What is Climate Change and why is it important?

The quest to “master nature” to serve human needs has led to unintended and alarming consequences. News today is rife with startling reminders of how climate change is affecting people around the world, from wildfires and floods to the loss of biodiversity and even human lives. But what exactly is climate change?

Climate change refers to the long-term transformation of Earth’s weather conditions. The phenomenon is caused by a number of natural and human-induced factors. Imagine the Earth as a giant greenhouse. Normally, the sun’s heat comes in and keeps things warm enough for us to live comfortably. But when we burn fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas for energy, we release extra gases into the air. These gases trap more heat, making our “greenhouse” warmer than it should be. This leads to glaciers melting, sea levels rising, and weather events like hurricanes and droughts becoming more extreme and frequent.

The growth and prosperity of businesses and organisations around the world should not come at the cost of the environment. While the challenge might seem overwhelming, there is a path to a sustainable future. Here, we explain some key terms related to climate change, such as greenhouse gases and net zero, and also uncover some of the tools organisations can adopt to address climate change and promote development in an integrated and balanced way.

Table of contents
What is the greenhouse effect?
What is net zero?
Climate change solutions for a healthy future
What is climate finance?
What are the Sustainable Development Goals?
What is ESG reporting and why does it matter?
Basics of an environmental management system
ISO standards and climate change
What is the greenhouse effect?
Climate change is largely caused by a process called the greenhouse effect. When the sun’s energy reaches the Earth, some of it is reflected back to space, while the rest is absorbed and re-radiated by greenhouse gases. These gases include water vapour, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and other gases naturally present in the atmosphere.

Think of it as a blanket. Just as a blanket keeps you warm by trapping body heat, greenhouse gases keep the Earth warm by trapping heat from the sun. This heat helps to maintain the Earth’s average temperature, making it hospitable for life as we know it.

In recent years, however, human activities, particularly the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation, have increased concentrations of these greenhouse gases. The result? An increase in global temperatures that is fundamentally altering the planet’s climate system.

Interested in learning more? Read about the basics of the greenhouse effect.

What is net zero?

As global temperatures continue to rise, the Earth’s natural equilibrium is disrupted. Unless we manage the vast amount of greenhouse gas emissions, we will not be able to avert the impending climate crisis. Achieving “net zero” refers to maintaining an overall balance between the greenhouse gases emitted and those removed from the atmosphere. This means that any emissions must be fully compensated, or offset, by the removal of an equivalent amount of CO2 over a given period of time.

Net zero is our most potent weapon to combat the climate crisis. Embracing the shift towards net-zero emissions provides environmental benefits as well as economic, social and health advantages. That’s why many countries, companies and organisations are currently working towards ambitious net-zero targets as part of concerted international efforts to combat the catastrophic effects of climate change.

Is net zero the same as carbon neutral? How do we reach the world’s net-zero targets? Find all the answers and more in our article “Embracing net zero: A crucial step towards a sustainable future”.

Climate change solutions for a healthy future

Climate change is already causing disruptions across all facets of life, including critical infrastructure like transport, communication networks, energy and water resources. Scientists anticipate that these changes will lead to more frequent disease outbreaks, increased mortality, and the displacement of populations, particularly affecting the world’s most vulnerable communities.

We urgently need innovative strategies to counteract the worst effects of climate change. Embracing nature-based solutions offers a holistic approach to combatting climate change while nurturing the planet’s natural resources for generations to come. Bringing nature into cities by planting trees, reintroducing species into the environment, and restoring coastal ecosystems to mitigate erosion are just a few examples. By leveraging the power of ecosystems such as forests, wetlands and grasslands, these natural climate solutions not only help sequester carbon dioxide but also enhance biodiversity, protect habitats and bolster resilience against extreme weather events.

Curious to know more? Discover how nature-based climate change solutions can pave the way for a healthy future.

What is climate finance?

Humanity is taking urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts. But our commitment to act is not enough – it must be backed by funding. Reversing climate change requires substantial economic resources. These are especially important to help less financially equipped countries meet their climate targets, pay for mitigation and adaptation, and mobilise more climate finance. Many developing countries, who often face the brunt of climate change, don’t have enough financial backing to work on sustainable strategies.

In 2015, at the 21st United Nations climate change conference (COP21), nearly all of the world’s countries committed to Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) – a climate action plan to cut emissions and adapt to climate impacts. It was decided that developed countries would provide financial resources to help developing countries adapt to climate change and phase out their emissions. This financial support is crucial for making the necessary changes to energy systems, infrastructure and industries these countries urgently need to decarbonize their economies and protect themselves from climate hazards.

So what is climate finance? Climate finance is funding at the local, national and transnational level that supports activities needed to combat climate change. These funds sponsor a wide range of initiatives, including both mitigation efforts (actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions) and adaptation strategies (measures to cope with the impacts of climate change). The goal is to secure funds from various sources, including public funds, private investments, international aid, and innovative financial instruments, to enable countries to transition to a low-carbon and climate-resilient future.

This topic generates much debate: How much funding is needed? Where should it be spent? You can find all the answers in our article: “Climate finance: The key to a sustainable future”.

For users of ISO 14001 the question is ‘How does ISO 14001 help organisation to mitigate and adapt to climate change? The attached diagram schematically sets out the link between key clauses in ISO 14001:2015 and climate change mitigation and adaption. It is intended to help users of ISO 14001 to show how they address climate change challenges through their management system.

ISO 14001 deals with the need to adapt to any change in environmental conditions and hence include matters such as the need to adapt to other environmental consequences which are not due to climate change, for example loss of ecosystem services and biodiversity.

Climate Change

Affects many regions of the world and includes significant climate change impacts, risks and opportunities arising from changing weather patterns, rising sea levels and more extreme weather events. Rapidly expanding urban areas are recognised to be particularly vulnerable. Climate extremes affecting urban systems, such as power supplies, can lead to cascading failures in other utilities and services compromising the health and well-being of the population. The potential consequences of such climate-related impacts, risks and opportunities include the disruption of different environmental, social and economic systems within national economies, affecting communities and organisations, as well as individuals, with the poorest and most vulnerable people expected to be affected the most. Action is needed, involving both climate change adaptation and mitigation, in order to limit the effects of climate change impacts, risks and opportunities, while also contributing to the reduction of the world’s average surface temperature. Against this challenging outlook, the scope, need and opportunity for action on climate change is extensive.

Climate change is acknowledged as a foremost challenge with regards to the goal of sustainable development, which encompasses any state of the global system in which the needs of the present are met without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.
Standards that take into consideration climate change adaptation and/or mitigation can contribute to the achievement of sustainability, either directly (where they specifically address sustainability issues such as climate change) or indirectly (where they relate to testing, products, procedures, services, terminology, management systems or assessment). It is recognised that both climate change mitigation (CCM) and adaptation to climate change (ACC) are important for all processes related to a technology, activity or product (TAP). Although there are very important interactions, the two disciplines are distinct and are addressed individually within this document.
Standards developers are encouraged to consider climate change issues in their work at all stages in the standards development process. If climate change issues have not been considered, this can be a valid reason to start the revision of a standard. In addition, the significance or relevance of specific issues can have changed since the previous edition of a standard was drafted or reviewed. Whenever a new standard is drafted, or an existing standard is revised, all standards developers (including project leaders, convenors, committee chairs, committee managers and secretaries) are encouraged to actively promote the application of this document, and to involve experts knowledgeable in the subject.

When standards developers address climate change in different existing or new standards, the result can be an increased awareness of climate change issues among the user community across various market sectors. Through the application of this document, users of such standards will be better able to address climate change mitigation and/or adaptation in ways that many would not have expected or considered. And with entirely new standards, users will realize that there are new opportunities for the market to respond to these issues in ways not previously considered or contemplated.