Zero Carbon Cumbria - Carbon reduction action across the county.

Climate change - in a nutshell

The world’s climate is changing. On this page, you can find out what’s causing climate change, and why it’s a problem that we must all work together to urgently address.

cars almost totally submerged in a flood water next to a bridge

What is the climate? How is it different to the weather?

Weather can vary from day to day, or even hour to hour, but the climate is the ‘usual’ pattern – what the pattern is over many years. The climate of an area covers the typical temperatures for different times of the year and typical amounts of rainfall or snow, for example.

When we talk about climate change, we mean changes in the usual pattern. Climate change can refer to a specific place, a country or even the Earth as a whole. The Earth’s climate is always changing. Throughout history we have seen ice ages that have lasted thousands of years, followed by periods of warmer temperatures. What’s different now, though, is that science is telling us that the world is getting warmer, faster – and that it’s because of human actions.

What causes climate change?

Us! The science shows that human activities are causing the level of climate change that we’re experiencing now.

It’s mainly because of burning fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas. This gives off carbon dioxide, which hangs around in the Earth’s atmosphere and traps in heat. We’ve been creating more and more carbon dioxide over the past few centuries, since the Industrial Revolution began – way more than the Earth can absorb through its natural systems.

We use fossil fuels in almost everything we do. We burn petrol and diesel in our vehicles. Our power stations use coal and gas to generate electricity. We burn gas, coal and oil to heat our homes.

As well as carbon dioxide, we create some other types of gases that also trap heat in our atmosphere, like methane. They mainly come from industry, farming and waste management.

At the same time as we’ve been putting more of these ‘greenhouse gases’ into the atmosphere, we’ve also been damaging some of nature’s ways of taking them from the air and storing them – for example, trees, peat bogs that are in good condition and healthy oceans. So, it’s a double whammy.

How much global heating has there been?

The world has already warmed by around 1.1 degrees in comparison to pre-industrial times. The United Nations is calling for global efforts to limit warming to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels. Exceeding this level of warming will be ‘catastrophic’ according to the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Why is climate change a problem?

We can already see the impacts of climate change around the world, including here in Cumbria.

More extreme weather – more intense storms, dry and wet spells

Rising sea levels that threaten coastal areas

Our oceans are getting warmer and more acidic

The climate change impact in Cumbria is real and immediate.

These are already causing huge problems for people and nature.

People are having to move away from their homes in some parts of the world, because it’s too dry, too wet or too hot to live there any more. We’re seeing huge changes and declines in animal populations because of climate change, made worse by loss of habitat and other threats.

These problems will get much worse as the planet gets warmer. That’s why we must act urgently to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. And it’s why people across Cumbria are already playing their part.

What’s net zero?

We can’t stop all greenhouse gas emissions completely, but we must reduce them as much as possible, and then take actions to absorb the rest. We can do that by managing our land and seas differently – for example, by planting trees and expanding seagrass forests in the ocean, as these natural organisms capture carbon from the atmosphere and ‘fix it’ as they grow.

Once we’ve cut greenhouse gases as much as possible and we’re ensuring the rest is absorbed, then we’ll have reached ‘net zero’ emissions, and we won’t be adding to global heating.

This is why it’s so importnat that people and organisations are taking action to cut their carbon footprint and help reach Cumbria’s goal of being a net zero carbon county by 2037.

Find out more about climate change

Do you want to learn all about the causes of climate change and the solutions? Sign up for a carbon literacy course by Cumbria Action for Sustainability. There are public courses you can book onto, as well as bespoke courses for organisations.

For a superb overview, here’s a short video by Chris Stark, who leads the UK’s Committee on Climate Change. Chris was speaking to the Kendal citizens’ jury on climate change.

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