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What is climate change?

Climate change is a long-term shift in our average weather patterns. From more frequent extreme weather events to higher food prices, it can affect us all.

It could see areas of the world become significantly warmer, wetter, or drier over several decades.

How is Earth’s climate changing?

Earth's climate is always changing. There have been times over the past 4.5 billion years when it has been warmer and colder than it is now. 

The Earth’s temperature is at least 1.1C warmer, on average, than it was in 1880 – increasing at a rate of roughly 0.15C to 0.20C every 10 years.1

This may not seem a lot, but this small change can have a big effect. For example, it has caused some snow and ice to melt, sea levels to rise and has changed the timing of when certain plants grow.2

Some changes – such as droughts, wildfires, and extreme rainfall – are happening faster than scientists previously predicted, risking lives and livelihoods.

What causes climate change?

Scientists agree that Earth has been getting warmer in the past 50 to 100 years due to human activities – particularly the burning of fossil fuels, such as oil, gas and coal. 

When burnt, fossil fuels release carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases into the air. Known as the greenhouse effect, these gases trap the sun’s heat and cause global warming.  

Natural changes can also affect the Earth’s climate. For example, volcanic eruptions release CO2 and a slight tilt on the Earth’s axis can affect the amount of sunlight our planet receives. But according to scientists, natural events are unlikely to be causing the changes to the climate we’re seeing today.3

How is the UK Government responding?

In June 2021, the UK set a new target in law to slash emissions by 78% by 2035 compared to 1990 levels4.  It’s currently the world’s most ambitious climate change target and would bring the UK more than three-quarters of the way to net zero by 2050.

Is net zero the same as carbon neutrality?

Reaching net zero and carbon neutrality have the same result – they both remove harmful emissions. The difference is in how much, and what kind of emissions are removed.

Carbon neutrality

Carbon neutrality means ‘balancing’ or cancelling out any carbon produced, by removing the same amount from the atmosphere. For example, companies that emit CO2 in their supply chains or products may invest in ‘carbon sinks’, such as forests or oceans that absorb CO2. This is also known as offsetting.

Net zero

Net zero goes beyond the removal of just carbon emissions. It refers to all greenhouse gases, including methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O) and other hydrofluorocarbons. Net zero is an approach where organisations reduce and mitigate emissions (produced by human related activity) as much as possible first – before offsetting any remaining residual emissions.

Action to reach net zero is happening on a global scale. It would mean the amount of greenhouse gas we produce is no greater than the amount taken away.

What can you do to help?

From using less energy and water, to being more mindful about what you buy  and how you travel, there are ways you can reduce your environmental impact. 

With around 22% of UK carbon emissions coming from our homes5, our individual actions can really make a difference to help tackle climate change.