What is climate change?

What is climate change?

Climate change is the large-scale, long-term shift in the planet's average temperature and weather.

While the Earth’s climate has constantly changed — even long before humans came along – scientists have observed unusual changes more recently, including a much faster rise in average temperatures than would have been expected over the past 150 years.

What has caused climate change?

Since the Industrial Revolution of the mid-1800s, humans have released large amounts of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases – that is, gasses that let sunlight pass in but prevent the heat it brings from leaving the atmosphere - into the air.

This activity – linked to the burning of fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and gas for fuel - has already caused irreversible climate change; the impacts of which are being felt around the world and here in Newcastle.

What effect does this have?

Since pre-industrial times, human activities have caused approximately 1ºC of global warming.

At the current rate, we will reach 1.5ºC between 2030 and 2052.

Global warming has a number of effects, including:

  • Rising sea levels
  • Shrinking mountain glaciers
  • Ice melting at a faster rate than usual in Greenland, Antarctica and the Arctic
  • Changes in flower and plant blooming times.

What is being done to tackle climate change?


The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) aims to ‘stabilise greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous human-induced interference in the climate system.”

The 2015 Paris Agreement was the first comprehensive global agreement to tackle climate change.

Countries committed to “holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C, recognizing that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change.”

In the UK

Since the 2015 Paris Agreement, a special report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) outlined a pressing need to hold global warming at 1.5°C – something that requires massive and rapid change with deep emissions reductions in all sectors.

In response the Government commissioned the UK’s Committee on Climate Change (CCC) to assess what this means for current UK targets, policy and obligations.

Published in May 2019, the CCC report concluded that the UK can reduce emissions to Net Zero by 2050, and that this could cost less than 2% of the UK's Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

In response to the CCC report, the Government amended the Climate Change Act 2008 and enshrine into law a 2050 Net Zero target for the UK – making it the first major economy in the world to make such a legally binding commitment.

In Newcastle

In April 2019 Newcastle City Council declared a Climate Emergency.

This declaration made the commitment to create a new climate change strategy with the aim of achieving Net Zero status by 2030 and to establish a climate change convention.

Find out more about it on our Climate Emergency page.