What is Climate Change

The climate is the long-term pattern of day-to-day weather. Climate change is the long-term shift in average weather patterns across the world.

Since the industrial revolution in the 1800s, human activity has contributed to the release of greenhouse gases into the air. This causes global temperatures to rise, resulting in long-term changes to the climate. These changes happen because greenhouse gases act like a blanket on the earth which traps the heat from the sun and causes the earth to heat up.

Often when we talk about human induced climate change, we refer to carbon dioxide, also known as CO₂. This is because CO₂ is the most common greenhouse gas produced by human activity. During the 20th and 21st century, data compiled by the Met Office shows that the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has risen substantially:

A met office graph displaying a linear increase in Carbon Dioxide concentration in parts per million from the years 1960 to 2020

At the same time, the effect of this change in the atmosphere has caused average global temperatures have increased:

A met office graph showing the increase in global average temperatures from 1850 to 2022. The line graph shows that global average temperatures are now around 1.2 degrees Celsius higher than in 1850

Whilst warmer temperatures may not sound bad thing, an increase in average temperatures means that the extreme temperatures we extreme temperatures we experience in a year will likely be much higher.

Because the Earth is a complex system where everything is connected, warmer average temperatures can also influence other changes as well. The knock-on effects of rising average temperatures now includes intense droughts, water scarcity, severe wildfires, rising sea levels, flooding, melting polar ice, catastrophic storms, and declining biodiversity.

Page last updated: 6 January 2023

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