What are the causes of climate change?

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the global warming of the last 50 years is clearly attributable to humans. Due to emissions from the burning of fossil fuels, i.e. oil, gas and coal, as well as human land use, the natural greenhouse effect is intensified.

The exponential population and economic growth, but also the modern lifestyle of our globalised consumer society over recent decades have all continuously increased the emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases. The concentration of these greenhouse gases in the earth's atmosphere is currently higher than at any time in the last 800,000 years, and it is continuing to rise faster than ever before (current measurement methods can only go back as far as the last 800,000 years). 

 

 

Climate change is man-made 

The above-​average fast climate changes that have been experienced since the 19th century are primarily due to the start of the industrial age. Although wood was limited with regards to use as a fuel, it was possible intensify industry rapidly using fossil fuels. However, the burning of black coal, brown coal, oil and gas released large quantities of carbon, which was stored over millions of years in the fossil energy sources, in the form of carbon dioxide (CO2) directly into the atmosphere, which in turn intensified the natural greenhouse effect of the atmosphere. One speaks of the man-made or "anthropogenic greenhouse effect". 

The increasing demand for energy from the world’s ever-growing population and the lifestyle of a small part of it threaten the future of our planet and so the future of subsequent generations. People in developed countries see it as their right, here and now, to live a pleasant, privileged life. However, they forget their duty to ensure that other people and subsequent generations have the same opportunity. 

 

 

What about other greenhouse gases like methane or nitrous oxide? 

In addition to CO2, methane and nitrous oxide are two of the most important greenhouse gases, the annual emissions of which are greatly increased by human activities. Methane emissions are particularly dominant in the area of livestock farming. With regard to natural emission sources, methane is produced in wetland areas as the gas can only arise under anaerobic conditions, i.e. when there is no oxygen. Thawing permafrost, as a direct consequence of the rising global temperatures, thus represents a significant source of greenhouse gases in the form of methane emissions. The main source of emissions of nitrous oxide can also be found in the area of agriculture related to the use of nitrogen fertilisers. In ecological farming the use of such fertilisers is forbidden. 

CO2, methane and nitrous oxide have a varying influence on the climate. Accordingly, CH4 and N2O contribute greatly to the greenhouse effect despite their comparatively low atmospheric concentration. To be able to compare the climate impact of greenhouse gases and define their warming potential, methane and nitrous oxide are expressed in something called CO2 equivalents (CO2e). For this purpose, the emissions are multiplied by the respective climate impact factor. The basis for this is CO2 with a global warming potential of 1. 

The assessment of the risks of human-induced climate change and the collection of appropriate mitigation and adaptation strategies falls upon the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), an intergovernmental institution established by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). The most recent IPCC report of 2021 is also based on broad scientific analyses. 

 

Sources: IPCC 2021, European Union (2019)/IEA (2018)/UNEP (2019). 

You can find further exciting information on the subject of climate change and climate protection in our climate booklet

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