generate power, the way we use energy in our homes, and the way we travel, we can make a big difference. Devices like this roadside carbon dioxide and pollution monitor are already focusing people's attention on what needs to be done.

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