By Ouk Suntharoth
“Why is it so hot nowadays?”
I bet that you often hear people asking this question to each other and the response would always be oh it’s because of the climate change (duh). But do you know what exactly climate change is? What are the causes? What can we, as individuals, do to solve this problem?
What is Climate Change?
Climate change, according to the United Nations Framework on Climate Change, refers to the changes in climate patterns, including precipitation, winds, temperature and other factors which is caused directly or indirectly by human activity.
As a matter of fact, the World Wildlife Fund Organization shows that the average air temperature in the Arctic region has increased of about 5% over the last 100 years, while parts of the west Antarctic Peninsula are among the fastest-warming places on earth. In addition to that, there are many species that are facing extinction because of climate change and one of them is the polar bear, which is categorized in the vulnerable status because there are only around 22,000 to 31,000 of them today.
What Causes Climate Change?
According to NASA, the global warming trend today is mainly caused by the rise of greenhouse gases from human activities, which the atmosphere traps and raises the temperature on Earth in what is called the ‘greenhouse effect’. There are many types of gases that contribute to this, namely water vapor, carbon dioxide (CO2), and methane, just to name a few.
Now let me briefly walk you through on what we, as human beings, have done to the planet earth.
The burning of fossil fuels like coal, gas and oil for power and heat can be found almost everywhere such as in houses, roads, factories and so on. We may have not noticed the greenhouse gas emissions from these places because they have become so common in our daily life. Nevertheless, the burning of fossil fuels is one of the human activities that causes climate change.
Some people may be skeptical of which countries hold the most responsibility in this issue. Well, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, in 2010 the share of global carbon dioxide emission from fossil fuel combustion was led by China (30%), and followed by the United States (15%), European Union (9%), and India (7%). Meanwhile, by sectors, the global greenhouse gas emissions is led by Electricity and Heat Production sector (25%), Agriculture and Forestry (24%), Industry (21%) and Transportation (14%).
Deforestation, according to Earth Day Network, is the second leading cause of global warming. As you may know that carbon dioxide (CO2), a type of greenhouse gas, absorbs heat and releases it gradually over time; however, the increase of CO2 in the atmosphere is actually trapping additional heat which leads to the rise of the Earth’s average temperature.
Trees, the natural carbon eaters, plays a very important role in reducing the rise of the earth’s temperature. They inhale carbon dioxide (CO2) and exhale oxygen. which is a natural process in cleaning the air and cooling down the earth. As a tree matures, it can absorb about 48 pounds of CO2 per year; however, despite its crucial benefit, trees are still being cut down to clear the way for farmlands, roads, dams and oil mines.
About 4 billion hectares (31%) of land area on our planet is covered by forests. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the net global forest loss between 2000 and 2010 was 5.2 million hectares per year. Meanwhile, in Southeast Asia rainforests represent about 20% of the forest cover with the richest biodiversity in the world; however, the region has a very high rate in deforestation and it is projected that it has already lost more than 50% of its original forest cover. This is just a small part of the world. How about the deforestation rate in other places? This is a disaster!
The Problem of Climate Change in Cambodia
Cambodia, like the rest of the world, is also being affected by the climate change problem. Cambodia is ranked 13th out of 181 countries as one of the most vulnerable countries that was affected by climate change between 1996 and 2015, based on extreme weather events such as floods, droughts, fire, storms and so on.
USAID reports that in 2013, greenhouse gas emissions in Cambodia was dominated by the Land Use Change and Forestry sector (47.6%), Agriculture sector (36.4%), and Energy sector (14.1%). These data show that even a small country like Cambodia also holds the responsibility in increasing the heat in the atmosphere.
So, we can see that every country, poor or rich, shares the responsibility in warming up the earth. However, it is not the time to point fingers on who to blame; instead, everyone should work collaboratively together in solving this issue. So now, you may be thinking to yourself: you are not a leader of a country; how can you help solve this problem?
How do we solve the problem?
Some people may argue that it is a big issue that requires a top-down approach. I would not say this argument is wrong because at the end of the day, we still need the authority from the government to enforce certain laws. However, if there is the lack of people’s participation in solving this matter, the many signed and ratified environmental protection documents are meaningless. So the leader’s commitment and the people’s participation must go hand-in-hand in solving this issue.
So now, let me tell you one important thing: if we have the capability to create this mess, we also have the power to end it. And that power lies in us. We can help by doing small things on a daily basis, such as turning off the light before we head out, turning off the tap while brushing our teeth, commuting by walking or biking, implementing the 3Rs strategies (reuse, reduce and recycle) and creating green communities by planting trees and so on.
According to Phys.Org, there are four impactful actions that can help decrease the individual’s carbon footprint on the planet, such as eating a plant-based diet, avoiding air travel, living car-free, and having smaller families. For instance, living car-free saves about 2.4 tonnes of CO2 per year, while the plant-based diet saves 0.8 tonnes of CO2 annually.
People may overlook the importance of these small actions, as they don’t give any significant results instantly. This perception is wrong because as we make these actions into our routine, over a certain period of time, changes will start to emerge.
“If not now, then when? If not you, then who?” Do not wait for someone else to take initiative. Everything starts from you, yourself. Start being a role model for other people to join in taking care of Mother Earth. She has been suffering enough from our activities. Let’s take action before it becomes too late!
The end! This blog post is quite long and I’m really glad that you read the whole thing. I appreciate it a lot! Thank you and see you again next week!
Views expressed here are those of the author’s and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of UNICEF.