Climate change: facts and actions for kids
We live on an awesome planet. It’s home to extraordinary wildlife and beautiful forests, but it’s in danger – it’s getting hotter due to climate change.
Our simple guide will help kids understand climate change. We’ll explain what’s causing it and how it’s affecting people and wildlife. Plus, we’ll share some top tips to help youngsters take action.
Credit: Luke Dray / WTML
What is climate change?
The term ‘climate change’ describes changes to the Earth’s climate – our worldwide weather patterns and long-term average temperatures. Climate change is causing the whole Earth to heat up, even really cold places like the polar ice caps. It’s also known as global warming and it affects people, wildlife and the future of our planet.
What is causing climate change?
The Earth’s climate has naturally changed over billions of years. But right now, it’s changing really fast. Scientists agree that humans are making it happen.
200 years ago, the Industrial Revolution changed how people lived. There were huge developments in science and manufacturing. People burned lots of fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas to power new factories and machines. Since then, we’ve burnt more and more fossil fuels to run cars and planes, power technology and heat our homes. But here’s the problem – when you burn fossil fuels, it releases harmful gases into the atmosphere. This is one of the main causes of climate change.
And that's not all. Humans have destroyed important natural habitats, like forests, to make space for farmland and buildings. Clearing enormous areas of land then farming them intensively also releases a lot of harmful gases and causes climate change.
CO2 is the chemical formula for carbon dioxide.
The greenhouse effect
The Earth is surrounded by a layer of greenhouse gases – a bit like a blanket. They trap heat from the sun, keeping our planet warm enough for humans, animals and plants to live here. This is called the greenhouse effect. It’s like how a glass greenhouse traps the sun’s heat and makes it warm enough to grow plants, even if it’s cold outside.
One of these greenhouse gases is called carbon dioxide (CO2). The Earth needs some CO2, but when there’s too much it acts like an extra-thick blanket. It traps more of the sun’s heat and makes the planet get too hot. This is what’s happening right now.
Credit: Judith Parry / WTML
The last six years have been the warmest on record.
How is climate change affecting our planet?
Climate change affects us all. As the Earth warms, we’re getting more unpredictable and extreme weather. Big storms and heavy rainfall cause flooding. Record high temperatures trigger droughts and wildfires. Melting ice caps make sea levels rise. Even the seasons are changing, and wildlife is getting confused by warmer winters and earlier springs.
It sounds scary, but there is hope for a brighter future.
Can we stop climate change?
If we act now, we can slow down the rate of climate change and prevent some of the worst effects. One of the most important things humans can do is to reduce the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere. This means making changes to the way we all live. But it needs to start now.
In November, a big climate change summit called COP26 will take place in Glasgow. World leaders will meet to talk about how to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions and agree ambitious goals. There will be a whole day dedicated to youth and public empowerment too. Young people will get the chance to ask grown-ups tough questions and demand they take urgent action.
Credit: Richard Faulks / WTML
Young people can change the world
Children have powerful voices and can make big things happen. Here are two young people who have inspired others with their passion for the planet.
Greta Thunberg was just 15 when she went on strike from school and urged politicians do more to fight climate change. Her protest made the news and went on to inspire a worldwide wave of action, with millions of children and adults joining protests across the globe.
Felix Finkbeiner was only nine years old when he started a tree-planting campaign at his school in Germany. Today, aged 23, his organisation plants trees all over the world and educates youngsters about climate change.
You’re never too small to make a difference.
What can kids do?
While it's up to the grown-ups in power to make big decisions to tackle climate change on a global scale, there are plenty of ways children can make a difference.
Many of our daily habits contribute to climate change and we all need to change the way we live to stop harming the planet. A lot of these changes can improve our lives for the better too - such as cleaner air, more exercise, healthier diets, and more green spaces.
So, start with these five ideas and encourage others to do the same.
1. Plant trees
Did you know trees have superpowers? They naturally absorb CO2, storing it in their trunks, roots and leaves, so they’re a brilliant way to fight climate change. They have loads of other benefits too. They give us oxygen to breathe, reduce flooding, provide homes for wildlife, and help make us healthier and happier. When you plant trees, you’re doing something amazing for everyone!
2. Use green transport
Most cars run on petrol or diesel, which creates CO2 and contributes to climate change. Next time you go on a short journey, can you walk, cycle or scoot instead? For longer journeys, think about taking a bus or train which are better for the environment than cars.
3. Don’t waste things
Wasting energy and natural resources harms the planet, but there are lots of ways you can help avoid waste.
- Get into good habits and turn off lights and electronics when you’re not using them. Your family could even get a smart meter to keep track of how much energy you use and help you save more.
- Recycle things so they can be turned into something new.
- Learn how to fix broken things instead of throwing them away.
- Find recipes to turn your family’s leftovers into yummy meals, and compost any food scraps.
- Swap clothes and books with your friends, and donate unwanted items to charity shops.
- Buy less stuff – especially things you don't really need.
4. Eat less meat and dairy
Farming creates a lot of greenhouse gas emissions. Did you know the methane produced by cow burps is a big cause of climate change? It’s true! Encourage your family to plan some meat-free meals each week or try giving up meat completely for a while – you might discover some new favourite dishes.
5. Spread the word
One of the biggest things you can do is to encourage others to join you in making positive changes. Talk to your family about the things you can do at home together, such as the ideas above. Join your school's eco council, and speak at an assembly or film a video to inspire your fellow pupils. Or write a letter challenging a business to be more environmentally-friendly.
You could even attend a march or protest. You and your family are welcome to join the Woodland Trust and lots of others on 6 November as we march together in support of climate action. We'll be showing world leaders we support the tough decisions needed to tackle climate change and urging them not to let us down. Find out more about this Global Day of Action and how you and your family can be part of it.
Trees woods and wildlife
How trees fight climate change
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Protecting trees and woods
The Big Climate Fightback
Be part of the Big Climate Fightback and together we can get 50 million more trees in the ground across the UK.