Global warming may not be amusing or surprising but it is still the most important thing that’s happening at this moment. Contemporary climate change includes both global warming and its impacts on Earth’s weather patterns. There have been previous periods of climate change, but the current changes are distinctly more rapid and not due to natural causes. Instead, they are caused by the emission of greenhouse gases, mostly carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane. Burning fossil fuels for energy use creates most of these emissions. Agriculture, steelmaking, cement production, and forest loss are additional sources. Greenhouse gases are transparent to sunlight, allowing it through to heat the Earth’s surface. When the Earth emits that heat as infrared radiation the gases absorb it, trapping the heat near the Earth’s surface. As the planet heats up it causes changes like the loss of sunlight-reflecting snow cover, amplifying global warming.
On land, temperatures have risen about twice as fast as the global average. Deserts are expanding, while heat waves and wildfires are becoming more common. Increased warming in the Arctic has contributed to melting permafrost, glacial retreat and sea ice loss. Higher temperatures are also causing more intense storms and other weather extremes. Rapid environmental change in mountains, coral reefs, and the Arctic is forcing many species to relocate or become extinct. Climate change threatens people with food and water scarcity, increased flooding, extreme heat, more disease, and economic loss. Human migration and conflict can be a result. The World Health Organization calls climate change the greatest threat to global health in the 21st century. Even if efforts to minimise future warming are successful, some effects will continue for centuries. These include sea level rise, and warmer, more acidic oceans.
Many of these impacts are already felt at the current level of warming (1.2 °C). Additional warming will increase these impacts and may trigger tipping points, such as the melting of the Greenland ice sheet. Under the 2015 Paris Agreement, nations collectively agreed to keep warming “well under 2 °C”. However, with pledges made under the Agreement, global warming would still reach about 2.7 °C by the end of the century. Limiting warming to 1.5 °C will require halving emissions by 2030 and achieving net-zero emissions by 2050.