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Climate change and sustainability

Towards a net-zero Great Yarmouth

Great Yarmouth's coastal geographical location makes it extremely vulnerable to sea level rise caused by climate change. We at the council are committed to combating climate change and becoming carbon-neutral by 2035. However, we cannot do so without your assistance. We understand that many of us want to help address the climate change crisis, but do not know where to begin. Find out what climate change and sustainability are, why they are important to us, what the council is doing about it and what you can do to help.

The science of climate change

Long-term changes in temperature and weather patterns are referred to as climate change. These changes could be natural, such as variations in the solar cycle. Human activities, however, have been the primary cause of climate change since the 1800s, owing primarily to the release of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere as a result of the use of fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas. Greenhouse gases, which include water vapour, carbon dioxide and methane, are gases found in the Earth's atmosphere that trap heat and act as a blanket to keep the planet warm.

Greenhouse gas effect

Greenhouse gases (also known as GHGs) are gases that trap heat in the Earth's atmosphere. These heat-trapping gases can be compared to a blanket wrapped around Earth, keeping it warmer than it would be otherwise. The greenhouse effect is the process by which heat is trapped near the Earth's surface by greenhouse gases. Greenhouse gases include water vapour (H2O), carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrous oxide (N2O), ozone (CH2) and methane (O3).

Greenhouse gases are critical to keeping our planet at a suitable temperature for life. If the natural greenhouse effect did not exist, the heat emitted by the Earth would simply pass outwards from the Earth's surface into space, and the Earth would have an average temperature of about -20°C.

Part of what makes Earth so habitable is its natural greenhouse effect, which keeps the planet at a comfortable 15°C (59°F) on average. However, over the last century or so, humans have been interfering with the planet's energy balance, primarily through the use of fossil fuels, which emit carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere have been steadily rising for decades, trapping extra heat near the Earth's surface and causing temperatures to rise.

Climate change and human-made greenhouse gas emissions

For life to exist on earth, the greenhouse effect is essential. But nonetheless, anthropogenic (human-caused) activities have increased the greenhouse effect by releasing more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

The infrared light is now being more effectively absorbed by the thicker greenhouse gas layer. In other words, the greenhouse effect is more intense and is forcing the world to warm up rather than maintaining a constant temperature.

Humans are responsible for the majority of the current climate change by burning fossil fuels such as coal, oil and natural gas. By the late 1900s and early 2000s, anthropogenic climate change had been established as evidence from thousands of ground-based studies and continuous satellite measurements of land and ocean that revealed the expected temperature increase. One-quarter of human-made greenhouse gas emissions come from burning fossil fuels for electricity and heat production. Another quarter of human-made greenhouse gas emissions come from Agriculture, Forestry and Other Land Use (AFOLU).

The major causes of rising greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to anthropogenic climate change are:

  • burning coal, oil and gas which produces carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide
  • cutting down forests (deforestation) - trees help to regulate the climate by absorbing CO2 from the atmosphere; when they are cut down, that beneficial effect is lost and the carbon stored in the trees is released into the atmosphere, adding to the greenhouse effect
  • increasing livestock farming - cows and sheep produce large amounts of methane when they digest food
  • fertilisers containing nitrogen produce nitrous oxide emissions
  • fluorinated gases are emitted from equipment and products that use these gases. Such emissions have a very strong warming effect, up to 23,000 times greater than CO2

Impacts of climate change

Climate change is already affecting the world. The Earth's temperature is rising, rainfall patterns are shifting and sea levels are rising. Heatwaves, floods, droughts and fires may become more common as a result of these changes.

The effects of climate change are already causing health problems through air pollution, disease, extreme weather events, forced displacement, mental health strains and increased hunger and poor nutrition in areas where people cannot grow or find enough food. Major climate change impacts throughout the world are:

  • hotter temperatures
  • more severe storms
  • increased drought
  • a warming, rising ocean
  • loss of species
  • not enough food
  • more health risks
  • poverty and displacement

Climate change impact in the UK

Temperatures in the UK exceeded 40°C for the first time on record in the summer of 2022, and extreme weather events are likely to become more common. In 50 years' time, by 2070, the Met Office (the national meteorological service for the UK) projects that:

  • Winter will be between 1 and 4.5°C warmer and up to 30% wetter
  • Summer will be between 1 and 6°C warmer and up to 60% drier

Further effects of climate change in the UK are:

  • heatwaves, like that of summer 2018, are now 30 times more likely to happen due to climate change
  • parts of the UK will be in danger of flooding, with low lying and coastal cities at particular risk
  • climate change will also have an impact on farming in the UK - hotter weather and higher CO2 levels may make some crops easier to grow, or even allow us to develop new ones; however, with more droughts expected, water may become more difficult to obtain, making it more difficult for farmers to plan the growing season. Some crops grown today may be unsuitable for higher temperatures as well

You can find out more about climate change in your local area in this climate change visualisation tool.

Climate change in Great Yarmouth

Great Yarmouth is already vulnerable to coastal erosion and flooding and climate change may exacerbate these disasters. Furthermore, as in the rest of the country and many parts of the world, climate change may have other consequences for Great Yarmouth, such as changes in temperature or precipitation.

Council's strategy and actions

Great Yarmouth Borough Council envisions to be a net zero organisation by 2035. Policies in the Core Strategy and future Local Plan Documents address the importance of sustainability in the borough, as well as ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, flood risk and encourage the use of renewable energy.

Individuals and communities

Climate change may appear to be a difficult issue over which individuals have little control. Individual and community actions, however, can make a significant difference.

Actions you can take as an individual or as a community

Eat local and grow your own food

Purchasing food from supermarkets can be harmful to our health due to the added chemicals on these foods, as well as harmful to the environment due to the large amount of greenhouse gas emissions created by the transportation of these foods from abroad. So, if you have a garden, shared green space or a space in your community that could be turned into an allotment, you can try growing your own vegetables or get together with neighbours to see if you can arrange a scheme with a local farmer.

Choose sustainable commute

Many of our daily trips can be made without driving. Taking the bus instead, when available and feasible, could significantly reduce your carbon footprint. If possible, cycling or walking can be even healthier, less expensive and better for the environment.

Community energy scheme

Hundreds of communities across the country have already established their own locally owned energy schemes based on their landscape, making use of village hall roofs, windy hills and old weirs to generate low carbon from their landscape. Many organisations throughout the country, including the UK government, provide support for community energy. Community energy schemes can help the community save money on energy, help the environment by generating renewable energy and diversify the energy system.

Energy efficiency at home

Some easy steps by homeowners/individuals can cut your energy bills as well as help the planet in reducing greenhouse gas emission, such as:

  • switching to green tariff provider energy suppliers
  • purchasing energy-efficient home appliances or LED light bulbs (LEDs use 75% less energy than incandescent lighting and last much longer)
  • unplug devices and turn off switches when not in use and/or leaving the home
  • wash clothes and keep the thermostat at a lower temperature if possible

Grow greens

Planting trees may not be attainable for everyone due to a lack of space or limited information about the appropriate species. However, individuals can still contribute to greener spaces where possible by participating in community tree planting or voluntary tree-planting projects or by growing hedges for people who own gardens.

Follow the Rs

Almost everything we buy, from new clothes to computers and everything in between, contributes to the greenhouse gas emissions that are choking our atmosphere. The "three Rs"— reduce, reuse and recycle — help the environment by reducing greenhouse gas emissions from new-product manufacturing. Reducing, reusing and recycling waste helps save landfill space by keeping useful materials out.

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