The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), established by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), has reported that evidence for climate warming is now "unequivocal" and furthermore that there is a “95% certainty that human activity is the dominant cause of observed warming since the mid-20th century”. Climate change threatens the basic elements of life for everyone - access to water, food production, health and use of the land and environment. If no action is taken to reverse climate change, the effect in Wales could be hotter and drier summers, milder and wetter winters, and increased likelihood of flooding in coastal areas.
United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change
The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is an international treaty which sets an overall framework for intergovernmental efforts to tackle the challenge posed by climate change. The UNFCCC entered into force in 1994, with the objectives of sharing information and best practice on reducing emissions of greenhouse gases, and adapting to the expected impacts of climate change. The Kyoto Protocol is an international agreement linked to the UNFCCC, which sets targets for a number of industrialised countries and the European Community for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Countries which signed up to the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol are legally committed to reducing emissions by 5.2% compared to 1990 levels by 2012. In 2012, an amendment to the Kyoto Protocol (the Doha Amendment) agreed that there should be a second commitment where new targets will be set for 2020. The Paris Agreement in 2016 builds upon the Convention and – for the first time – brings all nations into a common cause to undertake ambitious efforts to combat climate change and adapt to its effects, with enhanced support to assist developing countries to do so. To reach these ambitious goals, appropriate financial flows, a new technology framework and an enhanced capacity building framework will be put in place, thus supporting action by developing countries and the most vulnerable countries, in line with their own national objectives. There will also be a global stocktake every 5 years to assess the collective progress towards achieving the purpose of the Agreement and to inform further individual actions by Parties.
UK Air Quality and Climate Change
It is not just greenhouse gases in the atmosphere that cause climate change. Air quality pollutants such as particulate matter also contribute to the global climate. Some types of particles reflect light and heat energy from the sun and therefore have a cooling effect in the atmosphere. Other particulate species absorb and re-emit radiation which causes a net warming effect.
The management strategies for both greenhouse gases and air quality pollutants need to take into account the synergies between the two types of pollutants. Reducing the ambient concentrations of some air quality pollutants will benefit public health, vegetation and ecosystems, and help to reduce global temperatures. However, policy makers are aware that there is a trade off for other pollutants, as reducing the ambient concentrations of sulphates, nitrates and ammonia will have a net warming effect in the atmosphere.
In 2007 the UK Air Quality Expert Group published a report called Air Quality and Climate Change: A UK Perspective (PDF). The report identified a number of actions, in addition to abatement, that can be taken to reduce emissions of air quality and climate active pollutants. These include:
- Switching from coal to natural gas for power generation. This will reduce CO2 emissions for each kilowatt generated and emissions of SO2 and NOx will also be reduced
- Use of new technologies in road transport, for example hybrid vehicles, hydrogen from natural gas or from renewables, to reduce CO2 emissions for each kilometre travelled and to reduce emissions of NOx and particulate matter
- Efficiency improvements in domestic appliances and industrial processes, for example through technical developments. This will reduce emissions of both types of pollutant, but efficiency measures sometimes result in increased demand, which must be avoided.
Wales Climate Change Strategy
The Welsh Government is committed to working with the UK Government, the other devolved administrations, the statutory, voluntary sector and business partners in Wales, and the community to tackle the threat of climate change. The Welsh Government Climate Change Strategy for Wales builds upon the targets and approach outlined in previous documents. It contains a number of specific proposals to enable Wales and the UK to meet targets set out by the Kyoto Protocol and Climate Change Act 2008. These proposals focus on helping people to make climate-friendly choices, leading by example by building climate change into Welsh Government decisions, and improving energy efficiency in the following areas:
- Agriculture and land management
The overall aim of the strategy is to reduce the direct emissions of all greenhouse gases by 3% each year (including electricity consumption but excluding emissions from heavy industry and energy generation). However, many of the actions identified by the Climate Change Commission for Wales and laid out in the strategy documents will have wider benefits for Welsh communities. The creation of a low carbon economy will present business opportunities and create jobs across the country, and there are clear health and monetary savings to be made by individuals and organisations changing their behaviour.
For more information on climate change in Wales visit the Welsh Government Climate Change website