How are climate change and energy related?

The most important facts about climate change and climate protection

What is climate change?

The term climate change means that the earth's atmosphere in the air layers close to the ground has been warming since the last century: The global mean temperature near the ground rose by 0.85 degrees Celsius between 1880 and 2012. In the recent past, the record values ​​for global temperature values ​​have been increasing: the 5 years from 2014 to 2018 have so far been the warmest years that have ever been observed. In the period since 2005, the 10 warmest years have occurred since data recording began. In connection with climate change, the terms "global warming", "global warming" or, colloquially, "global warming" are also used.

More in the background text: Changes in the climate system and extreme weather events

What is causing climate change?

The main reason for climate change is the increase in the concentration of greenhouse gases in the earth's atmosphere. These include, in particular, carbon dioxide (CO2), but also methane (CH4), Nitrous oxide (N.2O) and other gases. CO2 is released primarily through the combustion of fossil fuels. These include electricity generation in coal-fired power plants or the use of gasoline and diesel in combustion engines.

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How are weather and climate related?

Both weather and climate relate to processes in the atmosphere. Research into these processes and atmospheric processes is the subject of meteorology. In principle, the weather and climate differ in the time periods used.

Weather is the physical state of the atmosphere at a specific point in time or in a short period of time from hours to a few days, in a specific location or area. This condition is described by meteorological parameters such as air temperature, air pressure, wind speed and wind direction, air humidity, cloud cover and precipitation.

The climate, on the other hand, involves significantly longer periods of time. Climate is the mean state of the atmosphere at a specific location or area over time spans of at least decades. Considerations over centuries and millennia are also common when researching the climate. The climate is characterized by statistical properties of the atmosphere, such as mean values, frequencies, duration and extreme values ​​of meteorological parameters (temperature, precipitation and others).

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What are the effects of climate change?

There is a threat of enormous damage from climate change. For example, food production in agriculture is adversely affected. If climate change intensifies, heat stress increases, among other things. In the warm climates around the equator in particular, there is likely to be increasing dehydration. Extreme weather events such as heavy rain and prolonged heat waves are expected to become more common. Acute disasters such as widespread floods and wild fires can result. Extreme weather events can destroy the infrastructure of an entire region and threaten people's lives. In addition, extreme events can make agricultural production impossible in some areas - and thus deprive the population living in the affected region of their livelihood.

Another major problem related to climate change is warming and the increase in water in the oceans. The sea level rises due to the melting of ice on the mainland (like the glacier) and the expansion of seawater due to heat. As a result, low-lying coastal regions and entire island states are threatened by flooding. Since the beginning of the 20th century, the global mean sea level has risen by more than 15 centimeters. Between 1993 and 2017 alone, the increase was 8.5 centimeters.

Even an immediate stop in greenhouse gas emissions would mean further warming of the climate. Because the greenhouse gases already emitted will cause further changes in the climate system for centuries. Unchecked climate change would have serious and sometimes irreversible consequences. In addition to the aforementioned impairment of food production, there can be considerable effects on water availability and human health, as well as complete changes to ecosystems. However, rapid mitigation measures can slow down climate change, limit its effects and improve the ability to adapt to the inevitable changes.

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What is meant by the term climate migration?

One speaks of migration when a person relocates the center of his life. In the discussion about the causes of migration, climate change is also an issue. The consequences of climate change can change living conditions regionally to such an extent that people have to leave their homes. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) summarizes climate migration under the aspect of "security". Because the consequences of climate change threaten the safety of those affected by endangering their livelihoods. This includes food, shelter, safe drinking water and protection from immediate health hazards. Climate change therefore also poses a threat to human rights.

The already existing extent can be estimated approximately by the numbers of the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center (IDMC). According to this, 24.2 million people were forced to flee due to natural disasters in 2016. Many of these catastrophes are attributed to the consequences of climate change that are already observable today.

In view of the advancing climate change, climate migration will gain in importance worldwide in the coming years and decades. In its 5th assessment report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change also assumes an increase in migration and refugee movements in the 21st century.

How many people actually leave their homes due to the consequences of climate change cannot be clearly quantified either now or in the future. In addition to the effects of climate change, economic, demographic, social and security factors also play a major role. On the other hand, these factors can be aggravated by environmental and climatic influences. In principle, however, migration movements cannot be attributed exclusively to climate change, even if this appears to be the main cause.

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How did the international climate negotiations start and what is the Paris Agreement?

Since climate change is a global, cross-border problem, global cooperation is necessary to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. For example, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was adopted at the World Summit on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. The member states agreed to protect the climate for present and future generations.

Since 1995 the member states of the Framework Convention on Climate Change have met annually for a Conference of the Parties (COP). In 1997 they agreed binding targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the Kyoto Protocol - but only for industrialized countries. The background to this is that the industrialized countries (to this day) are responsible for most of the greenhouse gas emissions.

In December 2015, at the Conference of the Parties in Paris, the important Paris Climate Protection Agreement was adopted, which came into force on November 4, 2016. The central goal of the Paris Agreement is to limit global warming. Compared to the temperature level before the start of industrialization, the increase in the global average temperature should be limited to significantly less than 2 degrees Celsius, ideally to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

The Paris Agreement was a historic step. For for the first time, all states committed to drafting, submitting and implementing a national climate protection contribution - industrialized as well as emerging and developing countries.

The federal states have to update their climate protection targets every five years. The "progression principle" or the ambition mechanism applies: The following contributions must be more ambitious than the previous ones. A review mechanism makes it transparent whether the states as a whole are on track with the implementation of the agreement.

Further support was agreed for the developing countries. The international community wants to support developing countries financially and technologically as well as in building up knowledge in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and cope with the consequences of climate change.

The Paris Agreement means that the world must be "greenhouse gas neutral" in the second half of the 21st century. No more greenhouse gases may be emitted than are withdrawn from the atmosphere through so-called sinks, for example through forests and the ocean.

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What is the IPCC?

International climate policy is based on extensive scientific knowledge. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is working on the current state of research on the risks and consequences of climate change, ways of limiting its consequences and adaptation strategies. The IPCC is an international scientific body established in 1988 by the United Nations Environment Program and the World Meteorological Organization. On behalf of the IPCC, scientists around the world compile the current state of knowledge of climate research in so-called status reports. The fifth assessment report was published in 2013 and 2014. The sixth status report is due to appear in 2021/22.

The special report published in 2018 on global warming of 1.5 degrees summarized the state of scientific knowledge on the consequences of an increase in global mean temperature of 1.5 ° C compared to the pre-industrial temperature level. Furthermore, the developments in greenhouse gas emissions (emission paths) that are consistent with such warming are shown. The special report also addresses specific measures to strengthen and accelerate the fight against climate change. In addition, a separate chapter deals with points of contact with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).

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What does sustainable development mean?

Sustainable development has been the declared model of the member states of the United Nations since the 1992 summit in Rio de Janeiro. The background to this is the insight that, in the long term, people in industrialized countries in particular must not live at the expense of people in other regions and at the expense of future generations. Germany is also pursuing a sustainability strategy, and the same applies to the European Union.

Sustainable is something that both meets the needs of people living today and preserves the possibilities of future generations. Humanity should also be able to meet its needs in the future. It is about nothing less than protecting all people living today, as well as our children and grandchildren, the chances of a life in dignity, justice and peace, of social security as well as economic development opportunities while at the same time protecting our natural foundations of life. In other words: development is considered sustainable if it is economically, ecologically and socially sustainable.

In 2015, the United Nations adopted the so-called Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development at its summit in New York. The states agreed for the first time on fixed goals with specific deadlines. These are the 17 sustainability goals. The English term "Sustainable Development Goals", or SDGs for short, is often used in German-language publications. The 17 sustainability goals include the worldwide eradication of hunger and poverty, the supply of sustainable energy, climate protection and the protection of life under water and on land.

More in the background text: SDGs and Agenda 2030: The term sustainability and the role of schools

What role does gender play in relation to climate change?

Particularly in developing and emerging countries, the ability of women to respond to the challenges and threats of climate change differs significantly from those of men, among other things because of the more difficult access to services, information, technology and financial resources. In countries of the global south with widespread agricultural forms of economy, the threat to women is very high because their livelihoods are directly affected by climate change.

Furthermore, more and above all young women die in natural disasters such as droughts, floods and storms than men worldwide. Statistics show that the death rate of women from heat waves is significantly higher than that of men. The reasons for this are still unclear.

On the other hand, women play an important role as important knowledge carriers and actors in agriculture, in the management of natural resources and in the use of energy, both in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and in adapting to climate change. Women in the global north are both contributors to climate change and sufferers at the same time.

The Paris Agreement recognizes gender equality and the responsibility (empowerment) of women as fundamental principles for coping with climate change and calls for measures for adaptation and "helping people to help themselves" (capacity building) to be designed in a gender-equitable manner.

Recognizing the need for women and men to be represented equally in all aspects of the climate change agreement and for climate action to take into account the different needs, experiences, priorities and skills of women and men, the parties have continued to focus on two objectives:

  • The improvement of the gender balance and an increasing participation of women in all processes under the Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), also in delegations and in committees as well
  • Raising awareness and support for the development and effective implementation of a gender-sensitive climate policy at regional, national and local level.

What is decarbonization?

The term decarbonization goes back to the word carbon or carbon. This means carbon and is mostly used in English. Decarbonisation means, among other things, doing without carbon-containing energy sources such as coal, crude oil and natural gas. In addition to the term decarbonization, other terms are often used to describe a similar objective. The EU Commission speaks of a "CO2-poor "economy, the Federal Environment Agency uses the term" greenhouse gas neutral ".

So far, fossil fuels have been the basis for the functioning of the economy in industrialized countries. The raw material crude oil in particular has shaped the economy and lifestyle in industrialized countries. Traffic in particular is more than 90 percent dependent on fuels made from crude oil.

In Germany, the Climate Protection Plan 2050, which the federal government adopted in 2016, provides for decarbonisation by 2050. In order to achieve this goal, on the one hand, the energy requirement is to be reduced by using energy more efficiently. On the other hand, renewable energies should be used instead of fossil fuels.

The decarbonization of the economy is technically possible in principle - studies by the Federal Environment Agency have shown this, among other things. To achieve this, in addition to reducing energy consumption, renewable energies must be expanded significantly.

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Why do industrialized countries like Germany have a special responsibility to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions?

To this day, the industrialized countries are responsible for most of the greenhouse gas emissions. If one looks at the total amount of emissions since the beginning of industrialization, the share of emerging countries is still far below the share of industrialized countries. At the same time, economic growth in some emerging and developing countries is leading to a sharp increase in emissions there. In 2030, the combined emissions of developing countries will exceed those of industrialized countries. However, while total emissions are growing, per capita emissions in emerging economies are still below those in industrialized countries.

The different development of industrialized and emerging countries is a key reason why the international community was unable to agree on climate protection measures that apply equally to all countries for a long time.The emerging countries are characterized by a long economic upswing, which is also referred to as catching up economic development or catching up industrialization. These countries, such as China and India, feared that their economic development would be slowed down by obligations to limit greenhouse gas emissions. They pointed to the greater overall contribution made by industrialized countries to climate change.

At the Conference of the Parties in Paris in 2015 and in the Paris Agreement, the interests of differently developed countries were taken into account by dealing with different aspects of climate protection in a differentiated manner and considering the circumstances in the individual countries. In addition, developed countries must continue to support developing countries in various ways, such as financially and technologically.

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How does my own behavior affect climate change?

There are many interactions between economic development and consumer behavior. Therefore, in connection with a greenhouse gas-neutral society, the behavior of each individual also plays a role. In the areas of building and living, mobility and nutrition, a particularly large number of greenhouse gases are produced. There are corresponding opportunities here to influence everyday life yourself. The most important levers that make your personal CO2-Determine emissions in the area of ​​mobility are the number of long-distance trips, the number of kilometers traveled by car and the fuel consumption of the car. In the area of ​​living, the size of the living space and the insulation standard in relation to the heating energy consumption are particularly important.

What we eat also has an impact on greenhouse gas emissions. Animal products such as meat, cheese or butter are associated with particularly high emissions. By switching to organic products, almost 20 percent of the CO2-Saving emissions. Furthermore, in addition to its ethical importance, food waste is a major problem for the climate and the environment. Two full shopping carts with groceries are thrown away in our home every year and per person.

We can all make a decisive contribution to climate-friendly change by thinking about our own possibilities. In Environment in Class there are many teaching materials on the question of what everyone can do to reduce greenhouse gases. For example

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What is Fridays For Future?

Many thousands of schoolchildren have been taking part in demonstrations for climate protection across Germany since the beginning of 2019 instead of going to school. With the school strikes, they want to draw attention to the fact that climate change is endangering their future. They ask adults to do more to protect the climate. For example, implementing the Paris climate agreement and getting out of coal energy. The demonstrations usually take place on Fridays and have the motto: Fridays for Future.

The model for the demonstrations is Greta Thunberg's initiative. The then 15-year-old Swedish student began demonstrating in front of the Swedish parliament in the summer of 2018 and refused to go to school. There are now similar campaigns in many countries around the world, not just in Germany. In addition, Fridays for Future calls for global days of action, on which people around the world take to the streets to demonstrate for effective climate protection and compliance with the Paris Agreement.

More in the background text: Help shape - the rights and opportunities of children and young people

What opportunities and rights do children and young people have to participate?

Children and young people have the right to help shape our society. This right is laid down in Article 12 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. The participation of children and young people is also provided for in some federal and state laws and is firmly anchored in various areas of life. However, the implementation in practice is very different. Because the most important ways of influencing politics, for example through elections, are reserved for adults.

Nevertheless, children and young people can help shape it. For example, the school laws of all federal states provide for the pupils to have a say. Especially in cities there are institutions in which child and youth representatives work. Their task is to represent the rights and interests of children and young people and to ensure that they are heard. Children can turn to these officers.

Decisions at local level, in cities and towns, are an important area of ​​participation. Here is the immediate living environment of children and young people. In many federal states there are explicit provisions on how young people are involved in local politics. There are also some rights that all citizens are entitled to, including children and young people. This includes, for example, the right to ask questions in the municipal council. In addition, children and young people have the opportunity to submit suggestions and suggestions.

Youth organizations also have observer status at the UN climate negotiations and are involved in discussions with politicians and relevant actors.

The topic of the week school strikes for the climate contains many more practical tips and examples: Making the future yourself?

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