Natural England - Climate change and energy

Climate change and energy

Climate change

Climate change poses the most serious long-term threat to England’s natural environment because of the damage it will cause to our wildlife and habitats, the landscapes we enjoy and the ecosystem services they provide, including clean water, food and recreation.

The Earth’s climate is changing as a result of an increase in carbon dioxide and other ‘greenhouse gases’ in the atmosphere, caused mainly by human activities. The rate of climate change and its impact on vulnerable landscapes, habitats and our wildlife are of critical concern.

How can we respond to climate change?

There is an urgent need to reduce global greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere if we want to avoid potentially catastrophic impacts on the natural environment. This process of doing this, termed mitigation, mainly depends on reducing emissions of greenhouse gases, but increasing the rate of uptake by ecosystems and ensuring carbon is not released from their degradation also has a part to play.

Even if mitigation measures are successful, climate change will continue over the coming decades because of greenhouse gases that have already entered the atmosphere. So we also need to develop strategies to manage and reduce the effects of a changing climate on society and the environment – a process called adaptation.

As well as the direct effects of climate change, such as increasing temperature, changes in rainfall patterns and their physical consequences such as sea-level rise, indirect impacts will happen as society responds to climate change. We need to take action to make sure the natural environment can cope with both direct and indirect impacts.

The need to address climate change features strongly in ‘The Natural Choice’external link, the Natural Environment White Paper (June 2011) and the Biodiversity 2020 Strategyexternal link (July 2011) as a major challenge to address. Natural England is committed to action on both mitigation and adaptation and since 2007 has been engaged in a wide range of climate change projects and research.

For further details go to our climate change web pages 


Reducing the rate of climate change depends on reducing our emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, including those released during energy generation.

Maintaining reliable and affordable energy supplies is essential to our modern lifestyle. The present challenge is to move to a low carbon economy without unacceptable impacts on the natural environment. This shift demands much greater efficiency in energy use, as well as a substantial investment in renewable and clean energy for electricity, heat and transport.

The UK has a binding European Union commitment to a renewable energy target of 15% of total energy supply to come from renewable sources by 2020. This target applies to all forms of energy (transport fuel, electricity and heat). The UK directive, the Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation, is expected to make a contribution towards the target. The remainder will be met by increasing the amount of electricity generated from renewable sources from 5% to around 35 - 45%.

Digest of UK energy statistics (DUKES)external link - The energy mix (DECC)