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Blog Post 1 November 2021

What is climate change?

Over the next two weeks, leaders from across the world will gather in Glasgow to address issues related to climate change. But what is climate change and why is it happening?

Climate change is the long-term change in average weather patterns and average temperatures across the world. Since the beginning of the 19th century, this change in climate has been happening more quickly, caused by our own activities and changes in how we live.

During the Industrial Revolution, which started in the early 1800s, humans began to burn fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas for fuel in our homes, in factories, and for transport.

Although burning fossil fuels produces energy, it also releases greenhouse gas emissions such as carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. These gases trap the heat from the sun in the Earth’s atmosphere, causing the temperature to rise.

The volume of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is now around 50% higher than it was before we started burning fossil fuels on a large scale during the Industrial Revolution. This has caused global temperatures to rise by roughly 1.2°C.

Why does climate change matter?

When greenhouse gases are released from burning fossil fuels, they can stay in the Earth’s atmosphere for tens or hundreds of years. These gases are locked into our atmosphere and will contribute to rise temperatures.

If the Earth’s temperature continues to rise, we will start to see extreme weather events like flooding and wildfires happening even more often that they already are. This is already having a detrimental impact on regions across the world, with some becoming uninhabitable as farmland turns into desert, with others experiencing extreme rainfall leading to flooding on an unprecedented scale.

Climate change will continue to impact the poorest nations the hardest, as they lack the resources to adapt or build resilience against these weather extremes. And closer to home, we’re already witnessing the impact of rising temperature in the UK – with warmer and wetter winters, and hotter and drier summers. Just three days before the Conference of the Parties to address climate change, COP26, began in Glasgow, two bridges in the Scottish Borders were washed away after a major flash flooding incident caused 500 homes to be evacuated in Hawick.

What can we do about climate change?

Nations across the world have accepted that changes will need to happen to help limit climate change and keep global temperature increases to a minimum. At the 21st COP meeting, which took place in Paris in 2015, 196 nations agreed to work together to limit global warming to 1.5°C, under what is now known as the Paris Agreement.

At this year’s conference, it is hoped that elements of the agreement currently up for debate will be agreed upon. Every nation will have to show how they will reduce their carbon emissions and agree on a new, ambitious emissions path for the future – with the overall aim to limit their emissions to ‘net zero’ before 2100, and ideally by 2050.

The term net zero means achieving a balance between the carbon emitted into the atmosphere, and the carbon removed from it. This balance will happen when the amount of carbon we add to the atmosphere is no more than the amount removed. To reach net zero, we will need to cut emissions from our homes, transport, agriculture and industry – in other words, these sectors will have to reduce the amount of carbon they put into the atmosphere. Any leftover emissions that cannot be cut will need to be removed from the atmosphere, either by changing how we use our land so it can absorb more carbon dioxide, or by capturing, using and storing emissions before they enter the Earth’s atmosphere.

What can you do about climate change?

While governments and businesses have a significant role to play, it’s not just up to them to make changes to address climate change; our own individual actions can help too. Together we can make a considerable impact to the emissions that each person adds to the Earth’s atmosphere.

In the UK, we can reduce our carbon emissions by improving our homes, choosing low carbon travel and making small changes to our behaviour. There are options to suit all budgets and lifestyles, from recycling or reusing products, avoiding food waste, replacing your bulbs with LEDs, or even making the switch to an electric vehicle or heat pump. We’ve got some helpful suggestions to get you started, which can help you reduce your carbon emissions and limit your impact on the climate.

Head to our Climate talk at COP26 hub to keep up to date with the latest news and announcements from the climate conference.

 

Last updated: 29 October 2021