What is climate change?

The average temperature on earth is changing. But what’s causing it? And what does it mean for us?

🕑 4 minute read

Climate change is the change in average temperature of the planet.

The earth’s average global temperature has increased by 1.1°C since the pre-industrial period (1850-1900), with the last five-year and ten-year periods being the warmest since records began in 1850.

Source: World Meteorological Organization

Scientists believe that, if the earth gets another 1.5°C warmer, we’ll see extreme weather - tropical storms, flooding and intense heat.

This could be devastating to life on earth.

What is contributing to climate change?

The main culprit is carbon dioxide.

Carbon dioxide (CO2) is a greenhouse gas which traps warmth.

It’s a naturally occurring gas. It’s produced by all sorts of things, from volcanoes to ocean life.

In moderate amounts, CO2 is fine. Plants breathe in carbon dioxide and convert it to oxygen and sugar, which are great for humans.

But since the industrial revolution, there has been another major source of carbon dioxide: fossil fuels.

Now there is too much carbon dioxide, and not enough plant life to get rid of it.

What are Greenhouse Gases?

Greenhouse gasses make up the earth’s atmosphere and include water vapor (H2O), carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), and ozone (O3).

By trapping energy from the sun, they prevent the Earth from being too cold.

However, an increase in greenhouse gas emissions means that the earth’s temperature will increase. We are seeing this happen now.

What ways do humans produce greenhouse gases?

  • Using transport (24% of all emissions)
  • Producing energy (21%)
  • Running businesses (18%)
  • Running homes (15%)
  • Farming (11%)
  • Managing waste (4%)

Source: Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (PDF, 349 KB)

How does climate change impact the environment?

  • Sea levels rise – as water gets warmer, it expands, taking up more space. Melting glaciers and ice caps may also cause oceans to rise even higher.
  • Extreme weather becomes more frequent – expect hotter heat waves, longer droughts, higher and more frequent floods, and intense tropical storms.
  • Less freshwater – since glaciers store about three-quarters of the worlds freshwater.

Source: Global warming effects 

How can we help?

Reducing climate change will require a huge effort by national governments, businesses and individuals around the world.

The UK government has passed laws to bring all greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050. This means for all CO2 produced, the same amount must be cancelled out. One way to do this is to plant new trees.

But it will take much more than just this. Everyone will need to come together to create changes big enough to make a difference.

We all need to play our part. Using less single-use plastic, taking public transport and walking instead of driving will all make a difference.

For tips on what you can do, take a look at our article on how to be more sustainable in everyday life.

Last updated November 2022