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The Threat Posed to the Planet by Climate Change

What Does 'Climate Change' Actually Mean?

Climate is determined by many dynamic and complex interactions between atmosphere, oceans, cryosphere and land surface, including vegetation. Greenhouses gases in Earth’s atmosphere play a role in this, by trapping energy from the sun, which helps to maintain Earth’s stable temperature (the ‘greenhouse effect’).

Mankind has affected this temperature regulation by releasing increasing quantities of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide into our atmosphere, mainly through burning carbon stored in fossil fuels. This means more heat is trapped by the greenhouse gases, which gradually causes the planet to warm. The complexities of climate regulation make the effects of CO2 difficult to detect, but current scientific consensus is that anthropogenic activities are definitely causing unprecedented global warming.

Predicted Climate Changes

Temperature is predicted to rise by 2 - 4.5°C (global average) by the end of this century. However the effects on climate are not limited to temperature

  • Average precipitation will increase slightly but may be delivered less evenly (e.g. heavy storms).
  • Sea levels will rise about 0.5m in the coming century.
  • El Niño and La Niña will intensify.
  • The frequency and intensity of extreme weather events will increase (e.g. more frequent extreme droughts in Africa and Asia).
  • Local effects may be important –for example, increased meltwater may inhibit or alter the Atlantic gulfstream, leaving the UK with a more Scandinavian climate.