How is our climate changing?

Explains what climate change is, evidence of man-made climate change, how it will affect you and how it can affect the weather.

What is climate change?

The term 'climate change' usually refers to changes in the Earth’s climate that have been observed since the early 1900s.

Greenhouse gases (GHGs) such as carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and water vapour trap infra-red radiation (heat) in the atmosphere. This is a natural process that allows our planet to be warm enough for life to flourish. However, the burning of fossil fuels since the start of the Industrial Revolution has increased the volume of GHGs, thereby trapping an increasing amount of heat in the atmosphere. Major changes in land use and farming practices around the world have exacerbated this effect since the turn of the twentieth century.

Whilst there are noticeable highs and lows in annual data sets, over longer periods of time there is an overall warming trend across the globe. As natural causes can explain only a small part of this warming, the overwhelming majority of scientists agree that this is due to rising concentrations of heat-trapping GHGs in the atmosphere, caused by human activities.

Historical GHG emissions mean that some level of climate change is inevitable, no matter how much we might try to mitigate our impacts over the coming years; the impact of past emissions will influence our climate for decades, even centuries. We therefore need to think about, and prepare for, the climate change that we cannot avoid. This will involve looking at how things like warmer temperatures, more frequent extreme weather events, and rising sea levels might impact on our daily lives and how we can best prepare, both as individuals and communities.

How will climate change affect me?

A changing climate will affect everyone, not just those living on Pacific Islands or the edge of the advancing Sahara Desert. Even if we succeed in reducing global emissions to keep us below the probable 2°C of global warming above pre-industrial levels, we will still see significant changes to our weather patterns.

In the East Riding, we will have to adapt our way of life to deal with more extreme weather events, hotter and drier summers, wetter and warmer winters, and rising sea levels. Extreme weather events, like the floods affecting East Riding in 2007, will only become more frequent if we do not work to combat climate change.

How will climate change affect the weather?

Globally, climate change will mean warmer temperatures, changeable rainfall patterns, the melting of ice sheets and glaciers, and more frequent and intense heatwave and flooding events.

The UK climate has already changed, with the top 10 warmest years recorded in the UK having occurred since 2002, based on data that goes back to the nineteenth century. The last decade (2011-2020) has been on average 1.1°C warmer than 1961-1990. Other changes observed across the UK include more annual rainfall, as 6 of the 10 wettest years have occurred since 1998, and a rise in mean sea level around the UK by approximately 1.5mm/yr on average from the start of the 20th century, excluding the effect of vertical land movement.

For more information on changes to the UK climate please refer to the annual 'State of the UK Climate report' on the Met Office website.

The Yorkshire and Humber Climate Change Adaptation Study Local Area Report (2009) predicts climatic changes up to 2050 for our region.

For the East Riding, it projects that:

  • annual average daily temperatures will rise by 1.9°C, with summer temperatures rising even more (by 2.5°C)

  • extreme cold temperatures will increase, and extreme hot temperatures will rise by 1-3.2°C

  • the number of days of snowfall will decrease by 70%

  • on average, summer rainfall will decrease by 24%

  • on average, winter rainfall will increase by 16%

  • overall annual rainfall will decrease by approximately 4-5%.

Please click on the link below to access the full report:

Yorkshire and Humber Climate Change Adaptation Study (external website)

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