Science & Environment

Q&A: Climate change - your questions answered

The skull of an unidentified animal is seen in Alarcon"s reservoir on April 1, 2008 in Cuenca during a drought period in Spain. Image copyright Getty Images

Scientists say we have to make "rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes" to our lifestyles, in order to avoid severely damaging climate change.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has just issued a report detailing the impact of global warming at 1.5C above pre-industrial levels.

Across the world we're on course for global warming at double this temperature if we don't change the way we live.

We asked you to put your questions to us relating to this recent warning of climate change catastrophe. Here's a selection of them.

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Lucie asks: how much of an impact can we as individuals really make?

It can seem - and indeed is - quite daunting to think about what contribution we can make as individuals to such a global problem. But the scientists contributing to this report have stressed that our choices really matter.

Two key decisions we make every day are about what we eat and how we travel. Cutting down on red meat can reduce the carbon footprint of our diet significantly. And while every km in a car equals about 130g of carbon, a km on a bike doesn't produce any - apart from what the rider breathes out.

Jaqueline Partington asks: what can I do immediately? I live in a rural area and I need my car.

I'm in a similar situation - my only local bus service to the city was actually cancelled last year because no one was using it.

A key thing you can do - especially if you're in a rural area and have the resources - is to think about generating your own energy. But even cheaper and easier is to adjust your diet. Meat and dairy, according to a huge global analysis published earlier this year, take up more than 80% of global farmland and their production emits significantly more greenhouse gas than cereals and vegetables.

Frank Page asks: will anything we do matter if the US and China don't cut back on coal?

You're right - the bigger picture here is about global action. For countries to be seen as acting in a responsible way as organisations like the IPCC advise them, what needs to happen is for growing economies like China to be involved in climate change-averting action, if they want to be seen as key players on the world stage.

The solar power industry in China, for example, is growing quickly. The International Energy Agency projects that the country will hold 40% of the world's solar power capacity in 2023.

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David asks: Will the average family have to give up foreign holidays, with flying now discouraged in favour of other forms of transport?

Certainly, if you stop taking flights - especially long-haul flights - you will reduce your carbon footprint.

And there are other ways (if you have the time and the money to spend, that is) to get to some closer destinations. But of course, where and whether you take an annual holiday is entirely your choice.

In the past, economists and scientists have proposed a carbon tax on flights - a tax based on the carbon emissions of a journey. This could be a way in which governments try to influence people's choices.

Image copyright AFP

Nikki Webb asks: why isn't the government making it mandatory for new homes to be built environmentally?

Building in an environmentally friendly way is a complicated issue. The production of cement for concrete, for example, is very carbon-intensive. But if homes built with concrete are highly insulated and have a very long life-span, that could balance out.

Certainly, with a housing shortage in the UK, lower-impact building techniques are certain to gain ground.

And renewable energy will need to be a major part of a lower carbon future. The IPCC report said that renewables will need to produce 85% of our energy supply globally by 2050, and currently they provide about 25%.

Luis Aramburu asks: why is nuclear not mentioned in the BBC article?

Actually, nuclear, along with the rest of the energy sector, is covered in the IPCC's report. It is a detailed projection of the different future scenarios for our planet and - in reporting it - we didn't focus on nuclear, simply because there were so many other key points to discuss.

You can see how the scientists incorporated that into their work in the policy maker's summary of the IPCC report.

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