Not a day goes by without the mention of climate change in the newspapers, on the TV or on the radio. Yet not everybody knows what the term climate change means, or why it is happening, or how it will impact on us, as individuals, or on our society and natural world. However, climate change is not just something that is going to happen in the future... they are changes that are already upon us, and the associated impacts will affect Wales significantly over the next century – that is during the lifetime of many of us!
Whilst natural climatic changes have occurred on Earth throughout its history, there is now compelling evidence that human induced activities, such as the burning of fossil fuels, have resulted in a higher rate of global temperature increase over the last 50 years than have been witnessed in several millennia. By increasing emission rates of greenhouse gases, we have altered the composition of the Earth’s atmosphere, resulting in more energy being trapped from the sun and causing global temperatures to rise – this is known as the greenhouse effect.
So what are the greenhouse gases? Although there are many, the 3 main recognised greenhouse gases are:
- Carbon dioxide, which is released into the atmosphere by the burning of fossil fuels, solid waste, wood and wood products, the production of cement and the carbon loss through deforestation and land-use change;
- Methane, which is emitted when organic waste decomposes, whether in landfills or in connection with livestock farming. Methane emissions also occur during the production and transport of fossil fuels. Methane is 21 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide;
- Nitrous oxide, which emits during various agricultural and industrial processes, and when solid waste or fossil fuels are burned. Nitrous oxide is 310 more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.
Predicted changes in Snowdonia
By the end of the 21st century, climate change could result in Snowdonia looking and feeling very different from that we know today. Using up-to-date modelling techniques and technology (UKCP09), the following changes are expected in Wales by the 2080’s using 3 scenarios based on differing levels of greenhouse gas emissions in the future (referred to as low, medium and high emission scenarios):
|Mean Winter Temp (°C)*||Mean Summer Temp (°C)*||Mean Annual Precipitation*||Mean Winter Precipitation*||Mean Summer Precipitation*|
|*baseline levels 1961 – 1990 average.|
Whilst climatic changes in Snowdonia aren’t expected to be as extreme as those experienced in southern and eastern parts of the British Isles, we are still likely to experience significant changes over the coming decades. Although average annual precipitation will remain somewhat constant, we are likely to see vast differences in seasonal weather patterns. For example, by the 2080’s, whilst the mean annual rainfall in Wales is predicted to remain as it is now under all 3 scenarios, the overall pattern of rainfall is due to change significantly, with winters becoming up to 26% wetter and summer rainfall falling by the same amount. We can expect both winter and summer temperatures to increase by up to 3.3°C and 4.5°C respectively. Consequently, these changes, in conjunction with the increased frequency of severe weather events, will have an impact on each of us, from individuals and families to industrial sectors and Governments authorities, therefore making adaptation to climate change essential in order to minimise its impacts on our society, economy and on the natural world.