The Climate Emergency
Shropshire’s temperature change since 1884
Ed Hawkins, University of Reading; Data: Met Office
What is causing the climate emergency and what are the impacts?
The concentration of greenhouse gases (GHGs) resulting from human activity are rising in the earth’s atmosphere, leading to global warming as the GHG molecules absorb energy that would otherwise be lost from our atmosphere into space. GHGs have increased from natural long-term peaks of 285 ppm (parts per million) to more than 450 ppm since the start of the industrial revolution. Global warming is manifest as changes in the earth’s climate and through the impact it has on the earth’s surface, both on land and sea, such as melting of the ice caps and thawing of frozen tundra. Whilst the climate represents atmospheric conditions measured over a long period of time (at least 30-year averages), the weather is our experience of atmospheric conditions at a given point in time. The growth of extreme weather conditions (both in terms of frequency and intensity) is an indicator of climate change taking place.
How can we respond?
Responding to climate change includes two linked processes:
Mitigation: reducing the amount of GHGs that we produce, and
Adaptation: taking measures to address the effects of climate change on human society and Nature.
Both are required, reducing GHG emissions (achieving “net zero”) is needed to stop the earth’s atmosphere warming to an extent that irreversible damage may be done to human society and the natural world, ideally (but increasingly unlikely) to less than 1.5 degrees C above pre-industrial atmospheric temperatures. Adaptation is required because climate change is already having an impact, whether via drought, localised flooding, heatwaves or through pests and diseases, affecting our housing and transport infrastructure, food production and the natural environment, and also human health and well-being.