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Blog Post 8 August 2022 Updated 18 June 2024

What is the climate emergency and what can be done to address it?

The recent heatwave in the UK is clear evidence that we’re in a climate emergency, with record breaking temperatures exceeding 40 degrees for the first time ever.

It’s important that everyone understands the urgency of the climate emergency and what actions we can all take to reduce emissions and make a difference.

In this blog we explore the reasons behind the climate emergency and what can be done to address it.

Why are we facing a climate emergency?

Since the turn of last century, global temperatures have been steadily rising. The main cause of this changing climate is greenhouse gases, created by human activities, which get trapped in the Earth’s atmosphere, locking in the sun’s heat.

While some greenhouse gases occur naturally, since the Industrial Revolution, humans have been increasing the concentration to unsustainable levels. Much of it is a result of burning fossil fuels like oil and coal, deforestation in the world’s largest forests, and the mass farming of livestock.

What impact is climate change having on the UK?

Globally, the last decade was the hottest on record. This July saw temperature records broken across the UK, with red extreme heat warnings in place across England as temperatures soared above 40 degrees. This level of heat can disrupt transport networks, cause wildfires and put people’s health at risk.

Currently, the global average temperature sits around 1.1°C above pre-industrial levels. If this temperature increase reaches 2°C, it’s estimated that there will be an even higher risk of dangerous and catastrophic natural events across the planet – from flooding to droughts, wildfires to hurricanes.

With this scale of extreme weather, few people can deny that we are facing a climate emergency. The scientific evidence is clear: emissions of greenhouse gases, resulting from human activity, are causing our climate to change.

Net zero and the UK’s progress

It’s estimated that globally, over 50 billion tons of greenhouse gases are emitted into the atmosphere each year. If we want to address the climate emergency and stop global temperature rises, we need to drastically reduce these emissions and aim for ‘net zero’.

In 2015, the international community recognised the need to keep global warming well below 2°C and pursue efforts to limit it to 1.5°C before 2050 as part of the Paris Agreement. The way to do this is through reaching net zero emissions.

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.

While the UK is making progress towards net zero, there’s still a long way to go. The Climate Change Committee (CCC) releases an annual report for government that tracks the progress of each major sector and examines whether they are decarbonising at the rate required to reach net zero by 2050.

In its latest report, the CCC states that overall, there has been good progress in areas such as electric vehicles and the expansion of renewable electricity. However, there is concern as major policy gaps still remain for improving home energy efficiency, financial support and strategies for implementing low carbon technologies at a national level.

What can be done to address the climate emergency?

To achieve net zero, we need to implement sustainable lifestyle choices and become greener in our lives. This includes making and committing to changes across every industry.

Emissions from homes, transport, agriculture and industry will need to be cut, reducing the amount of carbon released into the atmosphere. However, some industries, such as aviation, will be too complex or expensive to cut emissions altogether – areas like this will require carbon capture to reach net zero emissions.

These ‘residual’ emissions need to be removed from the atmosphere, either by changing how we use our land so it can absorb more carbon, or by being extracted through technologies known as carbon capture, usage and storage.

The UK is currently committed to reaching net zero by 2050, as stated in the

While a lot of investment is needed to generate more clean energy and electrify industries to reduce carbon emissions where possible, this will be far cheaper than doing nothing at all. The CCC estimated that in the UK, the annual cost of achieving net zero would be 0.6% of gross domestic product (GDP) by the early 2030s, falling to around 0.5% by 2050.

While this may sound like a lot, the cost of ignoring climate change will be far higher – trillions of pounds, according to some estimates.

Sustainability advice for businesses, local authorities and communities

Understanding the importance of the climate emergency and what’s causing it can be beneficial if you want to get family, friends, staff and co-workers involved with sustainable behaviour change, both at work and at home.

Promoting and showcasing sustainability through best practice is a good way to ensure that your organisation avoids greenwashing and instead makes genuine, positive changes. A good way to get started is by measuring your organisation’s carbon footprint, promoting low carbon travel to employees, and sharing useful energy saving tips at home and at work.

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Last updated: 18 June 2024