Understanding Climate Change
What is Climate Change?
Climate is the long-term average weather pattern recorded in a region over many years. Climate change is a shift in those average conditions.
Since the Industrial Revolution human activity, including fossil fuels (coal, oil and gas) and deforestation, has led to a huge increase in greenhouse gases in our atmosphere; mostly carbon dioxide (CO2). Greenhouse gases, such as CO2, methane and nitrous oxide, are naturally occurring and support life on earth by trapping the sun's heat however the extra greenhouse gases in the earth’s atmosphere trap more of the sun’s heat, know as the Greenhouse Effect, leading to a rise in global average temperatures.
The world is now approximately 1.1°C warmer than it was in the 19th Century, and the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere has risen by 50%. Scientists predict that this trend is set to continue at pace without considerable reductions in carbon emissions.
What are the impacts of climate change?
The UK’s climate is changing. Even with very ambitious actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions globally, further climate change and impacts for the UK are inevitable. Temperatures in the UK exceeded 40°C for the first time on record in 2022 and extreme weather events are likely to become more frequent. Stabilising global temperature rise at 1.5 to 2°C above pre-industrial levels would prevent some of the most extreme impacts, but current global pledges to reduce emissions are not enough and global temperature is likely to increase 3°C or more.
Climate change can affect our climate system in lots of different ways:
- Changes in the hydrological cycle
- Warmer land and air
- Warming oceans
- Melting sea ice and glaciers
- Rising sea levels
- Ocean acidification
- Global greening
- Changes in ocean currents
- More extreme weather
Our climate system is finely balanced and small changes can have significant consequences. Some of the impacts from these changes to our climate system include:
- Risk to water supplies
- Conflict and climate migrants
- Localised flooding
- Flooding of coastal regions
- Damage to marine ecosystems
- Fisheries failing
- Loss of biodiversity
- Change in seasonality
- Heat stress
- Habitable region of pests expands
- Forest mortality and increased risk of fires
- Damage to infrastructure
- Food insecurity
What will climate change look like in my local area?
The South East of England is predicted to experience heavier, more intense periods of rain and hotter drier summers due to the effects of climate change. This brings a serious risk of more frequent flooding and overheating in the summer.
The Climate Change Risk and Impact Assessment for Kent and Medway (CCRIA) provides a detailed assessment of the county’s current and future risks, opportunities and impacts of climate change and prioritises these to identify the risks of most importance. It also provides recommendations for further action. The CCRIA has been informed by the most recent climate change projections for the UK. Climate projections are informed predictions of the future climate based on climate models. These models identify the following potential changes for Kent:
The Met Office and the BBC have created a free resource, that shows you what the impacts of climate change will be like near you. Enter your postcode to reveal climate projections in your area.
Key climate change terms
Adaptation- actions that help cope with the effects of climate change. For example, construction of barriers to protect against rising sea levels or conversion to crops capable of surviving high temperatures and drought.
Biodiversity- the variety of plant and animal life in an area and how they interact within habitats and ecosystems, like lakes and native forests.