What is Climate Change?

What is climate change and how does it affect Northern Ireland?

Climate change is the long-term shift in average weather patterns across the world. Humans have contributed to the release of increasingly more carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases since the mid-1800s. This causes global temperatures to rise, resulting in long-term changes to the climate. Average global temperatures have already risen by around 1°C since the industrial revolution. Impacts from climate change are already being experienced today and will continue to increase in the future.

Climate Impacts 

Some greenhouse gases stay in our atmosphere for hundreds of years. This means that the emissions we have released into our atmosphere are effectively locked in and will contribute to increasing temperatures. Even if we stop all emissions tomorrow, we cannot avoid some level of warming. The extent of warming, beyond what we have already caused, depends on the changes we make.    

If we continue to burn fossil fuels and cut down forests at the same rate, the planet could warm by more than 4°C by 2100. This warming could fundamentally change life on earth, with potentially significant consequences.

Projected changes to the global climate include: 

Rising ocean levels Rising temperatures are causing glaciers and ice sheets to melt, adding more water to the oceans and causing the ocean level to rise. Oceans absorb 90% of the extra heat from global warming: warmer water expands, and so our oceans are taking up more space.  
Ocean acidification Ocean acidification occurs when the ocean absorbs carbon dioxide and becomes more acidic.  
Extreme Weather Events Climate change is causing many extreme weather events to become more intense and frequent, such as heatwaves, droughts, and floods. 
Flooding of coastal regions Coastal cities (e.g. Belfast) are at risk from flooding as sea levels continue to rise   
Food insecurity High temperatures, extreme weather events, flooding, and droughts damage farmland. This makes it difficult for farmers to grow crops and means that their yield of crops each year is uncertain.
Conflict and climate migrants Climate change can exacerbate existing problems, such as lack of food or shelter. This may cause global conflict over resources (food, water, and shelter) and cause others to migrate in large numbers.  
Biodiversity loss Rising temperatures, changing rainfall patterns and extreme weather events are disturbing natural habitats and putting pressure on species already threatened by other human activities.


Climate change is approached in two main ways:

Climate Adaptation

Our climate is changing. We need to reduce our emissions to limit these changes. Unfortunately, no matter how much we reduce our emissions, we are locked in to a certain amount of change. Therefore, we need to take rapid action to reduce emissions, whilst preparing for the inevitable impacts of climate changes – this preparation is called climate change ‘adaptation’. 

The European Commission defines adaptation as: “Anticipating the adverse effects of climate change and taking appropriate action to prevent or minimise the damage they can cause, or taking advantage of opportunities that may arise.” 

Adaptation is essential to better prepare us to respond to current and future changing climatic conditions. Planning for these changes will enable NI to build resilience to the potential negative impacts of climate change, whilst allowing us to take advantage of any opportunities.

Climate Mitigation

Northern Ireland requires urgent action on climate change. The public sector needs support to plan and deliver greenhouse gas emissions reductions. Climate NI’s work on mitigation aims to develop and pilot a coordinated and cohesive approach to net-zero planning, progress reporting, and capacity building to enable delivery of immediate and long-term climate action.   

This includes:

  • Raising awareness and capacity building
  • Understanding baseline emissions
  • Facilitating access to available resources and toolkits
  • Identifying and prioritising action
  • Developing, monitoring and evaluating emission reduction plans


What does climate change mean for Northern Ireland?

In Northern Ireland, this means there will be a greater chance of warmer, wetter winters and hotter, drier summers.

Summer heatwaves, with daily temperatures of over 30°C, have a 50% chance of happening every year by 2050 and 90% by 2100.

According to the Northern Ireland Flood Risk Assessment, approximately 45,000 properties in Northern Ireland are currently at flood risk. The main factors of flooding locally include heavy rainfall, storm surges, flash flooding, river overflow and poor drainage. In the 2017 Derry City and Strabane flood, there was rainfall of 60-70mm in 9 hours, which is equivalent to 63% of the average August rainfall. Water rose to unprecedented levels which washed away five bridges and caused hundreds of homes to flood, damaged roads, and closed the airport.

Sea levels in NI will also rise at least 11cm by 2100. Unless global emissions decline, this could be up to 94cm. In 2014, high tidal surges & heavy rain caused coastal flooding in and around Ards. Sea defences were breached, roads were closed, and Portavogie promenade was destroyed.

The below chart shows the temperature change in Northern Ireland between 1884 and 2023.

For more information on what a changing climate means for Northern Ireland, please feel free to contact us at:

Climate Northern Ireland
22-24 Lombard Street
+44 77 6947 5742