Climate change
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  • 1. Climate change: a quick guide<br />Climate change is one of the most pressing issues facing the planet – and one everyone can do something about. From turning the thermostat down to buying a more economical car, there are many steps you can take to help safeguard the future of the planet.<br />What is climate change?<br />'Climate change' refers to changes in the earth’s temperature over the last 100 years. Since 1900, the average temperature on the planet has increased by 0.74 degrees Celsius and the United Kingdom’s sea level has risen by about 10 centimeters. Further global rises are expected, as well as more extreme weather events like flooding and drought.<br />Brief history of climate change <br />The causes of climate change<br />Individuals are responsible for about 40 per cent of emissions<br />There is now very strong evidence that significant global warming can't be explained by natural causes alone. Humans are changing the climate by their actions, especially through emissions of greenhouse gases, like carbon dioxide, which artificially warm the atmosphere of the earth.<br />Causes of climate change<br />There is very strong evidence that people are changing the climate with actions which create emissions of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane. In the UK, 40 per cent of these emissions are caused by individuals, mostly from energy used in the home, driving and air travel.<br />The role of humans in climate change<br />Human activity is the main cause of the changes seen in climate<br />The world's climate varies naturally as a result of:<br />the way the ocean and the atmosphere interact with each other<br />changes in the earth's orbit<br />changes in energy received from the sun and volcanic eruptions<br />However, there is now very strong evidence and almost universal agreement that significant global warming can’t be explained just by natural causes. The changes seen over recent years, and those predicted for the next 80 years, are thought to be mainly the result of human behaviour.<br />The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is a scientific body set up by the UN to look at climate change. It says that human activity is the main cause of the changes seen in climate.<br />The greenhouse effect<br />The earth is surrounded by a layer of gases that act like the glass walls and ceiling of a greenhouse. These so-called ‘greenhouse gases’ are necessary to sustain life on earth. They let the sun’s rays enter, but stop much of the heat from escaping, keeping the planet warm enough to allow life.<br />However, as people cause more greenhouse gases to be released into the atmosphere, the greenhouse effect becomes stronger. More heat is trapped and the earth's climate begins to change unnaturally.<br />Greenhouse gases<br />Greenhouse gases mainly consist of carbon dioxide and water vapour, and also include methane and nitrous oxide.<br />Carbon dioxide – also known as ‘CO2’ or shortened to ‘carbon’ – is one of the main greenhouse gases and contributors to the greenhouse effect. Since the Industrial Revolution, which began in the 18th century, the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere has increased by 35 per cent. The concentration of CO2 is now higher than at any point in the past 650,000 years.<br />HYPERLINK " http://unfccc.int/essential_background/feeling_the_heat/items/2903.php" " _blank" The greenhouse effect and the carbon cycle Opens new window <br />Causes of the greenhouse effect<br />Deforestation produces 18 per cent of global CO2<br />Human activity is changing the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere in three important ways.<br />Burning fossil fuels<br />Burning fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas releases greenhouse gases. In 2005, burning fossil fuels sent about 27 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.<br />People burn fossil fuels to create energy, which is used for many things including:<br />heating homes and buildings<br />growing, transporting and cooking food<br />travelling (by car, plane, bus and train, for example)<br />treating water to make it drinkable, heating it and piping it into homes<br />manufacturing, using and transporting products, from clothes to fridges, from plastic bags to batteries<br />Deforestation<br />Deforestation, where forests are cut down faster than they are replaced, is a major contributor to climate change. It causes 5.9 billion tonnes of CO2 per year to be released into the air. This accounts for 20 per cent of the world’s carbon emissions – more than the entire transport sector produces.<br />Deforestation makes such a huge contribution to carbon emissions because trees absorb CO2 as they grow. As fewer trees are left to absorb CO2, it builds up in the atmosphere.<br />In addition, the agriculture and industry that replace the forests often produce carbon emissions.<br />HYPERLINK " http://www.princesrainforestsproject.org" " _blank" More on deforestation from the Prince's Rainforest Project Opens new window <br />A growing world population<br />As the world’s population grows, there are more people who need food, livestock and energy. This increased demand leads to increased emissions.<br />Sources of UK emissions<br />Emissions of greenhouse gases in the UK come from many sources:<br />65 per cent come from burning fuel to create energy (excluding transport)<br />21 per cent are from transport <br />7 per cent are from agriculture – for example, nitrous oxide from chemical fertilisers or methane given off by animals and manure<br />4 per cent come from industry – for example, manufacturing goods<br />The effects of climate change<br />The effects of climate change so far include rising temperatures, higher sea levels and more frequent extreme weather events like floods. All of these are expected to become more severe. However, actions by individuals have already helped the UK meet its targets for cutting emissions by 2010. Future effects of climate change can be influenced by what is done now.<br />Effects of climate change<br />The effects of climate change can be seen in the UK and around the world. Already, British coastal waters have warmed and temperatures have risen. Globally, extreme weather is predicted to become more common – and animals, plants and crops are all expected to be badly affected.<br />Rising temperatures<br />The 1990s was the warmest decade in central England since records began in the 1660s. Summer heatwaves are now happening more frequently and in winter there are fewer frosts.<br />Globally, over the past century, the average temperature of the atmosphere near the earth’s surface has risen by 0.74 degrees Celsius. Eleven of the 12 hottest years on record occurred between 1995 and 2006.<br />The scientific consensus is that global temperatures could rise between 1.1 and 6.4 degrees above 1980-1999 levels by the end of the 21st century. The exact amount depends on the levels of future greenhouse gas emissions.<br />HYPERLINK " http://www.ukcip.org.uk/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=76&Itemid=189" " _blank" Use the map to see climate change impacts in your region Opens new window <br />HYPERLINK " http://www.ukcip.org.uk/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=159&Itemid=9" " _blank" The warmest years in the UK and globally Opens new window <br />HYPERLINK " http://www.ukcip.org.uk/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=60&Itemid=198" l " 2" " _blank" How global climate is changing Opens new window <br />Changing sea levels and temperatures<br />The sea level around the UK has risen<br />UK coastal waters have warmed by about 0.7 degrees Celsius over the past three decades. In addition, the average sea level around the UK is now about 10 cm higher than it was in 1900.<br />Globally, the sea level could rise by 18 to 59 cm by the end of the century. Rising sea levels would swamp some small, low-lying island states and put millions of people in all low-lying areas at risk of flooding.<br />You can use Google Earth to see how climate change could affect temperatures and ice caps over the next century. Google Earth also lets you view the loss of Antarctic ice shelves over the last 70 years.<br />HYPERLINK " http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/climatechange/guide/keyfacts/google.html" " _blank" How climate could affect the planet - Google Earth Opens new window <br />Extreme weather<br />Since rain records began in 1766, the amount of winter rainfall in England and Wales has risen. Over the last 45 years it has also become heavier; in 2000, UK flooding was the worst for 270 years in some areas. Flood damage now costs Britain about £1 billion a year.<br />Globally, climate change means that extreme weather events – like floods, droughts and tropical storms – will become more frequent and dangerous.<br />HYPERLINK " http://www.direct.gov.uk/en/HomeAndCommunity/WhereYouLive/FloodingInYourArea/index.htm" Flooding in your area (home and community section) <br />HYPERLINK " http://www.direct.gov.uk/prod_consum_dg/groups/dg_digitalassets/@dg/@en/documents/digitalasset/dg_073021.pdf" Download 'The climate is changing' - Environment Agency (PDF, 974K) <br />Help with PDF files <br />Plants and animals<br />A global temperature rise could make some species extinct<br />There are already changes to the way plants and animals live in this country. The period between spring and autumn when plants grow is now a month longer in central England than it was in 1900.<br />Further changes in rainfall and temperature will affect many animal and plant species around the world. Some species might be unable to adapt quickly enough and habitats might not be available for them to move into. If global temperatures rise by two degrees Celsius, 30 per cent of all land-living species will be threatened by an increased risk of extinction.<br />HYPERLINK " http://www.panda.org/about_our_earth/aboutcc/problems/impacts/" " _blank" The threat to animals and plants from climate change Opens new window <br />HYPERLINK " http://www.bbc.co.uk/climate/impact/wildlife.shtml" " _blank" The impact of climate change on wildlife Opens new window <br />The cost of climate change<br />The Association of British Insurers estimates that UK households will pay up to four per cent extra each year due to extreme weather events.<br />The costs of climate change are expected to be huge, as the Stern report on the economics of climate change makes clear. The report estimates that not taking action could cost from five to 20 per cent of global GDP every year, now and in the future. In comparison, reducing emissions to avoid the worst impacts of climate change could cost around one per cent of global GDP each year.<br />HYPERLINK " http://www.hm-treasury.gov.uk/sternreview_index.htm" " _blank" Read the Stern report from HM Treasury Opens new window <br />Food and water<br />As temperatures increase and rainfall patterns change, crop yields are expected to drop significantly in Africa, the Middle East and India.<br />Water availability for irrigation and drinking will be less predictable because rain will be more variable. It is also possible that salt from rising sea levels may contaminate underground fresh water supplies in coastal areas. Droughts are likely to be more frequent. Up to three billion people could suffer increased water shortages by 2080.<br />Disease<br />With rising temperatures, diseases like malaria, West Nile disease, dengue fever and river blindness will shift to different areas. It is predicted that 290 million additional people could be exposed to malaria by the 2080s.<br />HYPERLINK " http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs266/en/index.html" " _blank" The effects of climate change on health Opens new window <br />Rainforests<br />Large areas of Brazilian and central African rainforest could be lost if climate change results in big falls in rainfall in these areas. This would be on top of the forest already being cut down to clear land for agriculture. These forests currently absorb large amounts of carbon dioxide that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere.<br />Challenging climate change myths<br />Isn’t the climate constantly changing? There’s no scientific evidence for climate change, is there? Isn’t it too late to make a difference? Confusion about climate change is widespread. Explore some of the most common misconceptions and the facts behind them.<br />Myths about climate change <br />Myths about climate change<br />Confusion and myths about climate change are widespread. This section aims to explore some of the most common misconceptions and the facts behind them.<br />The climate is always changing anyway<br />There is more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere now than at any point in the last 650,000 years<br />It’s true that natural changes in the world's climate have happened in the past – but it is sometimes overlooked that in extreme cases this resulted in mass extinctions. What is happening now is potentially a big change in the climate that humans have caused.<br />Carbon dioxide is a major heat-trapping greenhouse gas and its concentration in the atmosphere is now higher than at any point in the last 650,000 years. Although this is not new in the history of the planet, it is entirely new in human history, and could make the world such a hostile place that it cannot support life.<br />There's no scientific evidence for climate change<br />Scientists have been commenting on the relationship between emissions of gases and the climate since the 1800s, and have worked with governments to do something about climate change for a long time.<br />In 1988, the UN set up the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) – a body of scientists from all parts of the world who assess the best available scientific and technical information on climate change.<br />Their 2007 report warned of an increase in average global temperatures ranging from 1.1 to 6.4 degrees Celsius by the end of this century, depending on future levels of emissions. It also said that changes to the climate were " very likely" (over 90 per cent probable, based on current science) the result of human activity.<br />HYPERLINK " http://www.ipcc.ch/organization/organization.htm" " _blank" The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Opens new window <br />Climate change isn't caused by human activity<br />Most scientists are convinced that humans are affecting the climate by the way they live<br />The majority of scientists are convinced that humans are affecting the climate by the way they live. The Met Office Hadley Centre is the UK’s official centre for climate change research. They recently carried out a study that found today’s temperatures could only be the result of human activity.<br />Science has shown that greenhouse gases keep the earth warm, that there is evidence concentrations of these gases are increasing, and that humans are responsible for these increases by burning fossil fuels and cutting down forests.<br />Causes of climate change <br />It's too late to make a difference<br />The last report from the IPCC indicated that global emissions must peak in the next decade or two and then decline to well below current levels by the middle of the century if we are to avoid dangerous climate change. <br />This is possible, and can be achieved with technologies that are available now. Putting off action to cut greenhouse gases will make it more difficult and costly to reduce emissions in the future, as well as creating higher risks of severe climate change impacts. <br />There's no point in me taking action<br />Every reduction in emissions makes a difference by not adding to the risk. Countries like the UK are in a position to give a positive example to the rest of the world – if the UK can rise to the challenge successfully, others will follow.<br />HYPERLINK " http://www.direct.gov.uk/en/Environmentandgreenerliving/Thewiderenvironment/Climatechange/DG_064391" Greener living: a quick guide to what you can do <br />Climate change will make life more comfortable in the UK<br />Climate change will lead to warmer winters, but temperatures will become uncomfortably hot in summer, and the climate may also be unpredictable and extreme. There's also the risk of rising sea levels and extreme weather like storms and floods. Tackling climate change and securing a more stable climate will make life a lot more comfortable.<br />Effects of climate change <br />It would cost too much to tackle climate change<br />Tackling climate change needn’t damage the economy as a whole. Industry will have to adapt and jobs may change – but more may be created overall. Using less energy can also save companies and households money.<br />Not tackling climate change has a price too. The recent Stern report examines the economic impact of climate change. It estimates that not taking action could cost from five to 20 percent of global GDP every year, now and forever. In comparison, the cost of reducing emissions to avoid the worst impacts of climate change can be limited to around one per cent of global GDP each year.<br />What you can do about climate change<br />The European Union has proposed that global temperature rises need to be limited to two degrees Celsius to avoid dangerous climate change. This can be achieved by cutting emissions, and there are many ways you can help achieve this.<br />HYPERLINK " http://www.direct.gov.uk/en/Environmentandgreenerliving/Thewiderenvironment/Climatechange/DG_064391" Greener living: a quick guide to what you can do <br />HYPERLINK " http://server-uk.imrworldwide.com/cgi-bin/b?cg=partner&ci=energyst&tu=http://www.energysavingtrust.org.uk/What-can-I-do-today/Getting-started" " _blank" Top ten energy saving measures from the Energy Saving Trust Opens new window <br />What’s being done about climate change<br />People all over the UK have been working to tackle climate change. They have pledged to lower their own emissions and even decided to make their village, town or football team carbon neutral.<br />In 2008 the UK passed the Climate Change Act to tackle the dangers of climate change.<br />Action on climate change <br />HYPERLINK " http://www.defra.gov.uk/environment/climatechange/uk/legislation/" " _blank" Climate Change Act 2008 Opens new window <br />Information retrieved from http://www.direct.gov.uk/en/Environmentandgreenerliving/Thewiderenvironment/Climatechange/DG_072885<br />April 22 2010.<br />