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.