What is Climate Change?

Climate is the average pattern of weather, over many years, for a particular area. Climate is not the same as weather - the weather is what you notice each day – such as sunshine, rain or wind. The climate of the Earth is always changing. In the past the climate has changed as a result of natural causes. For example, after a volcano has erupted, large quantities of dust are blown high into the atmosphere (the air around the Earth). That reduces the amount of sunshine reaching the Earth's surface.

But the words 'climate change' are usually used to mean changes in our climate, which have been seen since the start of the last century (the year 1900). Scientists believe the changes they have seen over this time are mainly because of human behaviour, rather than natural changes.


Climate change is caused by something known as the "greenhouse effect". A greenhouse (or glasshouse) is good for growing plants because it traps heat inside and stays hotter than the air around it. The Earth's atmosphere behaves like a gigantic greenhouse, trapping some of the warmth of the sun. This is called the natural greenhouse effect. Without it, the earth would be much too cold to support all the different kinds of plants and animals that live here.

The problem is that human activity is causing a greater warming of the Earth. This is because the gases released when we burn fuels are changing the atmosphere.

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