What is climate change?
How can we take action?
Climate change is real and it’s happening now. Most of us know that the earth is getting hotter, but do we really understand its causes or its impact? Read our introduction to climate change and join us as we take climate action to build a brighter future.
What is Climate Change?
Climate change is, quite literally, the climate changing because the average global temperature is increasing. Increased greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere (CO2 in particular) are trapping heat in the Earth’s atmosphere. This impacts on global weather systems, causing everything from unexpected rainfall to extreme heatwaves. The Earth has gone through periods of warming and cooling – and associated climate change – many times. What scientists are most concerned about, and agree upon, is that the warming process is happening far faster than it has done before, and that the rapid warming is caused by increasing levels of man-made emissions. The world is already one degree Celsius warmer than it was in pre-industrial times. This might not seem like a lot but can have devastating consequences for the planet and the livelihoods of millions of people around the world. Scientists warn that we must work to limit the temperature increase to a maximum of two degrees against the 1990 base level, understood by international climate negotiations.
Watch NASA’s “Earth Minute: Earth Has a Fever” film to find out more about how the earth is getting hotter.
What are the main causes of Climate Change?
There are natural causes that contribute to climate fluctuation, but industrial practices are behind the recent rapid acceleration in global warming. The demands of a growing population have led to deforestation, burning fossil fuels, and intensive farming. These activities all produce greenhouses gases in our atmosphere - gases such as carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide and methane. Greenhouse gases trap heat from the sun instead of radiating it back to space. This causes the earth’s atmosphere to heat up in what is known as the greenhouse effect. In just 200 years, the concentration of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere has increased by 30%.
What are the main impacts and effects of Climate Change?
The effects of a changing climate have already had an impact on people’s livelihoods, as well as on our wildlife and environment all around the world. In China, natural disasters hit 24.89 million hectares of crops in 2014, of which 3.09 million hectares were destroyed, whilst drought caused a direct economic loss of 83.6 billion yuan – over 13 billion dollars. In Turkey delayed harvest in the Black Sea region in 2014 meant Turkish tea producers suffered a loss of over 15% of their annual income, due to heavy frost. Overall, natural disasters in the last decade have cost the world over $2.7 trillion dollars. Forest fires continue to threaten already endangered species, while changing climates and landscapes drive animals out of protected areas in search of water and inhabitable terrain. The mounting cost of climate change affects Unilever as a business also. We estimate Unilever is incurring annual costs linked to the effects of climate change of around $300m a year.
The level of the impact of climate change depends on the rate of increase in the earth’s temperature. A one-degree increase will have a serious ecological impact and could cost the world an estimated $68 trillion1. Climate change will cause some regions to become wetter, and others warmer. Sea levels will rise as glaciers melt, while some regions will be more at risk of heat waves, drought, flooding and natural disasters. Climate change could ruin food chains and ecosystems, putting whole species at risk of extinction.
What is Unilever doing?
Unilever want to help build a better world for future generations. This is why we are committed to sustainability not only through responsible sourcing, but also by developing products that use less water and energy. We want to take climate action in every way we can, and we’ve already made important changes.
Since 2008, we have reduced CO2 from energy by 32% per tonne of production. Compared to 1995, this represents a reduction of 62% in absolute terms.
We’ve rolled out eco packs, which use up to 70% less plastic and give reductions of 50-85% in greenhouse gases per use.
By 2020, 100% of all our agricultural raw materials will be sustainably sourced, including our palm oil, 100% of which will be from certified sustainable and traceable sources by 2020.
Over 90% of our 13 most used vegetables in Knorr products are now sustainably sourced.
In Europe and North America, 100% of electricity purchased by Unilever factories comes from renewable sources. By 2020, all our electricity purchased from the grid will be from renewable sources. We have committed to 100% clean energy by 2030, which means we will be using energy from renewable sources across our entire network of operations.
We believe eliminating deforestation from supply chains will have a huge impact on climate change. This is why we were the leading private stakeholder in developing the New York Declaration of Forests to halve deforestation by 2020, end it by 2030 and restore 350 million hectares of degraded land, and why we’re supporting the Consumer Goods Forum in its commitment to zero net deforestation supply chains by 2020.
We’re so committed to sustainable, responsible living, that we now top Oxfam’s ‘Behind the Brands’ scorecard. The Scorecard recognises companies whose policies reflect a commitment to sustainability - which is crucial for tackling climate change.
Together with WWF, we are helping to protect one million trees in two of the world’s most threatened areas: Brazil and Indonesia, with special emphasis on reducing deforestation and forest degradation, restoring forest areas, promoting sustainable forest management and increasing tree stocks in agricultural landscapes.
What can you do?
By signing the Unilever and WWF pledge, you can help to protect one million trees – with one of these trees being protected on your behalf.
Reversing the effects of climate change means each and every person must prioritise and actively work to limit their personal release of greenhouse gases. One person can’t make a difference alone but, collectively, we stand a chance of slowing down the increase in the Earth’s temperature. Becoming more aware of how you use energy in our daily life, and choosing to support companies that commit to taking climate action is key to how you can help build a brighter future for our planet.
Click here if you would like to learn easy ways to make a difference at home.