The climate change challenge
Research has shown that the level of carbon dioxide (CO2) released into the atmosphere has increased significantly since the beginning of the industrial era. Unless we do something to reduce the amount of CO2 entering the atmosphere, the world will experience the effects of climate change.
Long-term monitoring has shown that the increasing amount of CO2 in the atmosphere due to human activity is causing the Earth to warm and the oceans to become more acidic. Combating climate change requires urgent action on the part of many. If we do not act now scientists predict that the temperature will continue to increase, causing the climate to change, sea levels to rise, and ocean and land environments to be adversely affected.
CO2 is a greenhouse gas
CO2 is essential to life on Earth. Greenhouse gases, including CO2, prevent some of the sun's heat from escaping back into space, keeping the Earth warm enough for plants and animals to survive.
Common, naturally-occurring greenhouse gases in the atmosphere that can trap some of this heat include water vapour, CO2, methane and nitrous oxide.
CO2 is a vital part of the food chain for most living creatures. It is also used to put the ‘fizz’ in soft drinks, beer and champagne.
Too much CO2
CO2 naturally moves into and out of the atmosphere. For example, plants take up and use CO2 to produce energy, and animals breathe out CO2 made from using energy. The greatly increased amount of CO2 in the atmosphere resulting from human invention and industrialisation, however, is causing the Earth’s temperature to rise rapidly.
When fossil fuels are burnt in a power plant to make electricity, large amounts of CO2 are released into the atmosphere. CO2 is released from the ground into the atmosphere during natural gas production. And industrial processes such as refining oil or producing iron, steel, cement and ammonia also release large amounts of CO2. Other major sources of CO2 include emissions from cars, trucks, ships and aeroplanes, and from domestic sources, such as heating your home.
Another factor contributing to the increasing the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere is land clearing. This is because there are fewer plants to naturally regulate greenhouse gas levels by taking up excess CO2.