Supporting detail:

Scientific evidence to help us understand climate change

The earth’s climate is changing. This change is being driven by human activity. Scientists overwhelmingly agree this is the case. Without action, the impacts of this change will be damaging and potentially catastrophic. Climate change poses a major risk to the UK’s citizens and economy, as well as the wider world. More information on the science of climate change can be found on the ‘climate change explained’ page.

We use climate science to inform international negotiations to avoid dangerous climate change, as well as the UK’s own targets of an 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. The UK Government is taking action though a range of polices to achieve our targets. We also need to understand climate change in order to protect ourselves from the worst of the impacts.

A definition of climate change

A formal definition of climate change is:

“A change in the statistical characteristics of the atmosphere (such as temperature, rainfall, pressure, or winds), oceans (such as heat content or sea level rise), cryosphere (such as extent of sea ice or length of glaciers) or land surface (such as changes in vegetation type) typically sustained over several decades or longer. A change in climate may be due to natural or anthropogenic (i.e. due to human activity) factors, or a combination of both.”

Human-induced climate change is the current, past and future change in climate being driven by greenhouse gas emissions and other human activities, such as deforestation.

When Government talks about “climate change policy”, or action to “tackle climate change”, we are talking about climate change mitigation and adaptation. Adaptation is taking steps to minimise exposure to damaging impacts of climate change, and to build resilience and reduce vulnerability to a changing climate. Mitigation is taking steps to minimise the scale of global temperature rise by reducing emissions of greenhouse gases and taking other steps, such as planting more forests.

Our work

Met Office Hadley Centre (MOHC)

Government funds the Met Office Hadley Centre (MOHC) Climate Programme, a world-leading programme of climate research and modelling.

The programme works with research councils, UK academic centres and collaborators worldwide, to build the scientific evidence that informs our policy and decision making. This includes analysis of earth observations, computer based models, climate change predictions, and assessments of the extent to which human activities have contributed to extreme weather and climate events.

DECC Earth Observations Strategy

Observing the real world is important for understanding how and why our climate is changing, and for developing better climate models. The DECC Earth Observations Strategy seeks to ensure cost-effective access to the data that is needed for climate modeling and to develop climate policy. DECC co-funds some important earth observations including:

  • the international ‘Argo’ programme, which deploys more than 3000 submersible floats that measure salinity, current velocity and temperature in the global oceans;
  • the satellite-based Along-Track Scanning Radiometer (ATSR) and Jason-3 programmes for measuring sea surface temperature and sea level respectively
  • four atmospheric greenhouse gas monitoring sites (three are in the UK and one in the Republic of Ireland), where the data are used to monitor trends, verify greenhouse gas inventories and contribute to scientific understanding of the build-up of concentrations in the atmosphere.

Avoiding Dangerous Climate Change Programme (AVOID)

DECC funds AVOID to provide evidence to inform mitigation and adaptation strategies for avoiding dangerous climate change. This evidence is delivered by a group of leading UK research institutes comprising:

We support the assessment of the impacts of climate change to advise on appropriate levels of emission reductions and to underpin adaptation strategies.

We have delivered climate impact assessments for 25 key economies, which were presented at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference of the Parties in Durban in 2011, and bilateral projects with India and China on impacts and adaptation.

UK Greenhouse Gas Inventory

We manage annual compilation of the UK greenhouse gas inventory, which is produced according to IPCC guidelines and is used to monitor the UK’s progress against the Kyoto Protocol.

It is used to show whether or not the UK is on track to meet its legally binding carbon budgets set under the Climate Change Act 2008, on the basis of advice from the Climate Change Committee (CCC).

UK Greenhouse Gas Inventory

UK emissions statistics

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)

Our scientists support and co-ordinate UK input into the IPCC, a body set up to give governments the most up-to-date assessments of the scientific, technical and socio-economic aspects of climate change. These assessments inform domestic climate policy and the UK position in international climate negotiations.

Other work we’re supporting

We are:

  • supporting NERC in studying the crucial consequences of climate change, including those on ocean acidification and the Arctic environment, which are very likely to impact on the UK in coming decades.
  • commissioning work into the possible impacts of a changing climate on UK and European wind regimes, solar energy and other renewable energy sources
  • working with international partners on forestry projections and the monitoring, reporting and verification needed for climate negotiations
  • funding desk-based research into the environmental impacts of geo-engineering proposals to counter climate change caused by greenhouse gas emissions
  • supporting global research on the governance of geo-engineering and working with NERC and MOHC to identify knowledge gaps in our understanding of the technology

Climate change statistics