the united kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland has a land area of 94,526 sq. mi. (244,100 sq. km.), with a population of 60,587,300 (July 2006) and a population density of 637 people per sq. mi. (246 people per sq. km.). London, the capital and the 16th largest city in the world, has a population density of 11,927 per sq. mi. (4,597 per sq. km.). Some 25 percent of the land of the United Kingdom is devoted to agriculture, with a further 46 percent used for meadow or pasture, and 10 percent of the land being forested.
Traditionally, most of the electricity generation in the United Kingdom has come from coal, which has been mined in parts of Scotland, Yorkshire, Nottinghamshire, and South Wales. The continued use of coal, and also of oil, Britain having made use of the North Sea oil fields since the 1970s, has meant that 73.2 percent of Britain's electricity generation was, in 2001, still coming from fossil fuels—coal, oil, and natural gas—with 23 percent coming from nuclear fuel and only 1.5 percent from hydropower. Although recent governments have tried to use nuclear power more extensively, this move has been widely opposed by many people, who are concerned about the safety of nuclear power, with political pressure over the location of the various nuclear power stations.
The United Kingdom ranks 37th in terms of its carbon dioxide emissions per capita, with 10.0 metric tons in 1990, falling steadily to 9.2 metric tons by 1998, and then rising to 9.79 metric tons by 2004. A third of all carbon dioxide emissions in the country are from the generation of electricity, with 27 percent from transportation, through heavy use of private automobiles, and large traffic jams and tailbacks in London and many other major cities, some 17 percent generated for residential use, and 15 percent from manufacturing and construction. In terms of the source of these emissions, 27 percent is from solid fuels, with 36 percent from liquid fuels and 35 percent from gaseous fuels, and 1 percent from gas flaring.
There have been many effects on Britain of global warming and climate change. Because statistics have been collected there since the 18th century, it has been easier to study the changes. The number of cold days has steadily decreased, with an average of 4 days per year above 68 degrees F (20 degrees C) for most of the period since 1772, but 26 days above 68 degrees F (20 degrees C) in 1995. Indeed, October 2001 was the warmest October in central England, with four of the five warmest years in the previous three and a half centuries being in the 1990s and early 2000s. One study has shown that oak trees have experienced earlier leafing as the climate gets warmer.
As well as rises in temperature, there have also been widespread floods, with that in October and November 2000 resulting in the flooding of some 10,000 houses at a cost of about $1.5 billion. This was the worst flooding in Britain since those in March to June of 1947, with the melting of a six-week snowpack, although some war damage to locks on canals leading into the River Thames made the floods worse than normal. Since then, there had been floods in 1968, 1993, and 1998, with those in 2000 following the wettest autumn since records were first collected in the late 1660s. Although floods have not been unknown in Britain—and the River Thames flooded again in 2003 and 2006—in June and July 2007 there were much more serious floods. These caused damage estimated at $3 billion, with Northern Ireland experiencing floods on June 12 and East Yorkshire and the Midlands being hit three days later.
Over the next five weeks, large parts of Berkshire, Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire, and South Wales were also inundated, with rainfall in June 2007 being twice the June average. Indeed, some areas of the country received the average monthly precipitation in one day. The worry has been that the floods, which took place twice a century on average, are now taking place every three to five years. The flooding would be much worse without the construction of the Thames Barrier in the 1970s, which has prevented any serious floods from happening in London since those in January 1928, March 1947, and 1968.
During the 1990s, a detailed survey of plant species in the country showed that the date of the first flowering of 385 British plant species had advanced by an average of 4.5 days when compared with the previous four decades. Flowering is particularly sensitive to the temperature in the month before the plant flowers, indicating that plants have become sensitive to the changes in temperature, with those that flower in spring being the most responsive. In terms of fauna, British birds have steadily expanded their ranges northward, with more birds that had previously only been found in the south of the country being spotted in northern England and Scotland. Over the last 25 years, some birds have expanded the northern margins of their ranges by about 12 mi. (19 km.). Another study of birds has shown that between the years 1971 and 1995, some 32 percent of the 65 species in the study have started laying eggs ear-lier—on average 8.8 days earlier—each year. In addition, frogs, toads, and newts have started spawning
between 9 and 10 days earlier than had been the case 20 years earlier.
The British government of John Major took part in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, signed in Rio de Janeiro in May 1992. The next government, that of Tony Blair, signed the Kyoto Protocol to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change on April 29, 1998, ratifying it on May 31, 2002, with it entering into force on February 16, 2005.
The United Kingdom Climate Strategy introduced in 1994 had the objective of keeping greenhouse gas emissions of carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide at 1990 rates—carbon dioxide by incentives to business and home users to conserve energy; methane by reducing landfill through a landfill levy and a greater regulatory environment, as well as limiting methane emissions from coal production; and nitrous oxide through technological innovations in the manufacture of nylon. The introduction of three-way catalytic converters was planned to reduce carbon monoxide, especially from car exhausts, by up to 50 percent, and the reorganization of large power stations was expected to reduce nitrogen oxides by 35 percent.
In November 2000, the United Kingdom's Climate Change Policy, which was formulated following the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, was formally launched. The United Kingdom was, in 2004, the eighth largest producer of carbon emissions, with the country being responsible for about 2.3 percent of the world's total coming from fossil fuels. The plan drawn up by the Blair government was not just to cut the emissions back to 12.5 percent less than the 1990 rate during the period from 2008 until 2012, as agreed by the Kyoto Protocol, but also to reduce them to 20 percent lower than the 1990 rate by 2010. The methods used by the British government to reduce carbon emissions largely hinged on encouraging business to improve its use of energy, to cut back on emissions from cars by providing better public transport, to promote energy efficiency in homes, and to get agriculture to reduce emissions.
As worry about the effects of global warming and climate change received much publicity in the British press, the Campaign against Climate Change was founded in 2001 to oppose the rejection of the Kyoto Protocol by U.S. president George W. Bush. Although it had small beginnings, on December 3, 2005, it did organize a large rally in London, and another took place on November 4, 2005. By this time, there were also a number of other pressure groups, including Stop Climate Chaos. Formed as a coalition of a number of other groups, including the Campaign against Climate Change, in September 2005, Stop Climate Chaos was also organizing protests. This was to lead to the I Count Campaign to try to get governments around the world to introduce measures to prevent world temperatures from rising more than 3.6 degrees F (2 degrees C).
On June 21, 2006, royal assent was given to a parliamentary bill that became the Climate Change and Sustainable Energy Act 2006, which, introduced to the British Parliament by Mark Lazarowicz, a Scottish Labour member of parliament, encourages microgeneration installations to reduce the use of large power stations and, as a result, reduce carbon dioxide emissions and fuel poverty, whereby some poor people had been unable to afford to heat their residences. The impetus from this led to the drafting of the Climate Change Bill, which was published on March 13, 2007, based heavily on the measures suggested in the I Count campaign. It aimed to reduce the United Kingdom's carbon emissions for 2050 to 60 percent of the level for 1990, with an intermediate target range of 26 to 32 percent by 2020. The bill was initially criticized for failing to include international aviation and shipping but quickly gained cross-party support, although it has not been passed into law. The British government has also been very keen on establishing a system of having a greenhouse gas allowance trading regime, although plans for this are still being drawn up.
SEE ALSO: Carbon Dioxide; Climate Change, Effects; Global Warming; Kyoto Protocol.
BIBLIOGRAPHY. Climate Change: The United Kingdom Programme: 1st Report (H.M. Stationary Office, 1994); Charles Furniss, "Dossier: Flooding in the UK," Geographical (v.78/6, June 2006); Robert Henson, The Rough Guide to Climate Change (Rough Guide, 2006); Mike Hulme and John Turnpenny, "Understanding and Managing Climate Change: The UK Perspective," Geographical Journal (v.170/2, June 2004); John McCormick, Environmental Policy in the European Union (Palgrave, 2001); Tim O'Riordan and Jill Jäger, eds., Politics of Climate Change: A European Perspective (Routledge, 1996); M. L. Parry, et al., Review of the Potential Effects of Climate Change in the United Kingdom: Second
Report (H.M. Stationary Office, 1996); The Potential Effects of Climate Change in the United Kingdom (Department of the Environment/H.M. Stationary Office, 1991); "United Kingdom—Climate and Atmosphere," www.earthtrends. wri.org (cited October 2007); Richard van der Wurff, International Climate Change Politics: Interests and Percep-tions—A Comparative Study of Climate Change Politics in Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States (Uni-versiteit van Amsterdam, 1997); Marcel Wissenburg, European Discourses on Environmental Policy (Ashgate, 1999); A. Wordsworth and M. Grubb, "Quantifying the UK's Incentives for Low Carbon Investment," Climate Policy (v.3, 2001); Farhana Yamin, ed., Climate Change and Carbon Markets: A Handbook of Emissions Reduction Mechanisms (London: Earthscan, 2005).
JUSTIN CORFIELD Geelong Grammar School, Australia
Was this article helpful?
Your Alternative Fuel Solution for Saving Money, Reducing Oil Dependency, and Helping the Planet. Ethanol is an alternative to gasoline. The use of ethanol has been demonstrated to reduce greenhouse emissions slightly as compared to gasoline. Through this ebook, you are going to learn what you will need to know why choosing an alternative fuel may benefit you and your future.