In 2019, South Ribble Borough Council declared a climate emergency, pledging to work to make the Borough carbon neutral by 2030.
This strategy summarises the global, national and local needs for such action, and how the Council will be acting during the next decade to deliver on this pledge.
What is climate change?
Climate change is the long-term shift in average weather patterns across the world. Since the mid-1800s, humans have contributed to the release of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the air. This causes global temperatures to rise, resulting in longterm changes to the climate. (16)
How are humans changing the climate?
In the 11,000 years before the Industrial Revolution, the average temperature across the world was stable at around 14°C. The Industrial Revolution began in the mid-1800s when humans began to burn fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and gas for fuel. (16)
Burning fossil fuels produces energy, but also releases greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous monoxide into the air. Over time, large quantities of these gases have built up in the atmosphere.
Once in the atmosphere, greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide form a 'blanket' around the planet. This blanket traps the heat from the sun and causes the earth to heat up.
Evidence has shown that the high levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are the leading cause of increasing global temperatures.
This effect was noticed as far back as the 1980s. In 1988, the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was set up to provide governments with information to tackle climate change. In their most recent report, the IPCC states that human activity is 'extremely likely' to be the main cause of climate change. (17)
How fast is the temperature rising?
Since the Industrial Revolution, the average temperature of the planet has risen by around 1°C. This is a rapid change in terms of our global climate system. Previously, natural global changes are understood to have happened over much longer periods of time. (It is also important to remember that the world is not warming evenly, so the temperature increase is higher than 1°C in some countries. (16))
Action on Climate Change
At the Paris climate conference (COP21) in December 2015, 195 countries adopted the first ever universal global climate deal that is due to come into force in 2020. The agreement sets out a global action plan to put the world on track to avoid dangerous climate change by limiting global warming to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and pursue efforts towards limiting to 1.5°C.
Then, in 2018, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published a report which advised that global warming must be limited to 1.5°C, as opposed to the previous target of 2°C. The IPCC's review of over 6,000 sources of evidence found that, with a rise of 1.5°C, there would be risks to health, livelihoods, food security, water supply, human security and economic growth. A rise to 2°C would be even more catastrophic. It warned that there are 12 years within which to take the serious action required to avert this crisis and avoid the worst impacts.
Nationally, the Climate Change Act 2008 introduced the UK's first legally binding target for 2050 to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80% compared to 1990 levels. Then, on 27 June 2019 the UK government amended the Climate Change Act to set a legally binding target to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions from across the UK economy by 2050. (5)
However, despite these actions, the UK is already being affected by rising temperatures. The most recent decade (2008-2017) has been on average 0.8 °C warmer than the 1961- 1990 average. All ten of the warmest years in the UK have occurred since 1990 with the nine warmest occurring since 2002.
The image below, produced by the Met Office, provides a very clear representation of the changing temperatures within the UK.
Figure 1 - changing UK temperatures (12)
And internationally, with warming at the Earth's surface, many other changes in the climate are occurring:
- warming oceans
- melting polar ice and glaciers
- rising sea levels
More extreme weather events It is clear that 'business as usual' is not an option. Change is required.
In July 2019, acknowledging the change required, South Ribble Borough Council declared a climate emergency and set a goal to become Carbon neutral by 2030 (2)
The Council committed to the formation of a Working Group on the Climate Emergency, to:
- Incorporate the Council's existing Air Quality Action Plan into its wider plans;
- Devise and propose further measures in pursuit of its goals;
- Monitor progress towards its goals;
- Report back to full Council at least four times per year on its progress in achieving its goals.