Understanding the basics of climate change

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Climate change used to be associated with vague possibilities in the far distant future, but catastrophic bushfires, biblical floods and other extreme weather events seem to have triggered the world’s collective conscience to take action.

Climate change used to be something that will happen someday in the future. But it is becoming increasingly clear that it is something that is happening already.

The Black Summer of 2020 rammed that message clearly home in Australia as drought and bushfire infernos were followed by torrential deluges of rain and very unseasonable weather.

Australian homes and businesses have one of the highest uptakes of rooftop solar in the world, enjoying the financial and environmental benefits as a result.


Where does Australia stand on climate change?

Australia is a party to the Paris Climate Change Agreement in which signatories pledged to hold the increase in average global temperatures to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels, with a goal of 1.5°C.

In 2015, Australia committed to an economy-wide target to reduce greenhouse emissions between 26-28 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.

Progress has been made in Australia and the rest of the world, but not as much as is needed to achieve those targets. In August 2021, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change stated that this is “Code Red for Humanity”, saying that hard and fast action is needed to change the course of the planet’s future. 

The world needs to halve emissions over the next decade and reach net-zero carbon emissions by the middle of the century if we are to limit global temperature rises to 1.5 degrees.

The UK is set to host the next UN summit on Climate Change (COP26) in Glasgow. 

Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has stated that managing carbon risk has now become a major issue in the global capital markets. 

“We are going to see more and more climate-related disclosure and regulatory agencies are across that, both here and overseas,” Frydenberg said. 

He also said that with the world constraining carbon emissions as a matter of binding regulation, there are now “material risks” to Australian businesses.

Electricity generation is Australia’s single most contributor to CO2 emissions, and by default, any business which uses electricity produced by burning fossil fuels also contributes to those emissions. 


Weather vs Climate

Before diving into what net zero means, we must understand the difference between weather and climate. Put very simply, the weather is a short-term measurement of temperature, humidity, wind, rain, cloud cover, and pretty much everything we see on a weather bulletin. 

Climate is the average of weather patterns over a longer period of time, covering a large area. The Australian climate, for example, is very different from the Arctic climate. 


Global warming vs climate change

Global warming and climate change are intrinsically linked, but they are two separate things. Global warming is the steady increase of the planet’s temperature over time as a result of greenhouse gas emissions. 

Climate change is the change in weather patterns, sea ice, the amount of snow and rain, and drought. It also includes the increased frequency of extreme weather events such as killer storms. 


Greenhouse Gases

Greenhouse gases are different chemical compounds that float around in the earth’s atmosphere. They mostly include carbon dioxide, methane (farming), and water vapour. 

When solar energy (infrared radiation) reaches the earth, it warms the surface. Some of this energy bounces off the earth and is reflected back into space. 

A portion of that infrared radiation bounces off the greenhouse gas molecules and gets trapped in the atmosphere as heat. The more congested the atmosphere, the more heat is trapped, warming the planet over time. 

Even though these gases can be released into the atmosphere as a consequence of natural activities (e.g., volcanic eruptions), they are mostly emitted by human activities such as burning fossil fuels, farming, air and ocean travel, diesel and petrol-fuelled cars, and various others. 


Carbon dioxide (CO2) and Methane

Carbon dioxide is the main greenhouse gas and the biggest driver of climate change. CO2 is a natural part of life. It is the gas that is exhaled by animals when they breathe and it is the gas that fuels growth in plants.

However, it is also a byproduct of many human activities, directly by the burning of fossil fuels and indirectly by the removal of natural sinks such as forests to absorb the gas.

Fossil fuels include coal, oil, and natural gas.

While methane doesn’t stay in the atmosphere as long as carbon dioxide, it absorbs 84 times more heat, making it very harmful to the climate. 


So what do the terms Carbon Net Zero, Carbon Neutral, Carbon Positive and Carbon Negative mean?

Climate change and emissions are complex subjects and sometimes the above terms are used interchangeably, even though they mean different things.

Net Zero

Net zero emissions refer to striking a balance between greenhouse gas emissions produced and emissions taken out of the atmosphere.

A good way of getting your head around it is to think of an old-fashioned weighing scale. Producing greenhouse gases will tip the scale one way, and we need to balance that out with no new emissions being released into the atmosphere. 

But the world needs to go beyond that. Once we have stopped new emissions, we need to roll back the decades of harm that have already been caused and restore the natural balance.

Carbon Neutral

Carbon neutral refers to the concept of still producing emissions but offsetting them by taking alternative action such as planting new forests, creating carbon capture sinks, capturing emissions, more use of solar, wind, and other renewable energy sources.

On a business level, it could be as simple as making a commitment to purchase energy that has exclusively been generated from renewable sources instead of fossil fuels.

Businesses can also look at the possible benefits of purchasing carbon credits both locally and on the international market. 

Carbon Negative

Carbon Negative (also called Climate Positive) is where we need to go if we want to reverse the trends we are witnessing. 

Carbon negative refers to all activity that involves removing additional carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.


Why do we need to achieve Net Zero emissions?

On a world level, it’s simple. If we don’t, the world is going to become a much more dangerous place and we could even be putting ourselves on the path of extinction. 

We will have to deal with more bushfires, more floods, more respiratory diseases, scorching temperatures, famine, and much more. If we do not halt the march of climate change, the future looks very bleak.

In the immediate future, Australia and other businesses around the world will be looking at hefty penalties if they do not change tack and reduce their carbon profiles. 

There are no financial or legal implications as yet, but it is only a matter of time before they are put in place. 

The issue is also being judged by the court of public opinion and various surveys have shown that consumers are increasingly becoming willing to pay more and give their business to environmentally friendly companies.


Are you worried about the effects that climate change can have on your business?

Your business can take immediate action to reduce its impact on the environment and its negative contribution to climate change. 

From installing solar, increasing efficiency, changing lighting, and power factor correction, you can reduce your electricity consumption and enjoy the added benefits of monetary savings. 

Leading Edge Energy can review your current contract to identify ways to reduce your energy spend, even while under the operative period of your current contract.

Drop us an email at info@leadingedgeenergy.com.au or call us on 1300-852-770 for an obligation-free consultation. 

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