What is climate change?

Climate change can be defined as “statistically significant variation in either the mean state of the climate or in its variability, persisting for an extended period (Houghton et al, 2001)”. It is extremely important to define what can be labelled as climate change, and what cannot.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate (UNFCC) states that climate change is variation in the climate, which can be attributed to human activity, either directly or indirectly, and stresses that it must be in addition to natural variation being experienced during the same time period. It is essential to distinguish between “climate change” due to human activities and “climate variability” due to natural causes. Only when we have a comprehensive understanding of these factors can we understand what effect humans are having on the composition of the atmosphere (UNFCC, 2002).Rows of lettuce growing in a field Halsall Lancashire02

The potential problem of global warming was officially recognised in 1988 when the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) established the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The IPCC was created with the intention of being an objective assessor of peer reviewed published scientific literature. It’s fundamental objective to provide a comprehensive, and impartial view, regarding the science and potential impact of climate change due to anthropogenic factors, then to use this information to look at options for potential adaptation and mitigation. This lead to the creation of the United Nation Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in 1992, a result of the first IPCC Assessment Report, which was completed in 1990.

The second IPCC assessment was published in 1995, and provided the basis for the Kyoto Agreement, which aims to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. A third IPCC report was completed in 2001, providing a comprehensive source of reference, which has been used internationally as the basis for the science and impact of global climate change. A fourth report is planned for 2007, and its scope and outline are currently under discussion (http://www.ipcc.ch).

Climate change is one of the most serious environmental challenges facing the world.  Call for action. The need to address climate change is urgent.

Climate change is a change or variability in the average weather of a region. It may be a positive change in some locations which may enhance the productivity of a region, however, the rapidity of the change will cause major disruption and there will be many more losers than gains if climate change advances as predicted and as initial indications are now beginning to show.

To become fully engaged with the issue of climate change, it is important to understand the science. Understanding how the circulation of the Earth's carbon atoms drives climate change. Climate change is caused by the persistent build-up of greenhouse gases such as Carbon Dioxide (CO2) in the Earth's atmosphere. Climate change will also alter the availability of freshwater and potable water resources.  There are a handful of other, mainly industrial, chemicals that also contribute to climate change.  The scientific opinion on climate change at the moment is that ‘the warming that has occurred in the past 50 years can be directly attributed to anthropogenic emissions.

Many people confuse the hole in the ozone layer with climate change. In fact, the hole in the ozone layer, which is now beginning to mend itself due to the efforts, and agreements, made worldwide for industry to limit and reduce ozone depleting emissions, has nothing to do with climate change.

The Kyoto Protocol is the international plan to reduce climate change pollution. But climate change is about much more than perceptions of scientific certainty or uncertainty.

For example, water vapor is not typically considered part of the climate change problem, although larger amounts of water vapour are known to be present now than in the past, and this will also have an effect on climate.

Climate change is a change in the ‘average weather' that a given region experiences, and average weather changes will be unevenly dispersed around the world, with some places experiencing much greater rises than others. Climate change in the Arctic will be greater than in most other regions, and is expected to move the permafrost boundary north by several hundred kilometers.

The issue of climate change is closely linked to other environmental issues, and to the challenge of sustainable development itself.  The impacts of climate change once thought of as unimaginable and farfetched are now occurring.  Climate change, sometimes called “global warming”, is the most serious and most complex environmental issue ever to confront the international community.

Climate change isn't a problem for the future, it's affecting people around the world today.  A vast amount of research has been done on climate change, its causes and implications.  Many positive feedbacks also exist where the effects of climate change accelerate global warming.  However, developing countries in particular are becoming more and more concerned about how climate change will affect them, and they do not possess the wealth to protect their populations from the effects of natural disasters such as flooding.

Read on throughout this web site for more information on climate change, and how you can be part of the solution.

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