The effects of climate change are everywhere. Arctic and Antarctic ice is melting, leading to rising sea levels. The frequency and strength of storms is increasing, leaving destruction in their wake. And rainfall patterns are shifting, causing devastating droughts and floods.
As our climate breaks down, billions of people are already struggling to cope and it’s the poorest who are being hit hardest. Powerful cyclones have devastated the lives of millions of people in the Philippines. Forest fires in Russia and Europe have covered cities in thick polluting smoke. And closer to home, catastrophic floods have turned lives upside-down in Yorkshire, Somerset and Cumbria.
In drier, hotter conditions, wildfires rage out of control, reducing mighty forests to ash. The oceans are warming and the water is becoming more acidic, causing mass coral die-offs and the loss of breeding grounds for sea creatures. Delicate ecosystems that are home to insects, plants and animals struggle to adapt quickly enough to the changing climate, putting one million species at risk of extinction. That means our food security, health and quality of life are all under threat.
The state of the climate and the health of our planet’s living systems are intimately linked, and changes in one will radically affect the other.
Who is responsible
It’s the use of fossil fuels – coal, oil and gas – that’s the main problem. Burning them has released carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases which were locked deep within the Earth. Because of this, the amount of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere has rocketed. It’s now at levels not seen in millions of years, before humans even existed. Carbon dioxide traps heat from the sun and as a result our planet is now warming fast. The UK’s top ten warmest years have occurred since 2002, and this trend is set to continue.
The loss of forests and the declining health of our oceans has also made the situation worse. Both forests and oceans play vitally important roles in regulating our climate. Photosynthesising plants and plankton draw down carbon dioxide as they grow, locking it away in soils and rocks. Cutting down forests on an industrial scale destroys giant trees which suck up huge amounts of carbon. Meanwhile, overfishing and pollution damage the oceans which help keep our climate stable.
Despite the signs of the climate breakdown, big polluting corporations responsible for the majority of carbon emissions continue to carry on mining and burning fossil fuels. Major oil companies including BP, Exxon and Shell have spent hundreds of millions of pounds trying to delay or stop government policies that would have helped tackle the climate crisis. Industries including banks, car and energy companies have also profited off the fossil fuel industry. It is obvious now that these industries are knowingly putting money over the future of our planet and the safety of its people.
With such a huge crisis facing the entire planet, the international response should be swift and decisive. Yet progress by world governments has been achingly slow. Many commitments to reduce carbon emissions have been set, but few are binding and targets are often missed. Despite wanting to be seen as a climate leader, the UK government has continued to fall short of what’s needed to meet targets and has not yet prepared the country for the consequences of climate change. There’s still time for them to turn this around – and there are clear things they can do – but they need to take bold action now.
How to stop climate change
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed, that climate change is too big to solve. But we already have the answers, it’s just a question of making them happen.
Fossil fuels need to be quickly replaced with cleaner, renewable energy like wind and solar power. Governments and companies need to further invest in low carbon transport solutions.
We need to stop destroying forests for intensive agriculture such as cattle farming and palm oil plantations, allowing the trees to regrow and planting hundreds of millions more. And creating ocean sanctuaries will provide protected areas in which sea life can flourish away from the threats of industrial fishing, helping to restore the oceans’ natural balance.
Around the world, millions of us are taking steps to defend our climate. Indigenous Peoples are trying to keep out fossil fuel industries that want to destroy their land or put their water supply at risk from oil spills. Communities in the Pacific Islands, who are facing sea level rise and more extreme weather, are using their strength and resilience to demand world leaders take quicker climate action. Tens of thousands of school strikers and people from all walks of life have taken to the streets demanding a solution to the climate emergency.
Over the years, Greenpeace has challenged oil companies chasing new supplies. We’ve also called out the UK government for their failure to act fast enough on the climate emergency. Meanwhile, ordinary people have blocked tankers and fracking rigs. And we’re letting everyone know that renewable energy is the answer to fossil fuels.
Joining together means we can help build momentum and increase the pressure on the government and corporations. We’ve had some wins, but there’s still a lot more we need to do to protect our climate.