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Climate change in the UK: Causes and how to stop it

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Warmer and wetter winters, hotter and drier summers, more frequent and intense weather extremes... these are just some of the effects that climate change will have in the UK in the coming years. In this article, we’ll look at the causes of climate change and what can be done to stop it.


What is climate change?

Before looking at the impact of climate change, is it important to give a climate change definition, and to distinguish between meteorological weather and climate:

  • Meteorological weather describes the weather at a specific moment, which varies in short periods of time;
  • The climate describes the usual conditions of a certain place.

Climate change is the long-term alteration of temperature or weather patterns (increase in average temperature, heavy rainfall, intense droughts) regularly and significantly in a given region.

While there are some natural causes of climate change such as variations in the Earth’s orbit, changes in the sun and emissions from volcanoes, the main cause of climate change is the concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in the atmosphere as a result of human activities. By increasing the capacity of the atmosphere to retain heat, this phenomenon, called the “greenhouse effect”, leads to global warming.

What causes climate change?

A rise in greenhouse gas emissions causes climate change and the rises in such emissions are largely down to human activity. Some of the main causes of climate change, therefore, are:

  • Burning fossil fuels: Fossil fuels such as coal, gas and oil contain carbon dioxide that has been locked away underground for thousands of years. When we extract them from the land, the stored carbon dioxide is released;
  • Deforestation: Forests remove and store carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. By cutting down trees on a large scale, we are reducing the planet’s capacity to store it;
  • Agriculture: Crops and animal farming have a large impact on the climate. For example animals produce methane, a greenhouse gas 30 times more powerful than carbon dioxide. Fertilisers used on crops contain nitrous oxide - 300 times more powerful than carbon dioxide;
  • Cement: The building material most commonly used across the world contributes around 2% of the entire carbon dioxide emissions around the globe.

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Effects of climate change in the UK

Climate change is already a reality in the UK and there are a number of scientific reports predicting things will only get worse unless we take action collectively to prevent it. The UK State of the Climate report, published earlier this year, included some climate change facts about the UK. This included:

global warming
  • 2020 was the third warmest year in the UK since 1884. All the years that make up the top 10 have happened since 2002.
  • Last year was the UK’s fifth wettest year. Six of the top 10 wettest years have happened since 1998.
  • In the space of 30 years, the UK has become 0.9°C warmer and 6% wetter.

Climate change news now features regularly in the mainstream media, with events such as flooding across the UK in 2020, in particular in Yorkshire, the East Midlands and South West England, attributed to human-induced climate change.

The UK climate in 2050

If no action is taken on climate change it is predicted that all areas of the UK will undergo drastic alterations in weather and climate patterns in the next 30 years. According to a report by the UK Climate Impacts Programme, here are some of the possibilities we can expect:

  • Temperatures: Hotter summer temperatures will become more frequent and very cold winters will become increasingly rare.
  • Rainfall: The amounts and frequency of rain will change and there will be increased local flooding with more flash flooding occurring.
  • Rising sea levels: Sea levels could rise by 40cm leading to further coastal erosion and flood risks.
  • Homes and lifestyle: The cost of living will increase, especially for food, fuel and insurance.
  • Wildlife: Climate change won’t just affect humans but animals too with birds, fish and other land animals coming under threat due to environmental changes.

How to stop climate change?

At the Conference of the Parties (COP21) in December 2015, 195 countries approved various goals to reduce greenhouse gases and mitigate and adapt the effects of global warming. The Paris Agreement on climate change aims to prevent global warming more than 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to continue efforts to limit it to 1.5°C.

After a number of climate change protests in the UK, the Government passed the Climate Change Act to formalise the nation’s approach to tackling the issue. The UK has also had in place for many years the Climate Change Levy (CCL), a government-imposed tax to encourage the reduction of gas emissions and greater efficiency of energy used for business or non-domestic purposes.

In this context, Britons must adapt their activities and lifestyles to limit their impact on the climate, while reducing their carbon footprint. A number of high profile celebrities have been calling on this for a while. David Attenborough’s climate change documentaries and reports are perhaps the most well-known in bringing the issue to the UK population’s general consciousness.

While the government can set the targets overall, there are many actions we can all take to play our part in reducing carbon emissions. These include:

carbon emissions
  • Choose sustainable means of transport;
  • Have a healthier and more varied diet;
  • Switch to a green energy supplier;
  • Optimise your energy consumption.

Once the measures to adapt and reduce your greenhouse gas emissions have been applied, Selectra offers individuals the possibility of voluntarily offsetting their greenhouse gas emissions through the Carbon Compensation Gift Card. For every ton of CO2 offset, the client participates in the financing of an environmental project in India: the Gandhi project.

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