How has Climate Change Impacted the UK
The UK is already undergoing disruptive climate change with increased rainfall, sunshine and temperatures, according to scientists. The year 2020 was the third warmest, fifth wettest and eighth sunniest on record, scientists said in the latest UK State of the Climate report. Scientists warn of worse extreme weather if global temperatures rise and politicians fail to curb carbon emissions. They have also warned that greenhouse gas levels are already too high “for a manageable future for humanity“.
UK Breaks Heat Record Three Times in a Matter of Hours
This July, extreme heat shattered records in the UK, as temperatures over Forty Degrees Celcius were measured. This is the first time since the country has ever recorded measurements that the temperature has been this high.
Before this, the highest temperature was 38.7 degrees Celcius observed in Cambridge in July 2019. The temperature record was initially broken in the village of Charlwood, measuring 38.7 degrees Celcius. Only hours later, a temperature of 40.2 degrees Celcius was taken at Heathrow, London.
Ireland also recorded its second-hottest day on record - and Dublin’s all-time highest temperatures. Thermometers at Phoenix Park (Dublin) hit 33.1 degrees Celsius The all-time Irish record of 33.2 degrees Celsius was observed at Kilkenny Castle in 1887, although scientists have debated the reliability of the 19th-century measurements.
It wasn’t only us facing these extreme weather conditions: across the English Channel, France was also very warm. Temperatures in some places rocketed above 42.2 degrees Celcius, according to the French national weather service.
As the heat swept over the UK, “red” weather alerts were put in place because of the extreme temperatures.
It was the first time Britain had issued such a warning.
For a country known for its mild climate, typically hovering in the mid-20s on an average July - this is shocking.
Research suggests that these, once considered rare, extreme weather conditions, are well on their way to becoming our country's reality. Heat waves in western Europe are increasing in both frequency and intensity. For the UK specifically, Met Office research finds that the odds of 40-degree Celcius days will dramatically increase by the end of the century.
But for now, we are still an unprepared nation. Many households in the UK do not have air conditioning, as can typically be found across Europe. This is because it has not been seen as a necessity. Our buildings and certain types of its infrastructure are not equipped for such high temperatures - it has never been considered in our design before. Since the CCC’s last assessment 5 years ago, over 570,000 new homes have been built that are not resilient to future high temperatures.
Since 2018 over 4,000 heat-related deaths have been recorded in England.
The extreme weather caused widespread train cancellations across the country. Network Rail tweeted how the railroads simply aren’t built for such high temperatures. “The climate is changing and this unprecedented weather is hotter than our infrastructure was designed for,” the company stated. They further explained that it's a challenge we and other hotter countries are all trying to deal with.
It is not only trains which were cancelled - flights, at London’s Luton Airport, were also cancelled. Headlines dramatically read “Luton Airport stops ALL flights as runway MELTS in record heat: All flights suspended.”
A spate of grass and vegetation fires sprang up around London and other southern parts of the country as temperatures soared.
The Coldest Winter Since 1995
It is not only extremely hot temperatures that the UK has been suffering from. The Met Office reported the Winter of 2020/21 was the coldest January since 2010. Aberdeenshire saw its coldest temperature since 1995, recording -24 degrees Celsius on February 11th. Our winter as a whole was wetter than average.
Our winters in the UK are projected to become warmer and wetter on average, although cold or dry winters will still occur occasionally. Winter will be between 1 and 4.5°C warmer and up to 30% wetter.
Heavy rainfall is also more likely. Since 1998, the UK has seen six of the ten wettest years on record. The winter storms in 2015 were at least 40% more likely because of climate change.
Last year, the effects of global warming became extremely apparent across our seasons. It was the third warmest, fifth wettest and eighth sunniest year on record, scientists said in the latest UK State of the Climate report. No other year is in the top 10 on all three criteria.
Floods, storms, and extreme heat can and have already caused damage to buildings, disrupted transport, and affected health. Buildings and infrastructure need to be adapted to cope with the new conditions. Businesses will have to plan around a changing climate.
The report's lead author Mike Kendon, the climate information scientist at the UK Met Office, told BBC News: “A lot of people think climate change is in the future – but this proves the climate is already changing here in the UK.
The time to take action is now.
For more on how the world is suffering from increasing temperatures, check our Natural Disasters Across the World article.