What is climate change and how will it affect the UK?

The greenhouse effect. The sun's rays warm the Earth. Some heat escapes into space through the atmosphere, Some heat trapped by greenhouse gases in the atmosphere travels back to Earth.

According to the Met Office, climate change is the long-term change in climate and is usually used in the context of man-made climate change.

The greenhouse effect is the term used to describe the warming of the Earth. The diagram shows this. If there were no greenhouse gases the Earth would be a frozen, lifeless ball in space, but too many gases and the planet warms up causing dangerous climate change.

Due to human activities such as burning fossil fuels and cutting down trees, greenhouse gases have increased and so increased the heat trapped in the atmosphere. The main greenhouse gas is carbon dioxide CO2.

We can expect our climate to change to be hotter and wetter with more extreme weather.

In the UK, 40% of CO2 emissions are caused by individuals, mostly from energy used in the home, driving and air travel.

The effects of climate change can be seen in the UK and around the world. UK temperatures have already risen. Globally, extreme weather is predicted to become more common and to have a negative impact on humans, animals and plants.

Climate change will affect many aspects of our lives in the UK, our environment, business and public services. Scientists have identified some of the likely effects of this climate change:


  • It is likely that average temperatures in the UK will rise. 
  • Hotter summer temperatures will become more frequent and very cold winters will become increasingly rare.


  • The amounts and frequency of rain will change. 
  • Winters will be wetter and summers will become hotter and more prolonged. 
  • There will be increased local flooding with more flash flooding occurring. 
  • This will result in increased pressure on water resources in the UK.

Severe weather

  • Severe weather events are likely to increase, such as flooding, droughts, heat waves, severe gales and snowfall.

Rising sea levels

  • Sea levels could rise by 40cm by the end of the century leading to further coastal erosion and flood risks.


  • The food we eat and the water we drink will be affected by the climate. 
  • There will be a change in the types of heat and cold related illnesses. For example the risk of diseases such as skin cancers and heat strokes may increase. 
  • The elderly and very young will be most vulnerable to temperature changes.

Homes and lifestyle

  • You may suffer water shortage, if pipes freeze in winter or drought occur in summer. 
  • The cost of living will increase, such as food, fuel and insurance. 
  • Your home may be damaged by floods and gales. 
  • Extreme weather may affect where you work, schools and transport links.


  • Farming and crops will be affected by changes in weather throughout the UK which could impact on the types of crop grown, where they are grown and their availability.


  • Some birds, fish and land animals are under threat as their environment changes due to temperature changes. Some of these species will not be able to adapt to these changes in their environment. 
  • The plants, trees and shrubs that can grow in the UK will change.

To find out more about climate change and its impacts in the UK visit the UK Climate Impacts Programme website.