According to experts, the emissions of “greenhouse gases” is what accelerates environmental deterioration, but what is this? And what sort of damage does it cause? And above all, what can we do to mitigate their emissions?
These are gases released both naturally and by human action. These include carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), and nitrous oxide (N2O), as well as halocarbons and other chlorine-and-bromine-containing substances. Each time, the environment has a greater concentration of these elements, due to the industrialization of society, including cattle raising and, of course, the use of combustion vehicles and the destruction of ecosystems.
All of this affects the chemical composition of the atmosphere and contributes to the increase of the average temperature because, and according to a publication of the Technical Team of Greenhouse Gases of the Institute of Meteorology of our country, these gases “absorb the infrared radiation emitted by the Earth’s surface, by clouds and by the atmosphere itself. The atmosphere emits radiation in all directions, including downward toward the Earth’s surface.” And that is how they increasingly trap heat.
Statistics collected on the EpData platform maintain that “global CO2 emissions reached a new world record in 2022, a year that will end with emissions of up to 40,600 million tons of CO2 and there are no signs of a necessary and urgent drop in order to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius at the end of the century.”
Likewise, observations by the Global Atmosphere Watch network from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), at stations located in the Arctic, mountainous areas and tropical islands, also indicate that the concentrations of CH4 and N2O have increased during the last decade.
The direct impact can be verified with the melting of the ice, the rise in sea level, as well as the occurrence of more intense natural phenomena such as hurricanes, heat waves, rains, droughts and desertification. Forced migration of populations and species is one its most impacting consequences, thereby resulting in imbalance of ecosystems.
The most worrying aspect of climate change is the increase in average temperature caused by these greenhouse gases, and currently, according to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), that figure is one degree above what was registered in the 19th century. There are various criteria on this subject, a report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warns that, if the current rate of emissions is maintained, it could increase up to 1.5 °C between the years 2030 and 2052. However, the WMO predicts that this process could occur sooner, in five years, actually.
By the way, WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas states that the 1.5°C threshold “is not a random number, but indicates the point at which climate effects will become increasingly damaging not only for people, but for the entire planet.” Consider that, according to WMO data, in 2021 the global average temperature was already 1.1 °C above pre-industrial reference levels, so if this trend continues, the planet will very soon reach the expected levels.
That is why the historic Paris Agreement, which became effective in November 2016, established specific goals, and was signed by 193 countries plus the European Union under the commitment to collaborate together; however, everything seems to indicate that temperatures will continue to rise and consequently the oceans will become warmer and their acidity levels will increase; sea ice and glaciers will continue to melt; sea level will continue to rise; and the weather conditions will be more and more extreme.
Cuba’s economic conditions make our contribution to global warming insignificant, since we do not have high industrial development, we do not have pollution at the level of developed nations. However, it is an issue that raises our concern because the impact of climate change affects us.
For our country, the increase in meteorological phenomena, with greater frequency and intensity, would be devastating. A preliminary assessment in Cuba revealed that, with climate variations, increased rainfall could cause increased erosion in some mountainous areas. One of the most worrisome aspects, the sea level, was estimated to rise by 65 cm by the end of the next century, which could cause flooding in low-lying areas, salinization and worsening of the quality of aquifers, among other consequences.
The damage, due to rains and high temperatures, is also expected to be significant in sensitive crops such as sugar cane, tobacco and potatoes. Cuban specialists consider that human health will be affected by climate change. For example, due to the spread of communicable diseases, related to the deficit and quality of water.
Bearing in mind that the ongoing damage is irreversible, we are all called upon to become aware and act accordingly to reduce its effects because, according to the Director of the 3CN+1BUR Project, Dr. Eduardo O. Planos Gutiérrez, in the book El cambio climático y la evolución de su conocimiento en Cuba, the problem “is happening faster than expected” and “the alternatives to face the crisis continue to be mitigation and adaptation.”
In order to live in harmony with nature, the international and local scientific community makes basic recommendations that each of us can comply with in our daily lives, such as reducing forms of transportation that use fossil fuels, and moving sustainably, whether walking, cycling, or in electric cars. It would also help to use green energy and optimize electricity consumption; as well as recycle, consume ecological products and not waste food. All these measures will have a significant impact in the long term.