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What is the climate and ecological emergency

When we talk about the climate crisis, we mean:

  • ‘Climate change’ and long-term shifts in Earth’s weather patterns

When we talk about the ecological emergency, we mean:

  • ‘Biodiversity loss’ and the decline or disappearance of the diversity of living things

Causes

The combustion of fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas releases greenhouse gases. These trap heat in the atmosphere and act like a warm blanket. This causes the Earth’s temperature to rise and is known as the greenhouse effect.

Scientists agree that human activity is the main cause of increased concentrations of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere over the past 150 years. People release these gases in many ways, including:

  • supply buildings with electricity
  • fossil fueled transport
  • deforestation
  • Agriculture
  • industrial and production processes

Watch this animation from the Met Office to see how the climate system works:

Influence

The average temperature of the Earth’s surface is now about 1.1°C warmer than it was at the end of the 19th century, before the Industrial Revolution. It is warmer than at any time in the past 100,000 years.

Many people think that climate change only means higher temperatures. But because life on Earth is an interconnected system, changes in one area can influence changes in all others. The impacts of climate change now include:

  • intense droughts
  • serious fires
  • rising sea levels
  • floods
  • melting polar ice
  • extreme temperatures
  • catastrophic storms
  • declining biodiversity

Although climate change impacts biodiversity loss, biodiversity loss also impacts climate change. The burning of fossil fuels is increasing global temperatures, which threatens both habitats and wildlife. At the same time, the destruction and degradation of ecosystems releases even more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than burning fossil fuels.

Climate change also has social consequences. It can affect our health and well-being, access to food and water, housing, safety and employment. Some people are more vulnerable to climate impacts, such as those living in small island states and other developing countries in the global south.

Conditions such as sea level rise and saltwater intrusion have progressed to the point where entire communities have been forced to relocate, and droughts are putting people at risk of famine. It is predicted that by 2050, 1.2 billion people could be displaced worldwide due to climate change and associated natural disasters.

Here in Westminster you may remember the floods in 2021 and the severe heat in 2022.

Floods

There were two major floods in July 2021. During one event, 3 inches of rain fell in 90 minutes. This affected around 1,000 properties in north Westminster, including a primary school, three libraries and three community centres.

Abdul Choudhury, a consultant, had to wade through floods to get out of bed and all his belongings were destroyed. Mr Choudhury said: “I literally woke up in bed and had to put my feet in the water when I got out. It was about a foot deep. The whole flat was flooded.”

Father-of-three Ollie Bishop was forced to pay £60,000 a year for insurance after his family home in Maida Vale flooded. Mr Bishop said: “It completely turns your world upside down. It’s just devastating. It’s the fear of ‘what should we do if we get flooded again?’

Record-breaking temperatures

On July 18 and 19, 2022, a record temperature of 40.3 °C was measured in Great Britain. London’s fire brigade had its busiest day since the Blitz, receiving more than 2,600 calls.

Mayor Sadiq Khan said 41 properties had been destroyed by fire.

Injustice

The emissions that cause climate change come from all parts of the world and affect everyone, but some countries produce much more than others. Did you know that the US, Europe and China alone have contributed about 60% of global greenhouse gases? Yet the countries that have contributed least to the climate crisis are suffering the most consequences. This is an example of environmental injustice.

At Westminster we have created the Environmental Justice Measure, an interactive data tool that aims to:

  • highlight the differences in how people are affected by their environment and climate change
  • show the distribution of green, sustainable resources and spaces across the city
  • Give residents the information they need to reduce negative environmental impacts
  • inform us about where and how we invest in the local environment

Discover the environmental justice measure

Action

In a series of recent United Nations reports, thousands of scientists and government critics agree that global temperature rise should be limited to no more than 1.5°C. This would help us avoid the worst climate impacts and maintain a livable climate.

We have global frameworks and agreements to guide progress:

  • United Nations reports
  • UN Sustainable Development Goals
  • UN Framework Convention on Climate Change
  • 2015 Paris Agreement

Yet current policies around the world point to a global temperature increase of 2.8°C by the end of the century.

Britain signed the Paris Agreement and was the first country to make a legally binding national commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The Climate Change Act 2008 pledged to reduce our emissions as a country by 80% below 1990 levels by 2050, and sets the foundation for the UK’s approach to tackling and responding to climate change.

Municipalities and local authorities are directly responsible for around 2 to 5% of local emissions, but can influence around a third of emissions in their area through the way their services are provided and delivered.

As a result, municipalities have a major role to play in mitigating climate change by reducing their own carbon emissions and influencing local stakeholders to do the same. As the impacts of climate change vary from place to place, it is also important that municipalities take the lead in helping local communities and infrastructure reduce risks and adapt to a changing climate.

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