Climate change to be sharper and sooner than expected in UK

Environment Secretary Margaret Beckett has warned that the effects of climate change could be greater and sooner than expected across the UK in the next 80 years. Citizens will have an increased risk of droughts – with temperatures up to 40°C, heavy rainfall and floods, to look forward to.

By 2080, there will be many more ‘very hot’ days, contrasted by wetter, but warmer, snow-free winters and drier spring and autumn seasons in the UK, according to a joint report by the Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research, the Tyndell Centre for Climate Change Research and the University of East Anglia. Although in Scotland there will still be snow, it is likely to be reduced by 60-90% by 2080.

These latest predictions are based on new global emissions scenarios published in 2000 by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and on a series of climate modelling experiments completed by the Hadley Centre using their most recently developed models.

Annual average temperatures are set to rise over the next 80 years, by 2-3.5°C, with temperatures in the southeast rising by up to 5°C in the summer months, says the report. In the south and east, summer precipitation may decline by as much as 50% by this time, but heavy winter rain will become more common. Sea level rises are also expected to take part in the scenario, and could be between 26 and 86 cm above the current level in the southeast, through a combination of melting ice sheets and thermal expansion of the water. In some east coast locations extreme sea levels could occur between 10 and 20 times more frequently.

“We’re taking a lot of action, but unless we continue to take stronger action, these are the kind of problems we will face,” said Beckett. “Increased risk in the UK of droughts, heavy rainfall and floods, could have major consequences for land use, planning, water resources, infrastructure, insurance, tourism and many other sectors across society.”

Although the Gulf Stream – which warms the UK by bringing warmer water up from the Gulf of Mexico – has been predicted by a number of sources to be ‘switched off’ by cold fresh water from melting ice sheets, this latest report states that this is unlikely, although it may be weakened. The Greenland ice sheet is currently relatively stable, so the report predicts that there will be no cooling of the UK climate by this mechanism within the next 100 years.

The Secretary of State urged UK business to start planning ahead to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, or face the possibility of insurmountable problems running a business in years to come. “Climate change must be factored into everyday decisions by organisations and individuals now. People must not be caught on the back foot. Even at the lower end of the range of uncertainty they will have a huge impact on all our lives.”

“Changing weather patterns may not only affect their premises, but also their supply of raw materials or the demand for their products and services,” said Chris Fay of the Government’s Advisory Committee on Business and the Environment (ACBE). “To gain maximum competitive advantage from these early warnings, businesses of all kinds need to begin now to build climate change into their planning systems.”

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