Combating climate change

Posted on 05 April 2011

We’re  changing the political climate – before the planet’s climate changes catastrophically
We’re  changing the political climate – before the planet’s climate changes catastrophically

Your fridge. Your TV. Your central heating. Your kettle. Your car.

It’s probably hard to imagine life without them. But they all require energy – and the way we generate that energy is changing life as we know it, all over the planet.

Felipe Holguín has been farming in Chihuahua State, Mexico for 30 years – but recently it’s become much harder: “Before it started raining on June 24 and now it starts the last days of July.

“Our lands and crops depend totally on the climate. Snow kills plagues and weeds along with damaging insects. But now, new plagues and worms are appearing, and agricultural land has dried up and is full of fungus. Animals die for lack of water and pasture.

“Before we used to sow in a small piece of land and got good crops. Now we must sow in big areas of land, but still get very poor crops.”

In the Arctic Circle, the Sami people have herded reindeer for centuries, but the last 20 years have been different. “We had ancient methods of foretelling the weather,” says reindeer herder Olav Mathis Eira. “Now this is no longer possible.”

Winter rain used to fall only a few times a century, but now it’s common. “It rains when it should not rain and that makes the ice on lakes and rivers unstable,” says Eira.

The rain makes the snow icy, and the reindeer can’t get through to the lichen they survive on in winter. “Now we have to feed the reindeer in the winter,” says Eira. “It is a long way to go to bring the food to them, and it is, of course, very expensive.  However, it is the only choice we have if we want to keep herding.”
Morihiro Nakata has been fishing on Japan’s coral reefs for more than 25 years. He remembers when the sea was so rich that you couldn’t see the coral for fish. Now the sea is warmer, corals are dying, and fish are disappearing.

“We don’t have a winter any more,” he says. “The sea really has changed a lot. Losing the coral really makes me feel anxious, because I understand deep in my bones that if there is no coral then I cannot make a living.”

Echati Kassidi, from the Comoros Islands, fears for the future of her grandchildren. She and her husband used to grow cassava, bananas and sweet potatoes and catch plenty of fish. Back then, she says, “the climate was cooler. Now it’s hotter, and it’s much harder to make a living. The dry season is longer now than it used to be, so there’s less rain and more sun.
“I can’t see what’s going to happen in the future. If erosion continues or if we get another cyclone, I don’t know how we will survive save a miracle from God.”

What’s at stake?

Climate change is real. It’s happening now, and all the available science suggests it’s going to become more extreme.

Water shortages, crop failures, tropical diseases, dying coral reefs, and extreme weather events like droughts and flooding already affect millions of people – and further climate change will make them worse. The World Health Organization estimates that climate change already causes more than 150,000 deaths a year. The future economic costs – from building flood defences to the loss of coral reefs – could run into trillions of dollars.

For WWF, climate change threatens most of our achievements of the last 50 years and our hopes for the next 50 years. Many plants and animals that have adapted to their environment over thousands of years are vulnerable to even slight changes in temperature and rainfall. Countless species could become extinct, and even entire ecosystems, such as coral reefs, Arctic ice and large areas of tropical rainforest, could disappear. 

To prevent an unprecedented tragedy, we need to stop global temperatures rising more than 1.5°C above the levels they were before the Industrial Revolution. That means global greenhouse-gas emissions need to peak by 2015, and we need to cut them by at least 80% globally (compared to 1990 levels) by 2050.

The story so far

WWF was one of the first organizations to understand the threat of global warming – and to push for action to address it.   

We played a key role in the first international agreement on climate change, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Our work helped convince governments to begin negotiations, and to ratify the treaty.

We fought hard to make sure the text of the UNFCCC includes the key objective that we must keep greenhouse gas levels within limits that will “allow ecosystems to adapt naturally to climate change”.

The UNFCCC was launched at the Earth Summit in Rio in 1992, and it remains at the heart of international efforts to combat climate change. It formed the basis for the Kyoto Protocol, the first time countries committed to binding targets on cutting their emissions, and for recent climate talks.

We’ve also worked with individual countries to push for stronger commitments. The UK government, for example, has introduced a legally binding framework that will cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80% by 2050. We’re now calling on other countries to follow suit.

We’re also working to reduce the impact of industry by promoting energy efficiency. Through our Climate Savers programme, 26 of the world’s leading companies have already saved more than 50 million tonnes of CO2 – equivalent to the annual emissions of Switzerland.

But it’s not just about governments and big business. All of us have a part to play if we’re to avoid climate catastrophe. We’ve raised awareness through events like Earth Hour, and encouraged people to make changes in their own lives – from buying energy-efficient appliances to understanding the impact of the food we choose.

Did you know?

The 10 warmest years since records began have all occurred since 1998 – and 2010 tied as the hottest ever.

Facts and stats

  • 194 – countries that have ratified the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Of these, 193 have joined the Kyoto Protocol – only the USA hasn’t.
  • 80% – reduction needed in the world’s greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 to avoid catastrophic climate change
  • 20-30% - plant and animal species expected to face increased risk of extinction if temperatures rise more than 1.5–2.5°C
  • 1m – predicted sea level rise by 2100 if we don’t reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This would wipe out several Pacific island states and devastate many of the world’s great cities.
  • 40% – proportion of global CO2 emissions in 2006 caused by the G8, the world’s leading economies (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, UK, USA and Russia). Historically, rich countries are responsible for the overwhelming majority of greenhouse gas emissions.

What next?

At the end of this year, governments will gather in Durban, South Africa to try to reach a new climate agreement. We’ll be pressing them every step of the way to make sure they agree a deal that’s strong, fair and legally binding.

As well as lobbying governments, we’re seeking solutions that will help the world reduce and withstand the impacts of climate change. These include:
  • Transforming the energy sector: generating energy is responsible for around two-thirds of global greenhouse-gas emissions. We urgently need to start using energy more efficiently and generating it cleanly. By 2050, WWF is pressing for  a world powered entirely by renewable energy – and we recently released The Energy Report showing how this could happen.
  • Ending deforestation: clearing forests is responsible for around 15% of global carbon emissions. Our goal is for zero net deforestation by 2020 – in other words, for every hectare of forest cleared, another hectare is planted.
  • Climate adaptation: Climate change is already happening, and whatever happens with global emissions significant further changes are inevitable. We’re developing strategies to help vulnerable communities, species and natural systems cope.

What you can do

Join the myWWF Action Center
Be part of a global community of activists ready to take simple online actions that can help save wildlife and people. Sign up today!


Cooling towers letting out steam and smoke at a coal-fired power station near Pontefract in Yorkshire, UK.
© Edward Parker / WWF
Landscape of a dry, cracked soil with water and vegetation in the background, and a blue sky with a few white clouds, in Ilha do Caju, state of Maranhão, Brazil.
© Adriano Gambarini / WWF-Brazil
Polar bear (Ursus maritimus) on edge of an ice floe, Spitsbergen, Svalbard, Norway.
© Steve Morello / WWF