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Climate Change Action Plan: Global Implications of climate change

There has been wide debate about the causes of global warming. What is clear is that global temperatures are rising and the scientific consensus is now that human activities, including population growth, significantly affect climate change. The 20th century was the warmest century in the last 1,000 years with 0.6°C warming. The 1990s was the warmest decade in Central England since records began in the 1660s. The main influence on global climate is the emissions of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane. At present, about 36.4 billion tonnes of MtCO2 (2019 www.globalcarbonatlas.org) is emitted globally each year, mainly through burning coal, oil and gas for energy. Increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere over the last 200 years have trapped more energy in the lower atmosphere, altering our climate.

As well as the predicted temperature rise, we are experiencing changing rainfall, more stormy weather and more extreme weather events. The melting of polar ice caps will lead to an increase in sea levels and extensive flooding of low-lying areas of land. It has also been predicted that in future centuries the Gulf Stream may slow down and result in dramatic cooling of North West Europe. Predicted global impacts include flooding, drought, increased disease, famine and conflict or war because of water or food. Two overall strategies can help address these issues: mitigation and adaptation:

Mitigation– this refers to actions that reduce human contribution to the causes of climate change. This means reducing our emissions of greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide (CO2), through energy efficiency and using alternative forms of transport and energy.

Mitigation is important in the long term as it is only by reducing our greenhouse gas emissions that we can hope to minimise human-induced climate change. Many of the measures to help reduce emissions may also have other benefits such as saving money and encouraging a more sustainable society.

Adaptation- addresses the impacts and opportunities resulting from a changing climate. Irrespective of the success of mitigation efforts, there will still be some degree of unavoidable climate change. This stems from our historic greenhouse gas emissions and the persistence of these gases in the atmosphere.

Governments around the world have pledged to reduce their emissions to limit the degree of warming. The most recent was the 2016 Paris Agreement in which world leaders committed to take action to keep a rise in global temperatures this century well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels. In climate models, this 2°C rise by the end of the century represents sizeable cuts in global emissions.

The National Context of climate change

The Climate Change Committee (an independent non-departmental public body, formed under the Climate Change Act 2008 to advise the United Kingdom and devolved Governments and Parliaments on tackling and preparing for climate change) has advised that the UK government sets its Sixth Carbon Budget (i.e. the legal limit for UK emissions of greenhouse gases over the years 2033-37) to require a reduction in UK emissions of 78% by 2035 relative to 1990 levels, a 63% reduction from 2019 as an appropriate contribution to the UK’s Net-Zero target. In England, there is no overall plan on how local authorities fit into delivering Net Zero although the Climate and Ecology Bill seeks to address this.

Over half of the UK’s emissions cuts are dependent on purchasing decisions, behaviours and habits of individuals, businesses and organisations.

Local authorities are currently constrained by a lack of detailed benchmarking information, government targets and clear trajectories for decarbonising activities for energy, buildings, transport and land use. Hence this Action Plan will need to be regularly reviewed as targets, pathways and funding streams are created.