Causes of climate change

Climate change is caused by the build-up of so-called 'greenhouse gases' in the earth’s atmosphere. These prevent energy received from the sun from being reflected back into space. The earth’s temperature rises and this leads to a wide range of overwhelmingly damaging consequences

Human influence

Climate change is a global issue. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is the international body for assessing the scientific evidence that relates to climate change. In its fifth and latest assessment, it stated that human influence on the climate system is clear and that recent man-made emissions of greenhouse gases are at their highest levels in history.

Long-lasting changes

Continued emission of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and long-lasting changes in the climate. For example, it is very likely that heat waves will occur more often, and that they will last longer, and that rainfall will become more intense in many regions. The oceans will continue to warm and acidify and sea levels will rise.

Serious impacts on people and ecosystems

Severe, irreversible impacts on people and ecosystems are more likely. Globally, there will be more shortages of food and water and increased coastal flooding. As a result, there will be greater poverty and displacement of people from the worst-affected regions.

Reducing emissions

Substantial emission reductions are necessary, over the next few decades, to reduce risks to the climate and increase the prospects for effective adaptation.

Projections for the UK and Wales

The UKCP09 projections provide an overview of the situation with regard to climate change in the UK. In Wales, we can expect to see more intense rainfall, more flooding in low-lying coastal areas as well as hotter, drier summers.

The projections also foresee more extremely warm days, milder and wetter winters, less snowfall and frost as well as lower groundwater levels.

Trends and variables

The conditions described above relate to general trends. The climate in the UK, however, is variable and a recent Met Office Report concluded that “we should also plan to be resilient to wet summers and cold winters throughout this century”.

Thresholds for temperature increases

Climate scientists agree that, in order to avoid runaway climate change, the global temperature rise must be kept below two degrees centigrade, compared with pre-industrial levels.

Drastic reductions in emissions

In order to achieve this, global man-made emissions will have to be reduced by 40-70% by 2050 – and to close to zero by 2100. These emissions include carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide. Carbon dioxide is the main greenhouse gas and is formed as a result of burning fossil fuels. 

A framework for the UK

The Climate Change Act 2008 set up a framework within which the UK could reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to the impacts of climate change.

Assessing risks and impacts

The legislation set medium- and long-term targets for carbon emissions over successive five-year periods, beginning with the period 2008-2012. A new independent advisory body was created, the Committee on Climate Change, and a procedure for assessing the possible impacts of climate change in the UK was set. This is known as the 'Climate Change Risk Assessment' (CCRA).

The National Adaptation Programme

The CCRA required the UK Government to prepare a National Adaptation Programme for those matters for which it is responsible. It gave both the UK and Welsh Governments 'Adaptation Reporting Powers' – powers to direct other organisations, or 'Reporting Authorities', to prepare reports on:

  • The current and future impacts of climate change on each organisation
  • The respective authorities' proposals for adapting to climate change

Devolution and climate change

Many aspects relating to addressing climate change are devolved matters. The Welsh Government published its Climate Change Strategy in October 2010. It has committed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions over which it has control by 3% per year from 2011 onwards.

The Welsh Government has also prepared Statutory Guidance on adapting to climate change for Reporting Authorities in Wales. Natural Resources Wales is one such authority.

Sectoral Adaptation Plans

On a wider scale, the Welsh Government is preparing five 'Sectoral Adaptation Plans' (SAPs) for five key areas: the natural environment, infrastructure, communities, health, and business and tourism.

The Climate Commission for Wales

In 2007, the Welsh Government set up the Climate Change Commission for Wales. This brought together the main political parties, various sector interests, delivery bodies, academics and climate change experts, in order to support delivery of the Welsh Government's climate change work in Wales.

The Commission has a number of subgroups, including one on adaptation. Natural Resources Wales currently chairs this subgroup.

Last updated