Climate change is the greatest environmental challenge facing the world today. It is believed that the resulting rise is global temperatures will change weather patterns, increase sea levels, and increase the frequency and intensity of extreme weather.
Although, most of the UK will welcome hotter and drier summers, with more consistent heat waves, and milder winters, there is a negative side to climate change. Temperature changes, currently predicted to rise between 1.1 and 6.4°C above 1990 temperatures by the end of the 21st century, will lead potentially lead to droughts and flooding.
The recent downpours and flooding has been devastating to the country as a whole, but ultimately, in the Yorkshire region three people lost their lives.
These effects of climate change could be even more devastating, as they will affect the health and living of millions of people, through food and water shortages, for example, cereal yields in Africa, India, and the Middle East, are expected to be reduced dramatically. The spread of diseases is also a risk. Irreversible loss to many of the world's endangered species, is another prediction. Poorer countries are likely to be the worse affected.
Global sea levels are also predicted to rise as a result. Again, by the end of the century, a potential rise of 20-60cm will lead to continued melting of ice caps and glaciers. This could also lead to changes in rainfall patterns and increased intensity of tropical storms. Another major problem, in increased sea levels is the possible extinction of several small islands, for example, the beautiful Maldives. This would put millions of people at risk of homelessness or worse. 80 million people are predicted to be at risk, mainly in Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh.
Climate is the average of weather experienced over a long period. This can be measured through temperature, wind levels, and rainfall patterns. During the history of the world, the planet's climate has changed many times, mainly in response to natural causes. However, the planet's overall average temperature has increased by 0.74°C in the last century, with over half (0.4°C) occurring since the 1970s. This, it is believed by many scientists, is a result of human behaviour, through carbon emissions.
In some areas, water resources for drinking and irrigation will be affected by reduced rainfall. People's lives may be put at risk from an increased frequency of droughts and flooding. An additional three billion people could suffer increased water stress by 2080. Northern Africa, the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent will be the worst affected.
Understandably, many governments around the world are trying to make changes to slow the effects of climate change, namely by convincing the public to reduce our emissions.
The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) involves most world countries with the exception of America. In 1997, they set up the Kyoto Treaty to consider how to tackle climate change and reduce Global warming.
A decade later, as the situation worsens, a number of countries have now approved additions to the Kyoto treaty. These additional measures are more powerful and legally binding.
By the end of 21st Century, the UK could be facing severe heatwaves reaching 40°C. It was temperatures like these that resulted in thousands of deaths in Europe in 2003. With the increase in temperature comes the possibility of major droughts.
Anyone who remembers the summer of 1976, will remember the crisis one long hot summer caused; water rationing, crops dehydrating, buildings subsiding, wildfires, and ultimately, deaths from the heat.
The health effects could devastating. The increase in temperatures, will lead to an increase in cataracts and skin cancer. Some scientists are even predicting wide spread tropical diseases, such as Dengue fever and West Nile virus.
Critically, any perceived benefits of the temperature increases and a warmer UK are far outweighed by the cost to society, the environment, the economy, and ultimately, our lives. However, there are ways to prevent this.
The UK government has signed up to stronger sanctions under the Kyoto Protocol and states it is fully committed to tackling climate change and Global warming. By agreeing to the new measures of the Kyoto agreement, the UK is now committed to reducing its emissions of the six greenhouse gases over the next decade to 12.5% below their 1990 levels.
Carbon dioxide is thought to be the biggest cause of global warming. Additionally, the government has pledged to cut the UK's carbon dioxide emissions by 20% by 2012.
Emissions from households contribute 31% of total UK carbon emissions. The Energy White Paper originally stated that an increase in energy efficiency could reduce emissions by 5 million tonnes, although this has now been re-estimated at 4.2 million tonnes.
In addition to to cutting greenhouse gases, the government has also set a target for producing 10% of electricity from renewable sources by 2010. This target was set as a result of a 2003 study by the Sustainable Energy Policy Network. The findings of the report stated that carbon dioxide emissions rose during that year by 1.4%, whilst the amount of energy generated from renewable sources fell.
There are several options available for generating renewable energy, such as wind energy, onshore and offshore, and hydro power.
As a completely clean form of energy production, wind energy produces no waste and is source of power is everlasting. The current most developed renewable energy technologies are focusing on wind power, this is because the UK has potentially the largest wind energy resource of any European country.
The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) has calculated, that theoretically, the UK's onshore wind could produce enough energy to meet 80% of the country's electricity needs. It estimates that 10% of the UK's current electricity could be met by using approximately only 1% of the total UK land area.
By using offshore wind, the DTI predicts the UK could meet it's electricity supply demands 10 times over. To use offshore wind, less than 1% of the country's seabed would be needed to site turbines.
Another alternative for renewable energy is hydro power. This is currently the largest source of renewable energy anywhere in the world. The UK currently uses hydro energy to produce about 1.8% of current electricity supply.
Nearly half of current UK carbon emissions are a result of energy used every day. We can all help prevent climate change by being more energy efficient and saving energy. Simple things like turning unused lights off, turning the thermostat of central heating systems down by 1°C, replacing light bulbs with energy efficient bulbs, will not only help reduce carbon emissions but help reduce bills!
If we take action now we can help prevent further damage caused by global warming and climate change, however, if we do not, then the unpredictable weather variations the country has experienced recently will continue and become more severe.