What is climate change?

May 2, 2023

There is clear evidence to show that climate change is happening and is due to human activity. In fact, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) states that “human activity is unequivocally the cause of climate change”.

As explained by the Met Office, climate change refers to a large scale, long term shift in weather patterns and average temperatures. Since the 1800s, human activities such as burning fossil fuels, have resulted in the release of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. They trap the heat from the sun causing the planet to heat up – this is also referred to as global warming or the greenhouse effect. It is this process that results in changes to the climate.

The Met Office’s UK Climate Projections predict what effect climate change will have in the UK. Generally, we will see:                      

  • Warmer and wetter winters
  • Hotter and drier summers
  • More frequent and intense weather extremes

These trends are likely to be felt in the local area with implications such as increasingly extreme local weather like more intense downpours, more severe droughts and floods, and more extreme heatwaves which all have direct and consequential impacts on our society. Some of these effects are already being felt now.

Greenhouse gases remain in the atmosphere for many, many years and so it is inevitable that some degree of warming will continue. However, how much will depend on what changes we can make now. In order to limit climate change, ultimately we need to make drastic cuts in greenhouse emissions. Climate scientists recommend that to prevent the very worst effects of climate change, warming needs to be limited to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels. The Paris Agreement was the first-ever universal, legally binding global climate change agreement, adopted at the Paris climate conference (COP21) in December 2015. It set out a global framework to avoid dangerous climate change by limiting global warming to well below 2°C and pursuing efforts to limit it to 1.5°C. However, research shows that global temperatures have risen by 1 degree already and to “keep 1.5 alive”, far reaching cuts in carbon together with wholesale transitions to cleaner fuels and more sustainable living are still much needed. Analysts suggest that despite pledges and actions plans agreed at COP26 and COP27, warming is likely to go beyond 1.5 degrees. Recent global geopolitical and economic factors have had a part to play in terms of slower than hoped action and delivery. What is certain though is faster paced action will not only limit catastrophic impacts on nature and society but will have benefits for more resilient and sustainable economies.

In July 2019, the Council declared a climate and ecological emergency, pledging to reach net zero across the Council estate by 2030 and by 2050 or before for the wider borough. Check out the Our Activity page to find out how the Council is tackling climate change locally.

Action on climate change covers two areas: mitigation and adaptation. Mitigation relates to action taken to tackle the causes of climate change i.e., by reducing greenhouse gas emissions from human activities. Adaptation relates to action taken to adapt to the inevitable effects of climate change.

The terms carbon neutral and net zero are often used interchangeably, but what do they mean and are they the same thing? Ultimately, they both look to remove harmful gases from the atmosphere. But, as explained by the National Grid, they do this on different scales.

Carbon neutrality focuses on removing the equivalent amount of CO2 as emitted through activities and operations. Net zero goes beyond this and looks to eliminate all associated greenhouse gases.

There are many ways in which we can all play our part to help tackle climate change locally. Check out the Get Involved page for ideas and inspiration.


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