Climate Change Risks and Solutions
People are changing the atmosphere and the ocean by burning fossil fuels, and drastically changing the way land is used through urban development, deforestation, farming and pollution. These changes result in major impacts to the environment.
We have already experienced 1oC of warming since pre-industrial levels (roughly defined as before 1850).
Without major global action we are on course for further significant warming of the climate.
This graph shows the average global temperature for each month, from 1850 to 2017. The temperature increases as you move away from the centre of the circle. (Met Office)
Damaging impacts from climate change are already happening, including, the loss of Arctic sea ice, heatwaves, droughts, increases in extreme weather events and widespread damage to coral reefs and ocean ecology.
Burning fossil fuels releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, the main driver of global warming. In the ocean, the chemical uptake of carbon dioxide causes it to be more acidic, leading to ocean acidification. Methane, nitrous oxide and ozone are three other important greenhouse gases that contribute to warming the climate.
We need to understand what will happen over the coming decades and century as a result of people continuing to use fossil fuels. For this we use Earth system models to simulate the future climate that might result from humans using different amounts of fossil fuel use.
Scientists are developing scenarios of the future that show how we can reduce the human impact on our climate – leading to a safer future.
Everyone can take actions to reduce the impact of climate change. Some examples are included on this page alongside the risks of climate change.
It is already clear that society will need to live very differently in a low carbon sustainable world.
Extreme weather is becoming more intense and frequent, with increasing evidence linking these events directly to climate change. Flooding events have become a regular occurrence in the UK.
The 2015/16 floods caused economic damages of over £1.3 billion. A combination of sea level rise and localised storm surges associated with extreme storms will cause serious flood events in the future.
A recent study highlighted that 250 million people worldwide will be at risk of flooding in the next 80 years and economic risk due to flooding could be around $US11 trillion .
Solution: Renewable Energy
Replacing fossil fuels with renewable energies, such as, wind, solar, geothermal, hydroelectric, will ensure there is a substantial reduction in the use of fossil fuels and emission of carbon dioxide.
The UK currently produces about 27% of its energy needs through renewable energies, but there is scope for much more.
The 2010s was the warmest decade since records began. In August 2003, the UK experienced heatwave conditions lasting 10 days; resulting in 2,000 deaths.
During this heatwave, a record temperature of 38.5 °C was recorded. By 2050, heatwaves like that seen in 2019 are expected to happen every other year .
Solution: Retrofitting buildings
Ensuring existing homes are low-carbon and resilient to the changing climate is a major priority. Homes should be made more energy efficient through the use of: low-carbon sources of heating, such as heat pumps and heat networks; loft and wall insulation and shading .
Climate change will add to the pressures on water supply through changes to temperature, rainfall patterns and river flows .
Even low population growth and modest climate change scenarios suggest severe water supply deficits in large parts of the UK.
Solution: Water efficiency
On average 140 litres of water are used per person per day in the UK.
Reducing this amount to 100 litres per day through using water efficient devices, developing a water saving culture and better water resources planning is a key priority in the UK .
Risk: Food Supply
Food supply and affordability will be affected by climate impacts on domestic and international food production and prices.
Extreme weather events can affect food supply and, in the longer term, climate change may change what type of food can be grown where .
Solution: Food opportunities
UK agriculture and forestry may be able to increase production with warmer weather and longer growing seasons, with the possibility of growing new types of crops.
These opportunities will be severely limited unless action is taken to address declining soil quality and decreasing water availability . Eating a more plant-rich diet is beneficial both for your health and the environment.
Risk: Ocean Warming & Acidification
The ocean absorbs around a quarter of the carbon dioxide released by human activities – making the ocean more acidic. Asa result shelled animals and corals find it difficult to build and maintain their shells, as their building blocks (carbonates) are less available. Ocean warming along with acidification is causing coral bleaching. The entire marine food chain relying is under threat.
Solution: Sustainable transport
Reducing our reliance on fossil fuel transport will make a major contribution to reducing climate change. Road transport currently accounts for around 24% of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions .
More cycling, walking and use of ultra low emission vehicles are all routes to more sustainable transport. Plus, the benefits would include cleaner air and getting fitter.
Risk: Ice Sheets Melting
Ice sheets in the Antarctic, Greenland and other parts of the world are losing ice faster than ever previously seen, which could mean that they collapse causing significant sea-level rise.
The ice-sheets might start melting enough this century so that the process becomes irreversible.
Solution: Natural climate solutions
Preserving existing forests, reforesting degraded areas, restoring wetlands and other ecosystems, and minimising emissions from farmland, are some of the natural solutions that could be used to ‘soak up’ carbon dioxide.
It’s estimated around 30% of the carbon dioxide produced each year could be locked up in our natural environment .
Risk: Sea Ice Disappearing
Arctic sea ice is a sensitive indicator of climate change.
The extent of sea ice changes from year-to-year, but in the last 40 years the September arctic sea ice extent has decreased by an area the size of India, Bangladesh and Bhutan combined, with major consequences for the Arctic climate.
Solution: Consumer goods
In the UK, imports of consumer goods likely account for around a third of our climate emissions .
This level of consumption is not sustainable. Reducing our consumption of materials will be of benefit to the whole environment by reducing emissions, use of natural resources and pollution.