Toggle menu

Climate Change - what is it?

Climate change is the long-term shift in average weather patterns across the world.


Climate Emergency - what is it?

The Climate Emergency is an urgent issue that is caused by changes to the worlds weather patterns, specifically the world getting warmer, as a result of human activity which increases the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.


What does declaring a climate emergency mean?

It means that the Council has recognised that it needs to act on the causes and impacts of climate change. South Ribble Borough Council declared a climate emergency in 2019.


What's the difference between climate and weather?

Climate refers to long term weather patterns relating to the seasons and annual weather events.  It is measured using statistics and variations over time.

Weather is the short term (up to 7 days) conditions such as temperature, wind, rain, humidity etc. 

Climate tells you what clothes to buy.  Weather tells you what to wear.


What is the Greenhouse Effect?

Our planet is heated by energy from the sun.  

Half of the sun's heat is naturally reflected back in to space while the other half is trapped by clouds, naturally occurring greenhouse gases and particles in our atmosphere. This natural balance is what makes life on earth possible. It creates an average temperature of 14°C.  Without this process the earth's natural temperature would be -19°C and no life would survive. This natural process is called the Greenhouse Effect. 

The problems we are now facing are due to a change in this natural process. As a result of an increase in greenhouse gases and particles that are trapping more heat in our atmosphere, we are seeing an increase in the average world temperature and this is leading to changes in our climate. 

Life on earth exists because of the greenhouse effect. 

Add in more greenhouse gases and particles, then they trap more heat, increase the average temperature and this results in Climate Change. Even if the production of gases stopped immediately, because of the large amounts already present and the time it will take for them to dissipate the effect will be felt for many years to come.


What are the Greenhouse gases?

In descending order, the gases that contribute most to the Earth's greenhouse effect are:

  • water vapour (H2O)
  • carbon dioxide (CO2)
  •  nitrous oxide(N2O)
  • methane (CH4)
  • ozone (O3)
  • volatile organic compounds 

The Carbon Cycle

Carbon is a naturally occurring gas which is released when we disturb the soil, cut down plants and trees, by humans and animals breathing, by burning fossil fuels and from car emissions.

Carbon is removed from our atmosphere by a process called photosynthesis by all green plants and algae. 

Carbon is naturally stored in soil, fossil fuels, plants and oceans (called carbon sinks or stores)

Carbon is being created quicker than it can be captured and stored naturally.

Climate Change and Oceans

97% of the earth's water is in the oceans

2% is held in ice sheets and snow

1% is available for use by humans, animals, industry and agriculture across the world.  Water is not evenly distributed.

Oceans absorb 94% of the heat trapped by Greenhouse gases and 30% of carbon emissions.  Carbon is absorbed by sea grass beds, mangrove swamps and phytoplankton which provides us with more oxygen than all the trees and plants on earth. 

Absorbing extra carbon increases sea temperatures and leads to:

  • sea ice melts and reductions in size of the Arctic and Antarctic ice sheets
  • sea level rise and flooding of coastal and island communities
  • absorbed carbon reacts with sea water and leads to ocean acidification.
  • acidic oceans - kill off coral reefs and decrease the numbers of fish

It is estimated that a 1 degree rise in temperature will mean a 6 - 9-meter rise in sea level

Indicators of Global Climate Change

  • global air temperature rises - temperatures are rising quicker at the poles than at the equator.  The equatorial region is expanding over a wider area, to the north and south.
  • sea temperature rises
  • melting sea ice
  • sea level rise
  • ocean acidification
  • glaciers retreating
  • increased emission levels
  • increased carbon dioxide levels
  • increased amount of extreme weather events - floods, droughts, storms, heatwaves
  • season changes
  • animal and bird migration patterns change
  • changes in agricultural practices (including famine)

Climate Change inequalities  

Climate change is an issue that effects every one of us across the planet, but the impacts are not equally spread with many groups more disadvantaged than others.  The worst affected are:

  • indigenous populations that live off the land - changes to precipitation levels and increasing temperatures are exasperating droughts and their ability to grow crops.
  • developing countries - have less money to adapt to and mitigate the effects of climate change
  • older and younger people - are more susceptible to the impacts of poor air quality and disease
  • coastal villages - are at the highest risk of being flooded by rising sea levels
  • people living in the equatorial / tropical zones - where the temperatures are increasing fastest and forcing people to relocate.

Extreme weather events affect all the countries in the world, but the richer more developed countries have access to money to enable them to adapt and mitigate for these events by building flood defences for example.  They also have greater resilience and ability to bounce back and rebuild after the event

Water is not evenly distributed across the world with some countries having limited access to clean water supplies.

Wealth means that countries and people can recover faster and better than poorer countries and families.  They have access to more climate resilient and resistant infrastructure, are better able to adapt and recover, have better access to clean water and quality food and improved health care.

Many people across our borough will be affected climate change and rising fuel and food costs.  As a Community we are working hard to tackle this and offer local help and signpost people to funding and support wherever possible.

Our children are the generation that is going to be directly impacted by Climate Change.  A child centre approach to climate change means that we see children as powerful agents to drive change and we welcome their input and participation.  One such example is the Don't Let Go campaign and  balloon and sky lantern guidelines.

Where can I learn more?

BBC Frozen Planet series shows the impact of Climate Change

United Nations free training courses - UN Climate courses 

Free Open University Environment Courses  


International Actions on Climate Change

The effects of climate change were being investigated as far back as the 1960s.

1988 - the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was set up to provide governments with information to tackle climate change.

1990 - the first IPCC report signals that future global warming is likely.

1992 - the United Nations  conference in Rio de Janeiro creates the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change

1997 - The Kyoto Protocol  is created which aims to limit greenhouse gas emissions.  The US does not sign up.

2001 - the third IPCC report notes that global warming has become very likely

2005 - the Kyoto Protocol comes in to effect.  All major industrialised nations sign up, except the US.

2007 - The fourth IPCC report says that global warming is occurring

2015 - The Paris Agreement replaces the Kyoto Protocol and is signed by 195 countries, including the US.   This is the first major global climate deal.  The Agreement sets out a global action plan to put the world on track to avoid dangerous climate change by limiting global temperature rise to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels

2016 - The Paris Agreement comes in to effect

2018 - The fifth IPCC Report advises that global warming targets should be lowered to 1.5°C as opposed to the previous target of 2°C.  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.

2020 - COP26 postponed due to Covid but the Race to Zerois launched to mobilise support for the move to net zero.

2021 - The sixth IPCC report states that human activity has brought about rapid and widespread changes to the planet.

2021 - COP26, the United Nations climate change conference, was held in Glasgow.  Here, a pact was agreed and signed by all parties representing almost 200 countries.  The pact sets a challenge for nations to come back to COP27 in 2022 with improved 2030 targets that are in line with the Paris Agreement's goal of keeping warming well below 2°C and closer to 1.5 °C

2022 - COP27 - UN Climate Conference in Egypt - created the Loss and Damage Fund to support the victims of climate change. 

2022 - COP15 - UN biodiversity conference in China


National Actions on Climate Change

2008 - The Climate Act is created.  The UK is the first countries to commit to long term legislation on climate change

2008 - The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) is established as an independent advisory body

2012 - The UK successfully reduces its carbon emissions by 25% of 1990 levels

2015 - The UK signs up to the Paris Agreement

2017 - The UK again reduces its carbon emission levels to 43% below 1990 levels

2017 - Clean Growth Strategy  - a set of policies that aim to deliver increased economic growth whilst decreasing emissions.  Plans include ending the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by 2040 (now changed to 2030), greenhouse gas removal technology and improving energy efficiencies of homes.

2018 - 25 Year Environment Plan is launched identifying land use, land use change, agriculture and waste sectors as key areas to tackle climate change.

2019 - The CCC reports that the UK is not on track to meet its carbon emission targets at the end of 2027 (51% below 1990 levels) and must strive to reduce emissions by at least 3% each year from here onwards.  It also states that UK must reach zero emissions by 2050, if the global temperature increase is to be kept below 1.5°C.

2019 - UK government amends the Climate Act 2008 and set legally binding targets to achieve net zero by 2050.

2019 - Launch of the Green Finance Strategy

2020 - The Environment Agency launch a 5-year plan for a greener, healthier future

2020 - Government launches its Green Homes Grant Scheme  to build back better post pandemic

2020 - The government sets a new target to reduce emissions to 68% by 2030 and 78% by 2035.

2021 - Government publishes its Industrial Decarbonisation Strategy

2021 - The Environment Act  comes in to force


What does the jargon mean?

Carbon Neutral - If a business, activity etc. is carbon neutral; it does not add to the total amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere

Carbon footprint - a measure of the amount of carbon dioxide produced by the activities of a person, company etc.

Emissions - gases that cause the earth to warm up

Net zero - country - removing as many emissions as it produces

Net zero - building - designed to produce as much energy as it uses

Decarbonisation - the process of stopping or reducing carbon gases, especially carbon dioxide, being released in to the atmosphere.

Carbon offsetting - a process that tries to equalise the effect of the carbon emitted by an activity / journey by doing things that remove carbon from the environment (e.g. planting trees)

Carbon insetting - a process of equalising carbon emissions within a company and its supply chain, rather than paying for external offsetting to be done by someone else.

Share this page

Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share by email