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Climate change is one of the most pressing issues facing the planet – and one everyone can do something about. We are changing the climate with our actions, especially through emissions of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, which artificially warm the atmosphere of the earth. The effects of climate change include rising temperatures, higher sea levels, and more frequent extreme weather events such as floods. All of these are expected to become more severe. Future effects of climate change can be influenced by what is done now.

Calculate – Avoid – Reduce – Offset

Individuals are responsible for about 40 per cent of emissions in the UK, with energy use in the home, driving and air travel the biggest sources. Use the carbon calculator to work out how much carbon dioxide you create and we will show you simple, concrete ways to reduce your impact on the environment and how to offset your carbon footprint.

If everyone in the world lived like people in the UK, it’s estimated that three planets’ worth of resources would be needed to support us. The energy and materials wasted in the UK put pressure on the environment here and around the world.

Humanity’s demands exceed our planet’s capacity to sustain us. If you are an individual or a business, start by reducing your consumption and your carbon footprint today. Small steps can make a BIG difference.

Climate change affects all of us – and we can all be part of the solution.
Find out how to reduce your carbon footprint
Climate refers to the average weather experienced over a long period. This includes temperature, wind and rainfall patterns. The climate of the Earth is not static, and has changed many times in response to a variety of natural causes.

The Earth has warmed by 0.74°C over the last hundred years. Around 0.4°C of this warming has occurred since the 1970s.

The recent Fourth Assessment Report (AR4) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) leaves us in no doubt that human activity is the primary driver of the observed changes in climate.

The main human influence on global climate is emissions of the key greenhouse gases – carbon dioxide (CO2),methane and nitrous oxide. The accumulation of these gases in the atmosphere strengthens the greenhouse effect. At present, just over 7 billion tonnes of CO2 is emitted globally each year through fossil fuel use, and an additional 1.6 billion tonnes are emitted by land use change, largely by deforestation. The concentrations of these gases in the atmosphere have now reached levels unprecedented for tens of thousands of years.

According to AR4, mean global temperatures are likely to rise between 1.1 and 6.4°C (with a best estimate of 1.8 to 4°C) above 1990 levels by the end of this century, depending on our emissions. This will result in a further rise in global sea levels of between 20 and 60cm by the end of this century, continued melting of ice caps, glaciers and sea ice, changes in rainfall patterns and intensification of tropical cyclones.

There is still time to reduce the impact we are having on climate change if we act now. But if we don’t, the unpredictable weather variations we are already experiencing will become more severe.

Current climate change

The effects of climate change can be seen in our everyday lives. Weather patterns are becoming increasingly disrupted and unpredictable and significant warming trends have been seen over the last century. During the last 40 years, the UK’s winters have grown warmer, with heavier bursts of rain. The summers are growing drier and hotter – one of the starkest changes over the last 200 years is our summers have become drier causing widespread water shortages. The last 6 years have been the warmest years since records began . During August 2003, the hottest temperature ever recorded in the UK was taken in Brogdale in Kent. It was 38.5°C.

Slowly but surely, much of the UK is experiencing extreme climates more associated with our European neighbours. The Thames barrier was raised on average three times a year until 2001, a year in which it was raised 15 times, and by 2030, it is expected that it will need to be raised 30 times per year².

The Thames barrier is now raised on average 13 times a year.

Many gardeners are finding their lawns need mowing in winter and snowdrops are blooming before Christmas, as winters grow milder; with fewer frosts, cold snaps and snowfalls. Spring is arriving earlier and autumn later – the growing season for plants in the UK has expanded by about a month since 1900.

However flooding is a looming threat over much of the country. Severe storms and rising seas – some 10cm higher than sea level in 1900 are slowly eating away at our coastline. As rainfall comes down in deluges, rivers are bursting their banks more often, with flashfloods becoming a more common occurrence. The floods experienced in the UK during the summer of 2007 were the result of the heaviest rainfall since records began. This flooding resulted in the insurance industry paying out around £3 billion in claims.

Predicted climate change impacts

By the end of the century, the average yearly temperature of the UK could be between 1°C and 4.5°C hotter than today, depending on how high greenhouse gas levels rise. The land will heat up faster than the sea, and the South East more than the North West. Summer and Autumn will generally heat up more than winter and spring, and as the nights turn hotter and stickier – the sort of temperatures we currently get at 7pm could be experienced at 11pm by 2100.

Greater threat from wildfires as greenhouse gas levels rise

By the end of this century, we could be facing intense heatwaves reaching up to mid 40°C in some places, more like the heat in 2003 that killed thousands of people across the rest of Europe. Temperatures as high as this have probably not been experienced since the last great warm period over 100,000 years ago, at the same time that hippos roamed England. As the summers become hotter and drier, drought could become a major threat. Anyone who lived through the long, hot summer of 1976 will remember the drought that reached crisis proportions: water rationing, building subsidence, withered crops, diseased trees, wildfires and deaths from the heat. Such could be the face of summers to come if we don’t learn to change our behaviours and take steps to prevent further climate change.

The animal and plant worlds could also be thrown into turmoil and many species that we traditionally associate with Britain may disappear. Needless to say, the white Christmas could become a thing of the past, while the UK’s green and pleasant land will become more brown and unpleasant as the climate becomes less suited to growing lawns and gardens.

The effects on health could also be profound. Aside from obvious issues like hay fever, there could be an increase in cataracts, skin cancer and even tropical diseases such as Dengue fever and West Nile virus. Even now, mosquitoes carrying such diseases are invading the US because of rising temperatures. Overall, it’s clear that the cost to society, the environment, our health and the economy is going to far outweigh any perceived benefits of a warmer UK. But luckily, there’s something we can all do (links to Greener Living a quick guide document) about it.

Changes in the atmosphere, the oceans and glaciers and ice caps now show unequivocally that the world is warming due to human activities, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said in report released in November 2007.

The Synthesis Report (AR4) was published on Saturday 17 November 2007.

The report is a landmark with respect to the positive messages about the potential to deal with climate change both in the short and long term. It concluded the following:

  • Warming of the climate system is unequivocal and the role of human activities in the observed changes is now clearer than ever. The world is already committed to further warming from past emissions alone.
  • The net effect of greenhouse gases and aerosols due to human activities since the pre-industrial era is one of warming (+1.6 Wm-2). This is substantially greater than natural warming or cooling effects over the same period, due to solar changes and volcanoes.
  • In the absence of effective international effort, GHG emissions will continue to grow rapidly over the coming decades. On current projections, this would result in a warming of between 1.7°C and 4.0°C by 2100 dependent on the level of emissions.
  • Rising temperatures will be accompanied by many other changes to the Earth system, affecting food and water supplies, human health, biodiversity and the economy. All areas of the world will be affected, although the scale of impacts will vary considerably by region and depend on the existing vulnerability. The extent and severity of negative impacts will rise with temperatures, as will the risk of triggering major effects over which we have no control. We now have better estimates of the magnitude of these effects.
  • An important new finding is the observed and projected ocean acidification due to increased carbon dioxide concentration.
  • The report identifies five strong “reasons for concern” for the international community to take note of. These include the fact of new and stronger evidence about the risks to specific communities and systems, higher levels of vulnerability to extreme weather events; stronger evidence that the poorest countries will be most vulnerable to climate change; that the risks of large-scale, irreversible events could hit the world if we continue as we are; and the fact that all these point to the likely costs to our global economy from climate change being higher than ever- confirming the findings of the Stern Review, that the costs of inaction and postponing outweigh the costs of action.
  • A portfolio of adaptation and mitigation measures can reduce the overall risks associated with climate change. Adaptation is essential to reduce the effects of climatic changes and is the only means to respond to the impacts from historic emissions. But there are limits to what adaptation can deliver. Mitigation is the only way to curb climate change.
  • 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. This is economically and technically feasible, and can be achieved with technologies available now. Postponing action to cut GHGs will make it more difficult and costly to reduce emissions in the future, as well as creating higher risks of severe climate change impacts.
  • All sectors can contribute to cost-effective emissions reductions, but a mix of policy instruments will be required to make the most of this potential.
  • Our actions in the next decade will have a large impact on opportunities to avoid dangerous changes. Low carbon technologies are available, but without global agreements on emissions and the introduction of effective policies to put technologies in place, GHG will increase rapidly. Putting a price on carbon, so that polluters pay the price of their emissions, is critical. Governments must also invest more in energy RD&D to deliver technologies that supply the growing demand without emitting GHGs.

The most important greenhouse gases are carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons and sulphur hexafluoride. These are the gases that are covered by the Kyoto Protocol.

Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) are also powerful greenhouse gases but they are being progressively phased out under the Montreal Protocol as they also damage the stratospheric ozone layer. They are part of a longer list of greenhouse gases covered by the Kyoto Protocol.

Measuring the Global Warming Potential

Each greenhouse gas has a different capacity to cause global warming, depending on its radiative properties, its molecular weight and its lifetime in the atmosphere. Its so-called global warming potential (GWP) encapsulates these. The GWP is defined as the warming influence over a set time period of a gas relative to that of carbon dioxide. A 100-year time horizon is used in the Kyoto Protocol. When the warming effect of current greenhouse gas emissions over the next 100 years is calculated, the graph shows that carbon dioxide will be responsible for about two thirds of the expected future warming.

How the relative climate effects of greenhouse gases are compared

To compare the relative climate effects of greenhouse gases, it is necessary to assess their contribution to changes in the net downward infra-red radiation flux at the tropopause (the top of the lower atmosphere) over a period of time. Ultimately the best way to do this is by comparing different emission scenarios in climate models, but a simple working method has been derived for use by Parties to the UNFCCC. This provides the relative contribution of a unit emission of each gas, relative to the effect of a unit emission of carbon dioxide integrated over a fixed time period. A 100-year time horizon has been chosen by the Convention in view of the relatively long time scale for addressing climate change

The factor is known as a global warming potential (GWP). It means for example, that 1 tonne of HFC-134 emitted to the atmosphere has 1,000 times the warming potential over 100 years of 1 tonne of carbon dioxide.

To compute the carbon dioxide equivalent of the emission of any gas, we multiply its emission by the GWP. This is often expressed as the carbon equivalent so we then multiply by 12/44, the ratio of the atomic weights of carbon and carbon dioxide. Thus, for example, an emission of 1 tonne of HFC-134 is equivalent to 1 x 1000 x 12/44 = 273 tonnes of carbon.

Greenhouse gas emissions inventory

The UK’s National Atmospheric Emissions Inventory compiles the UK’s annual greenhouse gas inventory. It is submitted annually to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC).

The emissions inventory contains information on greenhouse gas, emissions from fuel consumption industrial production, agriculture and land use change and forestry. It also provides a disaggregated inventory for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

If everyone in the world lived like people in the UK, it’s estimated that three planets’ worth of resources would be needed to support us. The energy and materials wasted in the UK put pressure on the environment here and around the world.

The problem

Human demands on world resources have doubled over the last 40 years.

Like most developed countries, the UK currently uses more than our fair share of resources like fuel, raw materials and water. As the things people buy are often made elsewhere, our lifestyles don’t just affect us here in the UK, they damage the environment in other parts of the world too. Developed countries need to move towards using only their fair share of the world’s resources – this idea has been described as one planet living.

Using resources wisely

Decisions people make in their everyday lives – what type of home to live in, how to travel and what products to buy – can help us move towards living within one planet’s worth of resources.

Human activity has led to many natural resources being depleted and created some major environmental problems:

Fossil fuels

  • Increasing amounts of fossil fuels are burned to produce electricity and for transport – this produces carbon dioxide which causes climate change:
  • the use of coal has risen by more than half over the last 20 years and will continue to go up
  • the use of oil is predicted to rise by the same amount by 2030

Water

Food and other products put huge demands on water supplies at home and abroad. For example:

  • It takes around 4,000 litres of water to make a cotton T-shirt – some lakes in cotton-producing areas are drying up, causing the collapse of fish stocks
  • World populations of freshwater fish have nearly halved since 1970 due to increased demand for water in producing food, fibre and energy

Grazing land

Demand for animal products is rising rapidly and it is estimated that the impact of grazing has doubled globally over the last 30 years – more land is being converted to grassland – reducing other wildlife habitats, while over-grazing reduces the number of species that can be supported and putting nature under threat.

Forests

Wood can be a great renewable resource. But the way people currently use it is causing the world’s ancient forests to shrink. Trees are being lost at about an average of 36 football fields a minute because of the spread of urban development, illegal logging, agriculture and industry.

Fish

Over-fishing is a threat to ocean-life and to the food and livelihoods of over a billion people. As many as 90 per cent of all the oceans’ large fish have been fished out. More than ever before, responsible fisheries management is needed to help protect marine life and conserve habitats for future generations.

Cutting waste

The UK generates rubbish fast enough to fill the Albert Hall in London every two hours, and our landfill sites are filling up fast. What is more, as rubbish decays in landfill sites, it produces methane, a damaging greenhouse gas with climate change effects judged to be over 20 times more powerful than carbon dioxide.

The good news is that recycling has doubled over the last four years.

Some examples of how waste could be cut further include:

  • producing, transporting and consuming food and drink causes a third of greenhouse gas emissions; but large amounts go in the bin – UK households spend an average of £424 a year on food that gets thrown away
  • the average household wastes £37 each year, a tenth of their electricity bills, by leaving appliances on standby – across the UK this is equivalent to the annual output of two power stations, wasting fossil fuels and causing climate change
  • 5bn aluminium cans are sold in the UK every year, and many still go into landfill; although this metal is plentiful, it needs a great deal of electricity to produce – the same energy is needed to produce a new can as is needed to produce 20 cans from recycled materials
  • the UK produces 3m tonnes of plastic waste each year, most of which is put in landfill – recycling just one plastic bottle saves enough energy to power a 60W light bulb for six hours

The destruction of forests and other habitats, pollution, illegal wildlife trade and now climate change are all damaging nature. A lot has been done to protect wildlife in the UK, and there are some good news stories, but human activity is putting nature under threat and causing species extinctions around the world. Find out how you can help.

The threat from climate change

Climate change is putting huge pressure on many natural ecosystems (communities of plants, animals and other living things, and the way they interact). As temperatures continue to rise, climate change could threaten up to a third of all land-living animal species with extinction by 2050.

Some examples of how species are affected by climate change are:

  • the first creatures thought to have become extinct due to climate change were amphibians in Costa Rica, including frogs and the Golden Toad – a change in weather patterns triggered disease outbreaks which wiped out the whole species
  • melting sea ice in the Arctic will reduce the time polar bears have to catch seals and fish easily – numbers are predicted to fall by a third by 2050
  • marine turtles are affected by changes to the beaches where they live, damage to coral reefs and changed ocean currents
  • in the UK, birds like the curlew and bearded tit are threatened by the warming and drying of the habitats where they live; and plants are affected too, like the curly-leaved buttercup and tufted sedge
  • numbers of ring ouzel, a bird living mainly in the Scottish moorlands, are falling sharply because warmer weather has affected its food supplies in summer

Habitat destruction and other pressures

Between a hundred and a thousand species become extinct each year, mainly because the habitats where they live are changing or being destroyed.

Man has already destroyed about a half of all the world’s grasslands and a third of its forests – the rate of destruction is speeding up. The World Conservation Union estimates that of the 40,000 species it tracks each year, 16,000 are threatened with extinction. This includes one in three amphibians, a quarter of coniferous trees, one in eight birds and one in four mammals.

Some examples of how species are affected by habitat loss, hunting and illegal wildlife trade include:

only 1,600 giant pandas are now left in China, and the remaining populations have become isolated from each other :

  • palm oil is found in many products including toothpaste, fuel and processed foods; the palm trees used to produce it are nearly all grown in Indonesia and Malaysia, and clearing land to grow them is widely thought to play a big part in the loss of natural forest in these countries – the only habitat where endangered orang utans live in the wild
  • in the North Sea there is evidence that the ecosystem has changed which has reduced the availability of the plankton which certain fish feed on – this, and the effects of over-fishing in recent decades, has significantly decreased many stocks of fish
  • less fish has a negative impact upon other marine wildlife including seabirds which rely on them for food – as the number of sand eels has fallen, birds such as puffins, terns and fulmars have been badly affected resulting in starvation and breeding failure
  • freshwater species have suffered some of the most dramatic declines – more than half the freshwater fish in the Mediterranean region are threatened with extinction
  • larger freshwater species such as the hippopotamus are also in difficulty because of ivory hunting and exploitation for meat, populations in the Congo, for instance, falling by 95 per cent in recent years
  • poaching is threatening rhinos with extinction – although international trade in rhino horns is banned, they are still being used in traditional Asian medicines and carved to make ornamental objects such as dagger handles

Why it matters

There are many reasons why species and habitats are important and should be protected. Biodiversity (the variety of life on the planet) is a source of inspiration and enjoyment to many people, and ultimately all human life depends on nature for its survival.

Natural ecosystems shape the planet and make human life possible. Functioning ecosystems help to regulate our climate and provide us with sources of food, water, breathable air and plant materials that are used for everything from building our homes to producing medicines.

Humans depend upon ecosystems, and for ecosystems to work they need a wide range of species – removing just one can change the whole system.

How you can help

There are many ways in which our lives affect animals and the natural environment. Buying wooden furniture for your house or garden, unless it is from a certified sustainable source, may contribute to deforestation and habitat loss. Leaving your heating on when you’re out of the house or your TV on standby contributes to climate change.

These are just a few examples. Throughout the environment and greener living section you will find ideas about what you can do: ways to help tackle the big problems like climate change, pollution and deforestation. There are also things you can do to take care of your local area, like encouraging wildlife in your garden or becoming a conservation volunteer.

Calculate your carbon footprint with your own home, office or trip carbon calculator. 1% of all profits will be given to clean air or environmental groups.

Thank you for helping save our beautiful green and clean planet.

1 Comment

  1. September 24, 2009 at 3:51 am

    […] Calculate your carbon footprint here. […]


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