There is good scientific evidence to show the climate is changing because of emissions of greenhouse gases resulting from human activity. The bulk of emissions derive from our demand for energy. The largest contributor is carbon dioxide (CO2), emitted when fossil fuels are burnt to meet those demands. There are also other emissions attached to industrial processes and agriculture.
The Climate Change Act (2008) made the UK the first country to establish a long-term legally binding framework to cut carbon emissions. It contains a target requiring emissions reductions by at least 100% by 2050. To limit the most damaging impacts of climate change, we need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions globally. A wider legal commitment – The Paris Agreement also exists, spanning the UK, the EU and globally, to address climate change.
But it will take more than just legislation to ensure we tackle the problem. Change will involve a combination of new technologies, processes and human behaviour. So what needs to be done?
There are significant benefits of the UK acting now to reduce its emissions:
- The world has committed to global action on climate change. By reducing its own emissions, the UK is supporting wider international efforts.
- In a future world where greenhouse gases are restricted, the cost of emitting those gases (i.e. carbon price) will be high. Early action to reduce emissions – here and elsewhere – can help reduce future costs.
- Investment in and development of low-carbon technologies will put the UK at the forefront of new and expanding global markets.
There will also be a need to adapt to climate change that cannot be avoided. The UK will need to prepare for more flooding, greater pressure on water resources, damage to natural habitats, and risks to human health from heat waves. At the same time, there could be opportunities, including reduced energy demand and fewer cold-related deaths due to milder winters.