While Earth’s climate has changed throughout its history, warming is now happening at a rate not seen in the past 10,000 years. Scientific information taken from natural sources (such as ice cores, rocks, and tree rings) and from modern equipment (like satellites and instruments) all show the signs of a changing climate. Source: NASA
The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is the United Nations body for assessing the science related to climate change. The governments of all of 193 UN member countries accept its findings. The IPCC states: ‘Since systematic scientific assessments began in the 1970s, the influence of human activity on the warming of the climate system has evolved from theory to established fact’.
The burning of fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas has increased carbon dioxide (CO2) in Earth’s atmosphere. Our industrial activities have raised atmospheric CO2 levels by nearly 50% since 1750. We know this increase is due to human activities, because scientists can identify a distinctive isotopic fingerprint in the atmosphere. Clearing land for agriculture, industry, and other human activities has contributed to increased levels of greenhouse gas.
In its March 2023 Report, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded thatit is unequivocal that the increase of CO2, methane, and nitrous oxide in the atmosphere is the result of human activities, and that human influence is the principal driver of many changes observed across the atmosphere, ocean, cryosphere and biosphere. While the Sun has played a role in past climate changes, the evidence shows the current warming cannot be explained by the Sun. Source: NASA
Climate change has already started. We are seeing its effects in the UK in the form of heatwaves, droughts, devastating storms, floods, and damage to harvests. Globally the effects of climate change will increase migration, conflict, disease and global instability. Some of the effects of climate change are happening much faster than climate scientists expected.
Human-made climate change is the biggest crisis of our time. It threatens the future of the planet that we depend on for our survival. In April 2023 the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned that we only have until 2030 to reduce CO2 emissions and limit global warming to a maximum of 1.5C. Warming above 1.5% is likely to result in climate breakdown.
The good news is that climate change can be stopped. We need to act fast. The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned this year that we have seven years left to reduce CO2 emissions and limit global warming. But it added that we have options in all sectors – including energy, industry, transport and agriculture – to at least halve emissions by 2030.
The IPCC said: ’We are at a crossroads. The decisions we make now can secure a liveable future. We have the tools and know-how required to limit warming. I am encouraged by climate action being taken in many countries. There are policies, regulations and market instruments that are proving effective. If these are scaled up and applied more widely and equitably, they can support deep emissions reductions and stimulate innovation’.
The IPCC says: Limiting global warming will require big changes in energy, industry, transport and agriculture. We need a substantial reduction in fossil fuel use, widespread electrification, improved energy efficiency, and use of alternative fuels such as hydrogen. Since 2010, the costs of solar and wind energy, and batteries have decreased by up to 85%. An increasing range of policies and laws have enhanced energy efficiency, reduced rates of deforestation and accelerated the deployment of renewable energy.
Reducing emissions in industry will involve using materials more efficiently, reusing and recycling products and minimising waste. Industry accounts for about a quarter of global emissions. Achieving net zero will be challenging and will require new production processes, low/zero emissions electricity, hydrogen, and, where necessary, carbon capture and storage.
Agriculture, forestry, and other land use can provide large-scale emissions reductions and also remove and store carbon dioxide at scale. However, land cannot compensate for delayed emissions reductions in other sectors. Changes in land use practices can benefit biodiversity, help us adapt to climate change, and secure livelihoods, food and water, and wood supplies.
China is currently the largest greenhouse gas emitter in the world, but it is decarbonising much faster than countries like the US. China generates almost half of the world’s installed offshore wind, with 26 gigawatts of a total of 54 gigawatts worldwide in 2021. Last year China had an estimated 2.7 million people employed in the solar energy sector, making up more than half of the world’s 4.3 million solar jobs. Source: Harvard.
The UK is among those countries with very high historical emissions. We have made a much bigger contribution to the climate crisis than other countries with large populations, such as China and India. Our current UK carbon emissions figure doesn’t include ‘hidden’ carbon – the fossil fuels used to make all the goods we now import from overseas. [Source: Gdn, bookmarked]. And our appetite for beef, soy, palm oil, rubber, cocoa, coffee and wood pulp is destroying vast areas of forest across South America, South East Asia, and Africa, adding a further 40% to our real carbon emissions.
‘Global warming’ refers to the long-term warming of the planet, and is only one aspect of climate change. Global temperature shows a well-documented rise since the early 20th century and most notably since the late 1970s. The Climate Stripes graphic on this page shows this rise. 2023 is already set to have the hottest global average land and sea temperatures ever recorded.
‘Climate change’ includes global warming and the broader range of changes that are happening to our planet. These include rising sea levels; shrinking mountain glaciers; higher ocean temperatures; accelerating ice melt in Greenland, Antarctica and the Arctic; and shifts in flower/plant blooming times. Source: NASA
The countries most affected by climate change (small island nations, and much of Africa and Asia) are often the least responsible for it. Many countries in the global south are now experiencing floods, desertification, increased water scarcity, and devastating tornadoes and hurricanes. These are also the countries with the fewest resources to deal with climate change, making them vulnerable to political unrest, armed conflict, and mass migration. [Source: Global Justice Now]
An Oxfam study found that the richest one percent of the world’s population were responsible for more than twice as much carbon pollution as the world’s poorest 3.1 billion people, from 1990 to 2015. The truth is that, European and North American countries currently consume more, and have higher emissions per person on average, than those in China or India. However, this does mean that we can do more than most countries with equivalent emissions to tackle climate change – and use our wealth and diplomatic power to lead by example. [Source: Greenpeace]
A lot of people believe that renewable energy is expensive, but this simply isn’t true! Solar power and onshore wind are the cheapest ways of generating electricity. The energy they produce is cheaper than using nuclear, gas, oil, or coal. The cost of renewables has fallen faster than anyone could have predicted. Industry is developing new techniques for storing electricity and managing demand at peak times, meaning that even if it’s not sunny or windy, we can still rely on renewable energy sources. Source: WWF.