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Climate Change – What does it mean?

When recently a team from Lao National Radio conducted interviews on trees and the environment in Thakhek, Khammuane, monks, school children and market women often mentioned “climate change”. This word which could only be read in scientific magazines some years ago has made it into everyday language.

Climate reflects longterm patterns in temperature, rainfall and wind. It is measured as an average over lon g time. (Graphic by ClimaTemps)

But do people in Laos really understand what the term means? And do they understand the causes and effects of climate change? A 2012 and 2016 survey on the environmental and climate change awareness of more than 1,300 people in Vientiane, Khammuane, Huaphan and Xayaboury suggests otherwise: Many confuse climate change with weather or pollution or have heard of it, but they do not know what it actually means. The survey was conducted by ProCEEd, the Promotion of Climate-related Environmental Education, a project implemented by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (MoNRE) and Deutsche GesellschaftfürinternationaleZusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH.
This is the first of five articles in Vientiane Times as part of the EECS. The causes and effects of climate change and how Laos is coping with its impacts are described by using 10 FACTS. Each article elaborates on two FACTS. This article focuses on FACT 1 and FACT 2.
FACT 1 – Climate is not Weather
The main difference between weather and climate is that weather is felt on a day-to-day basis while climate is not. You can ask people about the weather on a specific day and they will answer for example that it is hot, cold, windy or rainy. But when asked about climate, people come up with different explanations.
Laos has a tropical climate with two seasons: one rainy, the other dry. When asked about climate change people often describe how these seasons have changed over a long time. During ProCEEd’s 2012 survey, villagers often linked environmental and climate changes to their seasonal agricultural calendar and the natural resources such as land, water or forests, which their livelihood depends on. For example, rural women in Khammuane reported an extraordinary short cold period of low temperatures and water shortages in winter 2011. Senior women and men mentioned trends like “During the past 5 years, we suffered from severe rain storms” or “In 2011, there was a flood in 2012, we had a drought. This is not normal”. “Yes,” an old woman added “We talk about the climate during rice harvesting season. The seasons do not come as it used to be”.
These observations come close to what scientists say about the difference between climate and weather. Weather can be described as the conditions of the atmosphere, i.e. rain, wind and temperature over a short period of time. Climate on the other hand describes the atmosphere in a certain area over long periods of time, often 30 years. The atmosphere is the mixture and layers of gases, which surround the earth. The climate is influenced by the composition of these gases.
Weather is described for a specific place and for a rather short period of time. It describes for example that it is cold, rainy and windy. A thunderstorm or a rain shower, for example, are typical weather events. In contrast, climate reflects longterm patterns in temperature, rainfall and wind. It is measured as an average over long time. For example, average rainfall in Laos is approximately 1,790 millimetres per year and the average temperature is 28 degrees Celsius.
There are many linkages between climate and weather which often make the differences difficult to understand. “The translation of the term climate and climate change into Lao language hampers understanding the differences even further” explains Michael Trockenbrodt, the ProCEEd team leader.
FACT 2 – Average Temperatures are Rising Worldwide
The rise of the average temperature on earth is called global warming. While the climate has always changed during the earth’s history, this is happening at a faster pace today. Over the past 50 years, the average air temperature near the earth has increased every ten years for 0.15 or up to 0.30 degrees Celsius. The five hottest years on record all occurred after 1997.
These climate changes are likely to increase further both in intensity and frequency. If nothing is done to reduce global warming, scientists expect the Earth’s temperature to rise between 1.1-6.4 degrees Celsius by the end of the 21st century.
This may not seem much of a difference. But global warming causes longterm changes: rising sea level, melting glaciers, more erratic rainfalls and more frequent extreme weather events.
Such changes have great impacts on the lives and livelihoods of the world’s animals, plants and humans. Therefore, climate change is considered one of the major challenges of our times, putting stress on society and the environment.
This article has been contributed by ProCEEd (Promotion of Climate-related Environmental Education), a project supported by the Federal Republic of Germany and implemented by the Deutsche GesellschaftfürInternationaleZusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH and the Department of Environmental Quality Promotion of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic.

By Times Reporters
(Latest Update June 15, 2017)

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