Climate Change Definitions – Detailed Insight

Dr. Jasminka Jaksic
How is weather different from a climate?

Climate is typically defined as average weather for a particular region over a long time period. It includes a particular region’s temperature, precipitation, humidity, wind and seasonal patterns, as well as special weather events like tornadoes and floods. For example, Dubai is known to have a tropical desert climate, summers are extremely hot and humid, and winters are warm and short; Sydney is known to be temperate, having warm, sometimes hot summers and mild winters; while Singapore's climate is classified as tropical rainforest climate, with no true distinct seasons. Unfortunately, the climate is changing. The past climate patterns are no longer a reliable predictor of the future.

In contrast, weather is the day-to-day conditions of a particular place. Weather can change from hour-to-hour, day-to-day, and season-to-season. Weather is talked about on the news or weather reports. It includes temperature, wind, humidity, atmospheric pressure, cloudiness, sunshine and precipitation. The easiest way to remember the difference is that 'climate' is the expected conditions for one region based on weather patterns collected over a long period of time while 'weather' is what we observe day to day.

Difference between the Climate Change and Global Warming?

Global warming causes climates to change. 'Global Warming' refers to rising global temperature, while 'Climate Change' includes more specific changes, such as changes in the rainfall patterns, frequency and intensity of storms and droughts, prolonged seasons, humidity level, and sea level. Global warming is planet wide, while the climate change can be more localised as different places around the world will experience different level of change in their climate. Some areas might even get colder instead of warmer, and the extreme weather events such as snowstorms, heat waves and droughts can change in frequency and intensity.

Climate Change Causes?

In 2007, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said global warming is an unequivocal fact and that "most of the observed increases in globally-averaged temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic (human-caused) greenhouse gas concentrations".

Rising levels of the greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere have warmed the Earth and are causing a wide range of greenhouse effects. Similar to the greenhouse that keeps the plants warm, the Earth’s 'greenhouse effect' refers to how the atmospheric greenhouse gases trap the sun’s heat and keep the planet warm. The strength of the greenhouse effect will depend on the atmosphere's temperature and on the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Without this natural greenhouse effect, the earth would be about 33°C colder with an average temperature at freezing -18°C, instead of the current temperature of 15°C. This enables the existence of life on the planet Earth. Greenhouse gases of concern include carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and water vapour. Many greenhouse gases occur naturally, unfortunately human activities have increased their levels and added additional gasses. The net effect is the gradual heating of Earth's atmosphere and surface, a process known as global warming.

Activities that contribute to the greenhouse gas levels include:

  • Burning fossil fuels; coal, oil and natural gas
  • Deforestation
  • Industrial processes and mining
  • Landfills and sewer systems
  • Agricultural practices
Climate Change Effects?

Climate change is one of the most complex issues facing us today. It involves many dimensions - science, economics, society, politics and moral and ethical questions - and is a global problem, felt on local scales, that will be around for decades and centuries to come.

A change in climate is expected to affect people, plants and animals lives. For example, seasonal change can affect fruit tree blossoming and fruit bearing, insects hatching and availability of water, ultimately affecting forest health, pollination of crops, spawning of fish and fresh water supplies. The greenhouse effect and global warming are also predicted to result in rising sea level, accelerated melting of glacier ice, more frequent extreme heat events, fires and drought, more frequent storms and floods, posing significant risk to human, flora and fauna health, agriculture, water resources and availability, coastlines, forestry and other natural resources which are vital for the economic prosperity, environment around us and the quality of life.

Is it too late to do something about the climate change?

The two most important strategies for addressing climate change are mitigation and adaptation. Mitigation involves reducing the magnitude of climate change itself by reducing sources of the greenhouse gases or enhancing the 'sinks' that accumulate and store these gases (e.g., oceans, forests and soil). Adaptation, by contrast, involves efforts to limit the vulnerability to climate change impacts through various measures, while not necessarily dealing with the underlying cause of those impacts.

Climate mitigation and adaptation should not be seen as alternatives to each other, as they are not discrete activities but rather a combined set of actions in an overall strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Due to the greenhouse gases that have been emitted already, the planet is already committed to the warming of perhaps as much as 1-2°C. This means that we have to adapt to at least that amount of climate change.

The civilisation around the globe needs to reduce the human-caused greenhouse gas emissions to avoid worsening climate impacts and reduce the risk of creating changes beyond our ability to respond and adapt.

Some of the mitigation measures include:

  • Increased use of renewable energy (wind, solar, biomass)
  • Improved energy efficiency in buildings and household appliances
  • Reduction of CO2 emissions from new cars
  • Abatement measures in the manufacturing industry
  • Measures to reduce emissions from landfills
  • Change people’s behaviour
  • Limits the amount of carbon that polluters are allowed to emit
  • Reduce tropical deforestation and its associated global warming emissions

Adapting to the already committed climate change is very crucial since, no matter how successful mitigation efforts are, the changes already occurring are requiring serious planning to minimize risks, vulnerabilities, and impacts. Adaptation measures include using scarce water resources more efficiently, adapting building codes to future climate conditions and extreme weather events, building flood defences and raising the levels of dykes, developing drought-tolerant crops, choosing tree species and forestry practices less vulnerable to storms and fires, and setting aside land corridors to help species migrate.

Many efforts are being made internationally to tackle the problem of global warming. United Nations Climate Change Conference is an annual gathering of the Conference of Parties (COP) to the United Nation’s Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to assess the climate change progress and to establish legally binding obligations for developed countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. Climate change is a global problem that requires global solutions.¬¬

What we can do?

Here are some easy actions you can take to reduce greenhouse emission and to help slow the climate change:

  • Stop car idling
  • Check your tire pressure regularly
  • Drive Less
  • Maintain/tune the car regularly
  • Don’t leave an empty roof rack on your car
  • Insulate and weatherize your home
  • Replace your old single-glazed windows with double-glazing
  • Cut hot water use
  • Run the dishwasher and washing machine only with full loads
  • Use a clothesline instead of a dryer whenever possible
  • Adjust the thermostat down 2 degrees in winter and up 2 degrees in summer
  • Turn off the appliances, equipment and lights when not in use
  • Purchase green power
  • Recycle and Reuse - recycle the organic waste
  • Buy products with less packaging and reusable or recyclable packaging
  • Buy locally grown foods and reduce meat intake
  • Avoid processed items
  • Grow some of your own food
  • Buy fresh food instead of frozen
  • Cover your pots while cooking
  • Buy organic foods as much as possible
  • Holidays: don't fly, take a train or alternative transport method
  • Plant native, drought resistant plants
  • Replace the light bulbs with the compact fluorescent bulbs
  • Install water efficient showerheads
  • Shopping: minimise the number of shopping trips - planning ahead and write a list
  • Get involved in the fight against the climate change
  • Try telecommuting from home
  • Educate future generation
  • Share this list


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