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1. The Challenge and Opportunity of Climate Change

1. The Challenge and Opportunity of Climate Change

1.1 Global Effects and Impacts

Our planet’s climate is changing and warming is accelerating. Globally, 2010-2019 was the warmest decade since records began in 1850 and each decade since 1980 has been warmer than the preceding one. 1 2019 was the second warmest year on record, 1.1°C above pre-industrial levels 2 (2016 is currently the warmest) 3 and 2020 is on course to be the hottest. 4 The UK’s warmest ten years ever recorded have all been since 2002. 5

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has concluded it is extremely likely that our emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG) have been the dominant cause of this warming. 6 The greenhouse effect occurs when GHGs, such as carbon dioxide and methane, in the atmosphere trap some of the sun’s heat. This process makes Earth warmer and over the last 12,000 years has allowed humanity to thrive.

However, since the industrial revolution, human activities, such as the burning of fossil fuels for heat, electricity and transportation, deforestation and intensive agricultural practices, have been changing the balance of the greenhouse effect. The increased levels of GHGs mean we are trapping more heat and causing our planet to warm at an unprecedented rate. 7

This warming is causing more extreme storms, droughts, heat waves, melting ice, ocean acidification and rising sea levels. The impacts of these changes are widespread and immense in scale. Figure 1 summarises these changes to the climate system and the impacts arising: from flooding to food insecurity, health implications, international migration and unparalleled loss of biodiversity.

Figure 1.1 – Impacts of climate change, with kind permission of the Met Office8

Climate change is not just an environmental problem. It has been described as “humanity’s greatest threat“ by Sir David Attenborough; 9 as the “biggest threat to the global economy” by the World Economic Forum; 10 as the “greatest threat to global security” by the UN Security Council; 11 and the “greatest ever threat to human rights” by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. 12

1.2 Evidence of Climate Change in the UK and Devon

1.3 Climate Projections

1.4 Climate Justice

1.5 The Opportunity

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