Climate knowledge

Changes in the global climate have undisputedly been proven. According to the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), temperature increases of both the earth’s atmosphere and the oceans, the melting of ice and snow as well as the sea level rise have increased overproportionally over the past years (IPCC 2013: 4). These developments have by now also been politically and socially acknowledged (UNFCCC 2009: 1).

Not all climatic changes and extremes can be traced back to anthropogenic causes. However, it is extremely likely that human influence is the essential cause for these significant climatic changes (IPCC 2013: 17). The resulting ecological and social problems, for instance decreasing biodiversity, a loss in ecosystem services and increased social vulnerability, clearly visualise the need for action, among others in the sense of sustainable climate protection (O’Brien 2013: 587).

A sophisticated, differentiated assessment of the entire issue demands a certain basic knowledge. Therefore, you will on the following pages find an introduction to the central concepts and topics regarding climate change and climate protection. This list is not intended to be exhaustive and does not replace individual research.

What are the causes of climate change?

Life on earth is determined, among other factors, by the existence of the atmosphere. Within this atmosphere, all relevant weather and climate processes take place. The specific composition of the atmosphere leads to a nearly balanced radiation budget on earth. This regulated irradiation and radiation of warmth – also called natural greenhouse effect – is the fundamental base for life on earth (Michler 2010: 32f).
The increased emission of greenhouse gases from anthropogenic processes (for instance energy production via combustion of fossil materials) threatens the equilibrium of this atmospheric balance. The amount of climate-affecting trace gases grows. This leads to an additional intensification of the natural greenhouse effect, terrestrial heat radiation is more and more reflected back to earth and thus leads to an increase of global temperatures (Keilbach 2010: 115).

Which consequences does climate change have?

The consequences from global climate change are manifold and have different regional effects. Significant alterations of hot and cold periods, precipitation events, extreme weather characteristics and the sea-level rise are only a few of the direct ecological results of global climate change (Vetter 2010: 211). If our ecosystems are not able to react to these rapid changes, the threats of irreparable damage, loss in species diversity as well as in ecosystem services (like clean water, clean air, usable biomass) are looming (O’Brien 2013: 587). Additionally, there is a danger of feedback effects, for example a defrosting of permafrost soils which leads to formerly bound methane being freed which would in turn intensify the greenhouse effect even more.
Since humans and the environment constitute an interdependent system, alterations in the environment also have direct effects on anthropogenic systems. Loss of living spaces due to a rise in sea levels, a growing risk for prevalence of disease vectors due to shifts in temperature borderlines, farming losses because of changes in precipitation and increases and/or shifts of extreme weather events are but a few of the challenges already occurring today (Vetter 2010: 211).

Which measures can be taken?

Potential measures can be divided into two categories: measures for mitigation of climate change and measures for adaptation to climate change. Both approaches are necessary to address the given challenges.
Mitigation can be achieved particularly via emissions-reduction and -avoidance. Saving energy, using green power and avoiding airplane flights are examples for such reduction measures. Other mitigation measures are actions which detract greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, for instance afforestation. The field of adaptation can also include infrastructure measures for coastline and flood protection and the cultivation of crops with higher levels of resistance to weather phenomena.
In the best case, climate-protection measures can have both mitigation as well as adaptation effects. This can be observed in forest-climate-protection projects. On the one hand, afforestation projects effectively bind CO2 through tree growth, thus depriving the bound CO2 of its direct effects on the climate. On the other hand, forest-climate-protection projects offer co-benefits like for example protection from erosion in events of heavy rains (Gold Standard 2014). Among other results, this also includes a secured basis of existence for the local population, for instance through local job creation and knowledge transfer. In turn, such securities enable the people on ground to take up new measures against and adaptations to climate change.

What does “climate-neutral” mean?

Despite all efforts, there are unavoidable emissions and/or emissions that cannot be reduced any further. Such emissions may be compensated via corresponding certified climate-protection projects. “Climate-neutrality” means that the climatic influences of a company, an event, a product or a project are neutralised after the steps of emission accounting, avoidance and reduction. Emissions that cannot be reduced any further are compensated via CO2-saving or -sequestration within the scope of a climate-protection project.

What is a Carbon Footprint and how is it calculated?

The Carbon Footprint entails the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by a company, an event, a product or other points of assessment within a defined timeframe. The measured emissions are calculated in CO2 equivalents (CO2e) in order to include all relevant greenhouse gases (e. g. methane or nitrous oxides).

There are different standards within the field of balancing methods. CO2OL determines your specific Carbon Footprint according to the internationally recognised and accepted method of the Greenhouse Gas Protocol Standard which has been developed by the World Resource Institute in cooperation with the World Business Council for Sustainable Development and numerous additional stakeholders. In general, these balancing procedures consider activity data (e.g. kilometres driven in a car) and multiply them with the corresponding emissions factors (e.g. kg of CO2 per km). The result is the amount of CO2 emissions.

What are CO2-certificates?

CO2-certificates are a confirmation – according to internationally recognized standards – of the saved or reduced amounts of CO2e. These certificates can be generated from climate-protection projects and be sold on a corresponding market. Emissions which cannot be reduced any further can be compensated by buying such certificate. The equivalent value of one certificate is 1 tonne of CO2e.

Isn’t emissions trading like a sale of indulgence?

Generally, emissions trading is an attempt to put a price tag on environmental burdens, particularly greenhouse-gas emissions. To do so, a limited total volume of pollution rights is auctioned on the mandatory carbon market. The affected companies therefore have to assess whether it makes more sense to save emissions or to buy a certain amount of emission rights. The available amount of emissions rights on the European market is to be reduced over time so that companies will in the long term see cost advantages in reducing emissions.

All players who are not included in the mandatory carbon market can buy and sell CO2-certificates on the voluntary carbon market. By buying CO2-certificates on the voluntary market, emissions can be compensated and, more generally, climate-protection projects are supported. In order to prevent the accusation of a sale of indulgence, an overarching climate-protection concept should be developed which includes the analysis, reduction and compensation. However, the support for a climate-protection project is to be preferred over any kind of inactivity. Climate-protection projects have positive effects in any case. The motivation for engagement has to be determined in a comprehensive strategy.

Why are forests so important?

orests stabilise the global climate, working like giant air conditioners. They do this by converting solar energy into water condensation, cooling the atmosphere, and they are responsible for precipitation in the regions to the north and south of the equator. Forests are a guarantee for rain and hydrological cycles worldwide. Thus they make life possible. They supply cities, agriculture and industry with water. They safeguard the existence of humanity. The destruction of forests threatens this foundation for life. Tropical forests also store enormous quantities of carbon dioxide. As they disappear, this damaging greenhouse gas escapes into the atmosphere. Deforestation is responsible for 17 percent of global GHG-emissions. The deforestation in tropical regions of Latin America, Asia and Central Africa is particularly serious. The fight against climate change cannot be won without preserving the tropical forests.
The protection of forests and ecologically valuable reforestation counteract the trend of increasing reforestation. In addition to benefits for the climate, flora and fauna, additional impacts such secure income sources and knowledge transfer are integral building blocks for sustainable climate protection.

Why has it been so difficult to conserve forests and to manage them sustainably?

Because conversion to other forms of land use has been much more lucrative than preserving forests up to now and so many factors have an effect: forests in tropical countries make way for agriculture, for wood, for extraction of raw materials and for infrastructure projects; in temperate regions for pulp, paper and wood products. Deforestation is driven above all by demand from the developed world for agricultural products such as beef, palm oil and soya. For example, about 60 percent of deforestation in Brazil is accounted for to create new grazing land for cattle. In Indonesia the largest part of the forests are cleared to cultivate palm oil plantations. Poverty and growing populations in developing countries increase the impact. Until now, it has been much more lucrative to clear a natural forest and to use the land for other purposes, mostly agricultural. The value of a natural forest and its services to the environment and humanity have been historically undervalued. Only if the multi-faceted ecological and societal functions of a forest are accounted for in monetary terms will the chances of conserving forests on a large scale increase.

Which advantages does afforestation have compared to other options of CO2-compensation?

Afforestation projects are the only possibility to permanently detract CO2 from the atmosphere. This is a form of direct CO2-sequestration since trees need CO2 for the process of photosynthesis, in which carbon dioxide is transformed into solid biomass (wood) and oxygen. Despite advanced technology, humanity has so far not succeeded in imitating this trick by nature.

In contrast to this, other climate-protection projects, for instance renewable-energy projects follow the principle of indirect reduction, i.e. emissions are saved which would be generated in a business-as-usual scenario (“How much coal would be burned for heating if this hydropower plant was not built?”).
Another advantage of forest-climate projects are their co-benefits. By planting mainly native tree types in mixed cultivation, a new biodiverse forest system is created which offers habitats for endangered animal and plant species as well as it fulfils important functions like protection against erosion and flooding (Gold Standard 2014). Moreover, afforestation also entails important advantages for the domestic population in project countries: the projects create long-term, secure jobs, capacity building as well as fair wages, mostly for indigenous local people (Gold Standard 2014). These benefits are also included in the assessment for project certification such as the Gold Standard.

Sources

IPCC (2013): Working Group I Contribution to the Fifth Assessment Report. Climate Change: The Physical Science Basis. Summary for Policy Makers. Abrufbar unter: http://www.climatechange2013.org/images/report/WG1AR5_SPM_FINAL.pdf (letzter Abruf: 10.02.2015)

Gold Standard (Hrsg.) (2014): The real value of robust climate action. Impact investment far greater than previously understood. Abrufbar unter: http://www.goldstandard.org/report-the-real-value-of-robust-climate-action (letzter Abruf: 13.02.2015)

Keilbach, M. (2010): Der erwartete globale Klimawandel und seine Ursachen. In: In: Michler, G. (Hrsg.): Klimaschock. Ursachen, Auswirkungen, Prognosen. (h.f.ullmann Verlag) Potsdam.

Michler, G. (2010): Grundlage des Klimawissens. In: Michler, G. (Hrsg.): Klimaschock. Ursachen, Auswirkungen, Prognosen. (h.f.ullmann Verlag) Potsdam.

O’Brien, K. (2013): Global environmental change III: Closing the gap between knowledge and action. In: Progress in Human Geography.

Vetter, M. (2010): Unmittelbare Folgen für die Menschen. In: Michler, G. (Hrsg.): Klimaschock. Ursachen, Auswirkungen, Prognosen. (h.f.ullmann Verlag) Potsdam.

UNFCCC (2009): Report of the Conference of the Parties on its fifteenth session, held in Copenhagen from 7 to 19 December 2009. Copenhagen Accord. Abrufbar unter: http://unfccc.int/resource/docs/2009/cop15/eng/11a01.pdf (letzter Abruf: 19.02.2015)

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