Find out what climate change is, how our climate is changing and why that matters.
The climate has changed many times in the past due to natural factors, but the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) − the world’s most authoritative scientific body on climate change − says that:
‘it is very likely that human emissions of greenhouse gases have caused a significant part of the 0.8°C increase in global annual average air temperature since the late 19th century’.
These gases enhance the natural greenhouse effect, which traps energy from the sun and causes global temperatures to increase.
What is the difference between climate and weather?
Weather is what an area experiences on a minute-to-minute, day by day basis. Climate refers to the average weather experienced by an area, typically over a period of 30 years or more.
Why does climate change matter?
In the UK, we will experience more flooding and hotter, drier summers which will have adverse impacts for people and wildlife.
For example, if we do not increase efforts to reduce flood risk, by 2035 an additional 350,000 properties in the UK will be at significant risk of flooding.
Other parts of the world face greater temperature changes, and catastrophic water shortages and floods. Disruption to international food supplies and population migration could eventually affect the UK.
We can avoid or reduce climate change impacts by, for example:
- improving flood protection for at risk communities and vital infrastructure
- building heat resistant buildings to reduce the discomfort of heatwaves
- creating natural corridors to allow species to move as higher temperatures force them out of their existing habitats.
However, there are limits to the level of climate change to which human and natural systems can adapt − the costs of protecting human life and property may become prohibitively high, or natural systems could reach thresholds beyond which they are no longer able to adapt.
What can be done?
Globally the costs and risks of climate change are estimated to be equivalent to losing 5 per cent of global GDP each year. The cost of taking action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to avoid the worst impacts of climate change is estimated to be less than 2 per cent of annual global GDP (Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change, 2006).