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How will climate change affect my business?

Check out the following topics to learn more about climate change and carbon footprints

What is climate change?

The word 'climate' describes the average characteristics of the earth's atmosphere over a long period of time. To make this clearer, it is useful to compare 'climate' with 'weather'. Weather describes the short term changes in the atmosphere that take place over hours, days or perhaps weeks, whereas changes in climate can only be seen over months, years and decades.

The earth's climate changes naturally over time, which is why it took some time for us to realise that we have been contributing significantly to the rate at which it has been changing. Because climate is a long term average, these changes sound quite small, just a few degrees of temperature. However these small changes in the average temperature have a huge impact because they increase the amount of energy in the atmosphere. This extra energy drives more extreme weather patterns, which means that some parts of the world see significantly more rain, causing flooding, some see significantly stronger winds, causing widespread damage, and some see significantly less rain, causing drought. This long term increase in the average temperature of the climate is known as 'global warming' and it causes these patterns be both more extreme and to happen more often.

You can think about this as like 2 people holding each end of a rope and shaking it up and down. If they put a low amount of energy in, there are relatively few peaks and troughs on the rope and it looks fairly calm. However, if they put a lot of energy in, and start vigorously shaking the rope, the peaks and troughs get much higher, occur in more places on the rope and are more difficult to predict. 

It is now clear that our activity, especially our industrial activity, is significantly increasing the pace of global warming. To understand why this is, we need to understand what causes it, something called the 'greenhouse effect'.

The greenhouse effect

A greenhouse is made of glass, and short-wavelength infrared light from the sun passes easily through the glass. Once it is there it bounces around hitting things, warming them up and turning into longer wavelength light that can't easily escape.

Greenhouse gases make the atmosphere of the planet work in exactly the same way. The molecules of these gases tend to vibrate when heat strikes them. This releases more heat, like you do when you’re shivering, and then the molecules next to them heat up too. This creates a kind of invisible ceiling that prevents heat from escaping the planet and that gradually warms up the climate over time.

The most common gas that does this is Carbon Dioxide. It is naturally occurring in the atmosphere but whenever we burn fossil fuels for energy we create more. Methane, produced by gas and oil production, livestock and landfills, Nitrous Oxide produced in agriculture and Refrigerants are all powerful greenhouse gases too.

There is now around 50% more carbon in the atmosphere now than before the industrial revolution. That’s why reducing the amount of these gases we release is so important.

graph with two lines, one showing annual atmospheric carbon dioxide and the other showing carbon dioxide emissions from 1750-2019

Business impacts of climate change

Climate change will affect your business in a number of ways:

  • It will increase the risks of environmental damage, such as flooding and wildfires
  • It is set to drive the migration of an estimated 200 million people worldwide, causing socio-economic pressures
  • It will increase the costs and risks of agriculture making food more expensive
  • It is driving the government to create financial incentives for businesses to create low-carbon products and services, creating new opportunities for growth through innovation
  • It is likely to lead to the introduction of a carbon tax within the next few years
  • Large businesses already have to report on the carbon footprint and energy reduction as part of SECR
  • Consumers are increasingly likely to buy from businesses that take climate change seriously
  • Job-seekers increasingly want to join businesses that take climate change seriously

All of these potential impacts, together with the urgency of the situation, in our view add up to a Climate Emergency that we need to start tackling now.

"What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make." - Dr Jane Goodall

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