There is no doubt that the planet is warming up: the first decade of this century was the warmest since records began in 1850, 0.2°C warmer than the preceding one (1991-2000) - itself warmer than any before it. (The increase for the past 100 years is around 0.75°C). Atmospheric and ocean temperatures continue to rise and we see declining sea ice, a rise in sea levels and a significant increase in wildfires. Disrupted by this warming, weather patterns have been replaced by nasty surprises: unexpected floods, temperature extremes, storms and unusual drought.
In 2009, global atmospheric concentrations of GHGs reached the highest levels ever recorded - the highest for 800,000 years. Carbon dioxide (CO2) is said to be 38% higher than pre-industrial levels and changes in land use have significantly increased methane and nitrous oxide emissions. Many natural systems are already being affected by temperature increases. The Arctic has warmed double the global average over the past century and the melting of glaciers, ice caps and sheets, and thermal expansion of the oceans, has, in turn, led to an estimated rise in average global sea level of 17cm over the last century. As a result plants and creatures die, the Gulf Stream is thrown into disarray, and the destabilisation of our natural weather patterns as we knew them continues.
Here in the UK the government completed its UK Climate Change Risk Assessment (CCRA) in 2012, and updated it in 2017. It contains an overview of national risks to 2100. The CCRA identifies flooding as the greatest threat to the UK posed by climate change, with up to 3.6 million people at risk by the middle of the century. The current annual damage to properties caused by flooding is around £1.3 billion per annum, but this is expected to rise to £2bn-£12bn a year at today's prices by 2080 without intervention. Other issues highlighted by the report include:
- Increases in summer heat mortality
- Changes in wildlife migration
- Alterations in species communities as plants and animals fail to move fast enough to thrive
- Threats to food production
- Erosion from heavier rains
- Weather related threats to infrastructure and business locations
- Loss of working-time from heat stress
- Changes in fish stocks
- Wildfires in drier summers
The CCRA also concludes that, for the next 30 years at least, climate change is 'locked in'. This makes woodland creation all the more important in both helping to adapt to the new climate, and in reducing climate change beyond the next 30 years.