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What is the climate and ecological emergency

Find out more about the causes, impacts and action we're taking on the climate and ecological emergency.

When we talk about the climate emergency, we are referring to:

  • ‘Climate change’ and long-term shifts in the Earth's weather patterns

When we talk about the ecological emergency, we are referring to:

  • ‘Biodiversity loss' and the decline or disappearance of the variety in living things


When fossil fuels, like coal, oil, and gas, are burnt, greenhouse gases are released. These trap heat in the atmosphere, acting like a warm blanket. This causes global temperatures to rise and is known as the greenhouse effect.   

Scientists agree that human activity is the primary driver of the increased greenhouse gas concentrations in our atmosphere across the past 150 years. Humans release these gases in many ways, including: 

  • powering buildings 
  • fossil fuelled transportation  
  • deforestation  
  • agriculture 
  • industrial and manufacturing processes 

Watch this animation from the Met Office to see how the climate system works:


The average temperature of the Earth’s surface is now about 1.1°C warmer than it was in the late 1800s before the industrial revolution. It is warmer than at any time in the last 100,000 years. 

Many people think climate change just means warmer temperatures. But because life on Earth is an interconnected system, changes in one area can influence changes in all others. The consequences of climate change now include:

  • intense droughts
  • severe fires
  • rising sea levels
  • flooding
  • melting polar ice
  • extreme temperatures
  • catastrophic storms
  • declining biodiversity

Whilst climate change is impacting biodiversity loss, biodiversity loss is also impacting climate change. The burning of fossil fuels is increasing global temperatures, threatening habitats and wildlife alike. At the same time, destroying and degrading ecosystems releases even more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than burning fossil fuels.

Climate change also has social impacts. It can affect our health and wellbeing, access to food and water, housing, safety, and work. Some people are more vulnerable to climate impacts, such as those living in small island nations and other developing countries in the global south.

Conditions like sea-level rise and saltwater intrusion have advanced to the point where whole communities have had to relocate, and droughts are putting people at risk of famine. It is predicted that there could be 1.2 billion people displaced globally by 2050 due to climate change and related natural disasters. 

Here in Westminster, you may remember flooding in 2021 and severe heat in 2022.


In July 2021, there were two major flooding events. During one event, 8cm of rain fell in 90 minutes. This impacted approximately 1000 properties in the north of Westminster, including one primary school, three libraries and three community centres. 

Abdul Choudhury, a consultant, had to wade through the flooding just to get out of bed and all of his possessions were destroyed. Mr. Choudhury said: "I literally woke up in bed and had to put my feet into water as I got out. It was about a foot deep. It submerged the whole flat”. 

Ollie Bishop, father-of-three, had to pay £60,000 a year for insurance after his family home in Maida Vale was flooded. Mr. Bishop said: “It completely puts your world upside down. It’s just devastating. It’s the anxiety of ‘what do we do if we get flooded again?” 

Record-breaking temperatures  

On the 18 and 19 July 2022, a record-breaking temperature of 40.3 °C was recorded in the UK. The London Fire Brigade experienced its busiest day since the Blitz, receiving more than 2,600 calls.  

Mayor Sadiq Khan said that 41 properties were destroyed by blazes.  


The emissions that cause climate change come from every part of the world and affect everyone, but some countries produce much more than others. Did you know that the USA, Europe and China alone have contributed to around 60% of global greenhouse gases? Yet, the countries who have contributed the least to the climate crisis, are experiencing the impacts the most. This is one example of environmental injustice.  

In Westminster, we have created the Environmental Justice Measure, an interactive data tool which aims to: 

  • highlight differences in how people are impacted by their environment and climate change
  • show the distribution of green, sustainable resources and spaces across the city
  • empower residents with information they need to reduce negative environmental impacts
  • inform us about where and how we invest in the local environment

Explore the Environmental Justice Measure


In a series of recent United Nations reports, thousands of scientists and government reviewers agreed that global temperature rises should be limited to no more than 1.5°C. This would help us avoid the worst climate impacts and maintain a liveable climate. 

We have global frameworks and agreements to guide progress: 

  • United Nations Reports 
  • UN Sustainable Development Goals 
  • UN Framework Convention on Climate Change 
  • 2015 Paris Agreement 

Yet, policies currently in place around the world point to a 2.8°C global temperature rise by the end of the century. 

The UK signed the Paris Agreement and was the first country to create a legally binding national commitment to cut greenhouse gas emissions.  

The Climate Change Act of 2008 pledged to cut our emissions as a country by 80% by 2050, from 1990 levels and is the basis for the UK’s approach to tackling and responding to climate change. 

Councils and local authorities are directly responsible for around 2-5% of local emissions but can influence around a third of emissions in their area through the way their services are provided and delivered.  

As a result councils have a huge role to play in mitigating climate change through reducing their own carbon emissions and influencing local stakeholders to do the same. As the impacts of climate change vary from place to place, it is also important that councils lead to help local communities and infrastructure reduce the risks and adapt to a changing climate. 

Published: 28 May 2024

Last updated: 28 May 2024