Climate change refers to a range of effects that are happening as a result of the way our planet is warming. Those changes include extreme weather, long-term shifts in climate patterns, melting of ice and rising sea levels.
The majority of climate change is caused by human activities like burning fossil fuels (coal, oil and gas), cutting down forests and farming. This releases heat-trapping pollution called greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, causing the temperature of our planet to increase.
Greenhouse gases trap the sun’s energy, warming our planet and affecting many different aspects of its natural system. The greenhouse effect has been around for thousands of years, but the amount of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere has increased significantly over the past century.
Fossil fuels are the main source of the increase in greenhouse gas concentration in our atmosphere, although there is some evidence that carbon dioxide from living systems can also be a factor. The concentration of carbon dioxide in the modern atmosphere shows a fingerprint consistent with emissions from burning fossil fuels, even when accounting for natural variations in the Sun’s energy output and volcanic activity.
Global warming is accelerating, meaning that it is now happening faster than at any time in the planet’s history. This is putting people, animals and plants at risk as it changes the climate, disrupting normal balances of nature.
Temperatures are increasing and will continue to do so unless we make drastic changes to how we use energy, transport, buildings and industry. The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates that in order to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius, the world will need to drastically cut down on its greenhouse gas emissions.
There are a range of ways to reduce your greenhouse gas emissions. You can recycle, cut down on energy use, and use renewable energy sources like solar and wind power. You can also get involved in your community by changing your habits and helping out local groups.
There’s a lot that you can do to help reduce your greenhouse gas emissions, and there are plenty of great activities you can do in schools and at home to help spread the word about how climate change works and why we need to fight it. Check out our Educator Resources page to find out more.
Fingerprints of Climate Change
Scientists can trace a change in climate through observing how it affects weather, oceans and ecosystems. This is called ‘fingerprinting’ and can show how changes in the climate respond to external influences, such as changing temperatures in the Sun or volcanic activity, and internal factors, including changes in Earth’s orbit and changes in atmospheric circulation.
We can also see how climate change responds to changes in other parts of the planet, so it’s possible to use this to understand how climate might behave at a global scale. Monitoring stations across the world have records of temperature and rainfall that can be used to track climate change over time.