Sustainability, Climate Change and Environment FAQs

Here are a few frequently asked questions on the subjects of sustainability, climate change and the environment.

What is climate change?

Climate change is about large-scale, long-term changes to the earth's climate. In the past, it has happened naturally. But recent warming of the climate is being driven by human activities like burning fossil fuels. These release greenhouse gasses which trap energy from the sun and warm the earth. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) defines climate change as a "change of climate which is attributed directly or indirectly to human activity that alters the composition of the global atmosphere and which is in addition to natural climate variability observed over comparable time periods.“

What is global warming?

There has been loads of talk about how our climate is changing, with scientists warning us all the time that these changes are happening right now and they are harming living and non-living things on Earth. For example, there are places that were really, really cold and now they’re getting warmer. On the other hand, there are places that are really hot and they’re getting colder. This is called global warming.

What is the greenhouse effect?

Sometimes people build greenhouses, which is a small glass house to grow flowers or trees. They build them to keep that hot sun in there and not escape. The Earth is like a glasshouse, with some important gases that keep us warm like water vapour, carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide and methane. When the sun heats the earth, these gases make sure that the heat is kept on the surface of the Earth. Without these gases, the heat would escape back into space and our temperatures down here would be about 16⁰C colder.

What can climate change do?

Global Warming causes land and water to expand because of the heat, and it also causes ice sheets to melt. When lots of ice melts it becomes water and then goes into streams, rivers, lakes and seas. This means that our water levels are rising. This could cause floods. Our weather can be more extreme where we could have more droughts, or severe storms and heavy rain. Climate change can be difficult for plants and animals, for example where polar bears and penguins live in icy conditions and those ice sheets start to melt, they’ll have nowhere to live.

How is climate change affecting the UK?

Climate change is a global crisis and is already affecting us in the UK. Impacts include more intense heat waves and heavier rain which in turn affect health and agriculture and change flood risk. In West Lindsey we have experienced instances of severe flooding and these events are occurring with greater frequency.

What does the science say?

The most recent influential report on climate change was produced by The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2018. In a paper entitled ‘Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5 °C’ the Panel advised that meeting a 1.5 °C  target rise is possible but would require “deep emissions reductions and rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society.” Furthermore, the report found that "limiting global warming to 1.5 °C compared with 2 °C would reduce challenging impacts on ecosystems, human health and well-being" and that a 2 °C temperature increase would exacerbate extreme weather, rising sea levels and diminishing Arctic sea ice, coral bleaching, and loss of ecosystems, among other impacts. The report also showed that, for global warming to be limited to 1.5 °C, "Global net human-caused emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) would need to fall by about 45 percent from 2010 levels by 2030, reaching 'net zero' around 2050.“

What do we mean by ‘net zero emissions’?

Net zero emissions is achieving a balance of emissions so that we only produce the same amount of greenhouse gases that we take in. This means that, on average, we are not releasing any additional harmful emissions into the atmosphere because we absorb the same number of units of greenhouse gases that we put out. It is impossible to emit zero emissions but net zero means that what we do produce is cancelled out through planting trees and plants, for example, which take in carbon dioxide.

What is Carbon Neutrality?

Carbon neutrality is a term used to describe the action of organisations, businesses and individuals taking action to remove as much carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as each put in to it. The overall goal of 'carbon neutrality' is to achieve a zero carbon footprint without the use of carbon offsetting. For example if an organisation emits 100,000 tonnes of carbon prior to any reduction measures, it would need to reduce their emissions to zero without any carbon offsetting.

What is a carbon footprint?

This term is defined as the total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions caused by an individual, event, organisation, or product, expressed as carbon dioxide equivalent. Greenhouse gases, including the carbon-containing gases carbon dioxide and methane, can be emitted through the burning of fossil fuels, land clearance and the production and consumption of food, manufactured goods, materials, wood, roads, buildings, transportation and other services.

When do we need to reach net zero emissions?

The Government has set a target of 2050 to achieve this position. The council has made a similar pledge. This target date is based on the science behind keeping global temperature rise below 1.5C and what is fair and equitable.

Benefits of taking action

  • A net zero emissions target, fully implemented, will cut energy bills by improving the efficiency of our homes and businesses, it will get rid of the exhaust pipe emissions that pollute the air we breathe, and it will help to bring about the restoration of our natural habitats, so they become stores of carbon, from forests to peatlands. We can have a greener district with cleaner air – and by making a clean break from harmful emissions, we’ll be sending a signal to our residents and communities that the council is shouldering our responsibility and leading the fight against climate change
  • There are benefits in the form of new employment opportunities; new jobs and ‘green‘ jobs. New technologies such as electric or plug-in hybrid cars, energy-efficient homes or offices with intelligent heating and cooling systems. Secure supplies of energy and other vital resources. It would also lead to more efficient public transport systems in towns and cities, leading to reduced congestion and opportunities for more cycle ways, footpaths and green spaces and improved health and wellbeing. Communities at most risk of suffering the adverse impacts of climate change e.g. coastal communities, will face less of a threat to their homes and livelihoods as instances of extreme weather subside
  • Cleaner air; oceans and seas and a reduction in rising sea levels will all help to protect and enhance endangered species and natural habitats

What is the UK doing?

The UK Government has been active for some time. The UK Climate Change Act of 2008 was the first piece of legislation to legally mandate a nation to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions - in this case by 80% of 1990 levels by 2050. Many countries have subsequently introduced their own equivalent legislation and in 2015, the Paris Agreement was signed by 197 countries with the aim of limiting “the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2◦C above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5◦C above pre-industrial levels”. Following the IPCC report, in May 2019 the UK Government declared a non-legally binding Climate Change Emergency declaration and the Committee on Climate Change recommended a new emissions target for the UK: net-zero greenhouse gases by 2050. This was made a statutory target in June 2019 through the Climate Change Act (2050 Target Amendment) Order 2019

What is West Lindsey District Council (WLDC) doing?

We are renewing our Carbon Management Plan and developing a Sustainability, Climate Change and Environment Strategy to ensure it too reduces its emissions to net-zero by 2050

What has WLDC done so far to reduce carbon emissions?

The council has been working to reduce emissions for over ten years and in that time they have reduced by around one third. Among the initiatives it has introduced are the  fitting of solar panels on its buildings, changing to LED lighting in its offices, implementing agile-working and technology to hold video-conferencing to reduce unnecessary travel and moving to paper-light meetings. The council’s current Carbon Management Plan expires in 2021 and will be refreshed to support further work to lower our emissions

What can I do?

Each and every one of us can make a difference and here are some things you can do straight away to help!

  • Go by bus, and get the whole family to do the same
  • Walk wherever you can instead of driving
  • Get your bike out and go cycling instead of getting in the car
  • Plant trees, flowers and shrubs
  • Reduce, reuse and recycle
  • Turn off lights and don’t leave taps running
  • Talk about what you are doing to friends – spread the message and the benefits

What can I do to reduce my carbon footprint?

Climate change can be tackled but only if people are willing to embrace major shifts in the way we live. Current annual household emissions are around 10 tonnes in the UK so there are many actions we can take as individuals or families to reduce the impact our activities have on the climate and our surrounding environment. Some examples include using electric vehicles or making less car journeys and using public transport, cycle or walk instead; planting flowers and shrubs; ensuring homes are well-insulated; conserving water; use renewable energy sources or recycling and reusing materials.

Will it cost me more to reduce my carbon footprint?

Not necessarily. Using your car less, being smarter with your home heating, conserving energy and water and reusing materials will all reduce your outgoings and bills. Some other measures such as insulating your home will cost initially but that would be recouped through the savings you achieve through cheaper energy bills. In many ways spending some money to reduce climate change will be less expensive than the costs of having to adapt to climate change.

West Lindsey District Council

Guildhall
Marshall's Yard
Gainsborough
Lincolnshire
DN21 2NA

Email: climate@west-lindsey.gov.uk