What is climate change and how can we stop it?

Since the pre-industrial period, human activities are estimated to have increased the Earth’s global average temperature by about 1 degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit), a number that is currently increasing by 0.2 degrees Celsius (0.36 degrees Fahrenheit) per decade. It is undeniable that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean, and land.

 

What has caused climate change?

Changes observed in the Earth’s climate since the early 20th century are primarily driven by human activities, particularly fossil fuel burning, which increases heat-trapping greenhouse gas levels in the Earth’s atmosphere and raising the Earth’s average surface temperature.

The concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has risen from around 280 parts per million (ppm) in pre-Industrial time, to 413 ppm as of early 2020; a concentration that is unprecedented in recorded history. Scientists have reported that we need to return to a ‘safe’ concentration of 350 ppm by 2100 in order to stabilise global warming.

The largest human cause of carbon dioxide emissions is our global energy system. Transforming the global energy system is one of the most significant ways we can reduce greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate climate change.

As of 2019, approximately 81% of the world’s primary energy supply still comes from fossil fuels, (specifically, coal, oil, and natural gas), which result in carbon emissions both upstream (in the extraction and production of the energy) and downstream (during the final consumer use of the energy).  Continued reliance on fossil fuel-based energy sources is a barrier to emissions reductions, particularly as energy demand continues to increase around the world.

 

What can we do to stop climate change?

  • Keep fossil fuels in the ground

Fossil fuels include coal, oil and gas. The more that are extracted and burned, the worse climate change will get. We need to move our economies away from fossil fuels as soon as possible.

  • Invest in renewable energy

Changing our main energy sources to clean and renewable energy is the best way to stop using fossil fuels. These include technologies like solar, wind, wave, tidal and geothermal power.

  • Switch to sustainable transport

Petrol and diesel vehicles, planes and ships use fossil fuels. Switching to electric vehicles and finding alternative fuel solutions for plane travel will not only help stop climate change but will also reduce air pollution too.

  • Help us keep our homes warm 

Homes shouldn’t be draughty and cold, especially those that have been built more recently. However, in the UK we have a lot of old stock houses that do not have the same level of insulation as newer builds and industry needs to find suitable solutions to insulate houses and switch from gas boilers to a clean energy-driven solution.

  • Restore nature to absorb more carbon

The natural world is very good at cleaning up our emissions, but we need to look after it. Planting trees in the right places or giving land back to nature through ‘rewilding’ schemes is a good place to start. This is because photosynthesising plants draw down carbon dioxide as they grow, locking it away in soils.

 

What will happen to the UK economy if we don’t stop Climate Change?

There is a strong case for moving the UK economy onto a greener footing. According to the Stern Review, the global costs of climate change could be between 5% and 20% of GDP per annum if we fail to act. The net costs of mitigation in the short to medium term will be higher if global action is delayed or if there is uncertainty about the investment and changes in behaviour needed to make the transition.

 

How important are Green Skills?

The transition to a green economy requires a workforce with the right skills. This includes not only skills in the low carbon and environmental goods and services sector, but also those needed to help all businesses use natural resources efficiently and sustainably and to be resilient to climate change.

 

There will be both opportunities and challenges for businesses from the transition to a green economy. Some sectors will see increased demand for goods and services. Some sectors will need to transform aspects of their business models to reduce their environmental impact. There will be a significant increase in green business sectors such as low-carbon energy generation and climate change adaptation services. But there will also be opportunities in the wider economy – in sectors such as business and professional services, retail, automotive, construction, electronics and other manufacturing sectors.

Both new and existing technologies, production processes and business models will be used to reduce the use of resources, waste, carbon emissions and other environmental impacts across supply chains. Innovation will also be required to lower the cost of key ‘green’ technologies and improve their performance. Businesses need to be looking towards the future and ensuring that they have the right people in place with the skills and expertise to help them adapt to the changes that are coming.

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