Climate change: The basics

What is it and what can be done?

What is climate change?

Climate change describes the long-term changes to the global temperature and weather patterns. The world’s climate has continually changed but human activities like burning fossil fuels, deforestation, agriculture and manufacturing are making that change happen at a much faster rate. 

Our earth is 1.1°C warmer than it was in the 1800s, with the last ten years being the warmest so far. Here in the UK the most recent decade has seen temperatures around 0.8°C warmer that the average from 1961-1990; all ten of the warmest ever years in the UK have happened since 1990.

Source: Global-average temperature records - Met Office

The effects of unchecked climate change are well documented: warming and rising sea levels, flooding, fire, drought, more damaging and unpredictable weather patterns and the destruction of our ecosystem. These changes are having a very real and direct impact on people around the world; their homes, businesses and futures, some of which are increasingly evident when we turn on the news. Whether the resulting impacts are as extreme as famine or, at the other end of the scale,  simply having to pay more to protect our homes from flooding, the effects of climate change will touch each and every one of us.

What’s happening?

As fossil fuels are extracted and burnt to power our world, greenhouse gases like carbon and methane are released into the atmosphere, which then destabilises the climate. Fossil fuels are by far the main contributor to this instability with coal, oil and gas being responsible for 75% of all greenhouse gases. We might think of this warming as only affecting the atmosphere, but 90% of climate change is happening in the ocean. This directly affects sea levels, increasing flooding and destructive weather events like hurricanes, while also destroying the finely balanced biodiversity in our seas. 43% of what's produced goes into the atmosphere with the rest being absorbed by peatlands,  trees, plants, soil  and the ocean. Deforestation interrupts this process as, not only does it reduce the amount of trees available to absorb carbon dioxide, but cutting them down and burning them releases the carbon they have absorbed back into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide.

Global greenhouse gas emissions by sector
Source: Climate Watch, the World Resources Institute (2020)

The global response

Scientists are in the main agreed that human activity is responsible for the climate crisis we see today, but if it can be caused by us, we should be able to do something about it too. The Paris agreement which was adopted back in 2015 by 195 countries stated that by aiming to keep the average global temperature to 1.5°C, this would slowdown or even mitigate the worst impacts of climate change. To get to this number there needs to be a worldwide reduction of 48% in carbon emissions by 2030 and with net zero a reality by 2050. Reaching the 1.5°C target very much depends on the global response from governments on how to Iimit greenhouse gas emissions. 

Montreal protocol 1987 – Ratified by every country in the world to stop producing Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) to prevent damage to the ozone layer 

UN framework Convention on Climate Change 1992 – The first global agreement to directly deal with climate change which established the Conference of Parties (COP) for international discussions on dealing with greenhouse gases 

Kyoto protocol 2005 – The first legally binding climate treaty where countries were required to reduce emissions. Major carbon producers wouldn’t act on it including the USA who retracted their signature

Paris Agreement 2015 – The most significant global agreement where a commitment was made to keep the average global temperature rise 1.5°C and an ambition of net zero emissions was set. It required all countries to set reduction limits which are assessed by each country every five years. These interim targets are known as Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), which feed into Long-Term Strategies (LTS). 2023 will see countries assess current NDC pledges and progress to date. 

The UK response

As part of the UK’s commitment to meeting its net zero target by 2050 (Scotland’s net zero commitments are different), the government published its key policies, which include:

  • Decarbonising electricity generation by 2035 
  • An end to the sale of new diesel and petrol cars and vans by 2030
  • Investment in hydrogen production
  • Funding to be made available for households to improve energy efficiency and install low carbon heating systems
  • A commitment to improve nature and woodland across 30,000 hectares
  • New regulations for homes to meet improved EPC ratings Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) property rules are changing | Handelsbanken)
Find out how we’re playing our part here at Handelsbanken.

There’s much more to it

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A wealth of information is available about the climate crisis covering science and research, debate and discussion on worldwide action and our own plans here in the UK, how ultimately it will affect everyone and what we can and should be doing.

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