Understanding climate change

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Our world is changing. There is overwhelming consensus within the scientific community that human activity is causing our climate to change at a rapid and unnatural rate. 

Ruined cropsClimate change is impacting life across the globe and we don't have to look far to see its effects. In the UK we have witnessed extremes in weather over recent years. March 2012 was the fifth driest March recorded in the UK since records began in 1910, whereas April 2012 was the wettest April. Worldwide numerous weather events have been linked to climate change.

Globally temperatures were the warmest on record in 2015, breaking the records set in 2014 and surpassing Met Office expectations. But 2016 has now surpassed even these temperatures to set the new record.

What is the greenhouse effect?

Our earth is surrounded by a natural mixture of gases that shape our climate and weather patterns. These gases trap the right amount of heat inside the atmosphere to shape the environmental conditions necessary to sustain life on the planet. 

Around 100 years ago, humans began burning large quantities of fossil fuels such as petrol, oil and coal, to produce energy. These fuels are now essential for everything we need including light, heat, transport and most of the products we use daily. The problem is that when we burn these fuels, we release greenhouse gases (GHGs) such as carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (NO) into the atmosphere. We currently emit around 30 billion tonnes of GHGs each year from human activities. The result of adding such a large volume of GHGs is that more and more heat is trapped in the atmosphere. 

Global Warming Diagram

What action is being taken on climate change?

At the Paris Summit in 2015 almost 200 nations agreed to limit global warming to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels. This is because the scientific evidence shows that above this point changes inthe climate could be irriversable.

Since the climate doesn't respond immediately to changes in atmospheric gas concentrations, we are currently experiencing climatic changes as a result of previous decades' emissions. To prevent harmful and destructive climate change in the future, we need to act now to reduce our emissions.

Most countries' governments have now begun to implement frameworks to reduce their emissions. The UK Government has committed to reduce our emissions by 80% by 2050 (from a 1990 level) and sets out the strategy to achieve this in The Carbon Plan.

What is the Council doing?

The Council have been taking action to reduce emissions for many years. In 2006, St Albans City and District Council declared our commitment to tackling climate change by signing the Nottingham Declaration on Climate Change. As part of this we set ourselves a challenging target to reduce emissions across the District by 3% every year from the 2006 level, to achieve a 60% reduction by 2025. We put in place a plan of action to achieve greenhouse gas emissions reductions across the District and within our own buildings, operations and services.

In 2016 we have reaffirmed our commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and adapting to future impacts of climate change. Our Climate Change Action Plan sets out the actions we are taking within our work as estate manager, community leader and service provider. You can also find out what progress we've made over the last year here.

The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) publishes area-wide greenhouse gas emissions data each year. Overall emissions decreased by 24% between 2005 and 2015 and as a District we were just 6 KtCO2 away from our cumulative reduction target. The figures are summarised here.

2017 Regional CO2 emissions

We continue to play an active role in initiatives to reduce emissions both from our own operations and across the District. Find out more by following the links below.

  • Energy - Our approach to reducing domestic energy consumption across the District is set out in our 2017-2019 Home Energy Conservation Plan. You can also find our most recent Progress Report here

  • Transport - We work with Hertfordshire County Council and local transport providers to improve local public transport services and infrastructure. Over previous years a number of projects have been completed including the provision of real-time bus information at bus stops, updated bus route maps, purchase of two hybrid buses and the introduction of multi-operator bus tickets. Find out more at our transport pages here. 

  • Internal - We are working to reduce emissions from our own energy and transport use, as well as from our largest contractors. Our latest Greenhouse Gas Emissions Report is available online. We reduced our overall emissions by 17% between 2008 and 2017, having made significant improvements to our buildings, including the redevelopment of three of our leisure centres to high environmental standards. Find out more about what the Council is doing to reduce it's own impacts here. 

What can you do?

Ultimately we can't achieve this target on our own. We need residents and businesses to play their part in reducing their own emissions. There are many ways that you can help, from simple lifestyle changes, to home improvements, which could save you money.

Date of last review: 17 August 2017