Climate change can be defined as any significant long-term change in the expected patterns of average weather of a region (or the whole Earth) over a significant period of time. Climate change speaks to the abnormal variations to the climate, and the effects of these variations on other parts of the Earth.
What is the primary cause of Climate Change?
Our planet is warming as a result of an increased concentration of greenhouse gases such as Carbon Dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere. Scientific opinion has come to the conclusion that there is an unreasonable accumulation of GHG’s especially CO2 in our atmosphere, and “we” as individuals are to blame for this accumulation. Our dependency on Carbon-based energy has caused a significant build-up in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
What are greenhouse gases?
Greenhouse gases are those gases that contribute to the greenhouse effect by absorbing infrared radiation. The primary greenhouse gases are water vapour, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and ozone. These gases act a bit like the glass in a greenhouse, trapping the sun’s heat and stopping it from leaking back into space.
The burning of coal, oil and gas produces carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide. Trees help to regulate the climate by absorbing CO2 from the atmosphere. So when they are cut down, that beneficial effect is lost and the carbon stored in the trees is released into the atmosphere, adding to the greenhouse effect.
The increase of organic matter from livestock waste is contributing to increase levels of methane in the atmosphere. Cows and sheep produce large amounts of methane when they digest their food
Fertilizers containing nitrogen produce nitrous oxide emissions.
Fluorinated gases are man-made gases that can stay in the atmosphere for centuries and contribute to global greenhouse effect. The four main types are hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs), Sulfur Hexafluoride SF6) and Nitrogen Trifluoride (NF3). These gases produce a very strong warming effect, up to 23 000 times greater than CO2.
Impacts of Climate Change
It has long been recognized that greenhouse gas emissions from small islands such as St. Kitts and Nevis are negligible in relation to global emissions, but that the threats of climate change and sea level rise to small islands such as St. Kitts and Nevis are very real.
Climate change is likely to adversely impact our ecosystems, biodiversity, and marine life as well as other critical socio-economic sectors such as tourism, agriculture (especially food security), water resources, housing and infrastructure and human health.
The main threat to the tourism industry due to climate change includes:
- Direct damage to tourism accommodation plants, mainly hotels and support resources, such as beaches & coral reefs)
- Loss of attractiveness of the region as a tourism destination
- The possibility of milder winters in North America and Europe may result in reduction in arrivals
- Loss of employment in the industry
Agriculture and fisheries play an important role in the socio-economic livelihoods in our lives. The main concern in these sectors relates to how climate change may affect:
- Crop yields
- Water availability for irrigation
- Ground water and agricultural soils
- Marine ecosystems including coral reefs, sea grass beds, mangroves
- Fish catch
The availability of water in terms of quantity and quality is an important indicator of development. Hence, it is important to consider the potential impacts of climate change on water resources which include:
- Increase of rates of evaporation & evapo-transpiration, leading to drought
- Sea level rise leading to salt water intrusion into coastal aquifers
- Increased rainfall intensity resulting in rapid runoff and flash floods and even degradation of surface water bodies
- Increases in heavy rains could lead to increase soil erosion and runoff of contaminants with adverse effects on water quality
Projected climate change-related exposures are likely to affect the health status of millions of people, through:
- Increase deaths, diseases and injury due to heat waves, floods, fires and droughts;
- The increased frequency of cardio-respiratory diseases due to higher concentrations of ground level ozone related to climate change;
- The altered spatial distribution of some infectious disease vectors (such as malaria and dengue fever).
- Reduce quality of potable water