By Vishrut Chatrath, MBA ’22
This article is Part 1 in a 2-part series written by MBA student Vishrut Chatrath as a reflection after his trip to the COP26 Summit in Glasgow, Scotland.
Post 1 of 2
You might be wondering why news organizations labeled this year’s climate conference, COP26 in Glasgow, as the “last chance to save the planet.” To answer this question, we need to embark on a journey that begins at the Earth Summit in 1992. Through a two-blog series, I will (1) use climate science to explain how we got to this point of seemingly no return, (2) provide the historical context for collective climate action and why the global effort to tackle climate change has lagged despite ambition and scientific evidence, (3) highlight the importance and impact of COP26, and (4) share examples of companies leading the fight against climate change.
Here’s a brief overview of global warming and why there is an urgent need for decisive collective action.
Sunlight carries solar energy to Earth which is essential for life. One-third of this energy gets reflected into space, while the remainder gets absorbed within the atmosphere. Atmospheric gases, including carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and ozone, retain this solar energy to keep the land, oceans, and atmosphere warm, making the planet habitable; this is known as the greenhouse effect.[i]
Since the Industrial Revolution, humans have used fossil fuels, including coal, oil, and natural gas, to generate energy. The use of fossil fuels helped countries develop, leading to significant prosperity in the West. However, the burning of fossil fuels releases greenhouse gases and, in particular, carbon dioxide (CO2). While CO2 supports natural warming, excess quantities of CO2 are particularly harmful to the planet. Since 1750 (before the Industrial Revolution), the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere has increased from 280ppm to 417ppm in 2021.[ii]
This rise in CO2 level has caused additional heat to be trapped within the atmosphere resulting in a significant warming of the entire planet. The heat that would have radiated back into space as infrared light after warming the Earth’s surface is retained in the atmosphere compounding the greenhouse effect. To put the rise into context, the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere has remained constant between 180ppm to 300ppm for 1 million years.[iii] In 1950, the concentration of CO2 exceeded 300ppm, which has continued to increase ever since.
The impact of global warming has been devastating, with frequent extreme weather events taking place. From wildfires in North America, extreme heat in Asia, drought in Africa and South America, to floods in Europe. July 2021 was the hottest month on record, with temperatures reaching 54.4°C (130°F).[iv] Climate change has led to the destruction of buildings, infrastructure, agricultural assets, and energy supply costing billions of dollars’ worth of economic damage. A recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change emphatically linked human influence with climate change. It provided evidence that greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) are responsible for the rise in global temperature to 1.1°C from pre-industrial levels contributing to global climate change.[v] Based on current estimates, the temperature will rise to over 2°C by 2100. Countries must urgently work together to reduce GHG emissions and curtail further warming to avoid the devastating consequences of climate change.