Landmark science warns Britain is facing dangerous climate change

Posted: Friday 31st July 2009

Benn says ‘Threat of heat waves and floods means UK has to act now to adapt to changes that are coming and to stop these getting worse.’

Cutting-edge scientific projections, launched recently by Environment Secretary Hilary Benn, provide the most detailed picture to date of the threat facing Britain from soaring summer temperatures, more extreme weather and rising sea levels.

The UK Climate Projections 2009, based on Met Office science, illustrate the extent of the changes the UK might face in the absence of global action to cut emissions – warmer and wetter winters, hotter and drier summers, increased risk of coastal erosion and more severe weather. The maps and findings are publicly available online.

Across the UK, the Projections show a range of climate changes up until the end of the century based on three possible greenhouse gas emissions pathways – high, medium and low. Broadly speaking the world’s emissions are currently equivalent to the medium pathway, although there is a risk we could still be heading even for the high scenario. While we cannot be absolutely certain what will happen in the future, these projections – for the first time – show the probabilities of potential changes for the UK. They are not a long range weather forecast.

The Projections show us a future that we must avoid. The medium emissions scenario shows that within the lifetimes of our children and grandchildren - by the 2080s – we could be faced with:

· An increase in average summer temperatures of between 2 and 6 degrees C in the South East with a central estimate of 4 degrees;

· A 22% decrease in average summer rainfall in the South East - which is already water stressed - and an increase of 16% in average winter rainfall in the North West, with increases in the amount of rain on the wettest days leading to a higher risk of flooding; and

· sea level rise of 36cm.

Temperatures would rise even more under a high emissions scenario and could be up to 12 degrees C warmer on the hottest summer days, with peak summer temperatures in London regularly hitting over 40 degrees.

These findings are sobering. Without decisive action, there will be an increase in water shortages, heat stress and floods. All of these would have a severe impact on people’s health and quality of life, the economy and the natural environment.

The message is clear that to avoid these dangerous levels of climatic change in the second half of this century, we need a strong global deal at Copenhagen this December to restrict global temperature rises to less than 2 degrees (above pre-industrial levels). This would mean reducing emissions below those in the Projections.

At the same time the Projections show that some climate change is now inevitable whatever we do. Past emissions are likely to make summers over 2 degrees hotter in southern England by the 2040s (compared to the 1961-1990 average). It is therefore vital that we plan and prepare for those changes alongside international action to reduce global emissions. Even at a 2 degree global temperature increase we will need to adapt the way we live and work – for example the 2003 heatwave saw average daily temperatures of 2 degrees above average and caused 35,000 deaths across Northern Europe.

Environment Secretary, Hilary Benn said:
‘There is no doubt about it – climate change is the biggest challenge facing the world today. Climate change is already happening – the hottest ten years on record globally have all been since 1990. This landmark scientific evidence shows not only that we need to tackle the causes of climate change but also that we must deal with the consequences.

‘The Projections will allow us to make sure we have a resilient infrastructure to cope – whether it’s the design of school buildings or protection of new power plants, maintaining the supply of drinking water, adjusting ways of farming for drier summers or understanding how our homes and businesses will have to adapt.’

Energy and Climate Change Secretary, Ed Miliband said:
‘The science is pushing us harder than ever towards an ambitious global deal in Copenhagen this December. These projections add to the overwhelming body of scientific evidence that says mankind must cut carbon emissions now to prevent a future of extreme weather patterns which could threaten the livelihoods of people across the world as well as put plants, animals and sea life in peril.

‘Now is the time to act. The UK has set an example to the world through our Climate Change Act, committing to cut UK emissions by a third by 2020 and by 80% by 2050. We are well placed to achieve this and are determined to seize the economic and job opportunities presented by the shift to low carbon. We need all other countries to be part of a global deal on climate change.’

The UK Climate Projections 2009 are available on the web and will be used as part of risk-based planning for local government, utilities and other organisations. Defra is rolling out an extensive training programme to help organisations make best use of the Projections. Defra has also today launched a consultation on the use of its new Adaptation Reporting Power, which will require over 100 organisations providing a public service to report on the risks climate change poses to their operations and the plans they have in place to respond. For the first time Government departments will have to publish their plans to adapt by spring 2010.

Julia Slingo, Met Office Chief Scientist said:
‘Through UKCP09 the Met Office has provided the world’s most comprehensive regional climate projections with a unique assessment of the possible changes to our climate through the rest of this century. For the first time businesses and other organisations have the tools to help them make risk-based decisions to adapt to the challenges of our changing climate.’

A Five Point Plan to Tackle Climate Change

The Government is tackling climate change on five fronts:

1. Protecting the public from immediate risk

Climate change is already happening in the UK - the Government has more than doubled spending on flood protection since 1997, developed a heat wave plan in the NHS and is helping communities affected by coastal erosion.

2. Preparing for the future

Whatever is done to reduce emissions in the future, past emissions mean that some climate change is already inevitable. Defra’s UK Climate Projections published today will be used to help plan for a future with a changing climate. It’s planned that over 100 providers of important public services will be required to report on their assessment of climate risks and their plans to respond to these. Government Departments will also be producing Adaptation Plans by April 2010. Building climate risk into decision making means, for example, changing the way we build our houses and infrastructure, managing water better and adjusting farming practices.

3. Limiting the severity of future climate change through a new international climate agreement

To limit global temperature increases to less than two degrees and avoid the most dangerous effects of climate change, the Government is leading international efforts to achieve a new international climate agreement at Copenhagen in December. We must ensure global emissions start to fall within the next decade and be at least 50% below 1990 levels by 2050. Later in June the Government will set out its aims for the Copenhagen deal.

4. Building a low carbon UK

To play our part in reducing global emissions, Britain needs to become a low carbon country. The 2008 Climate Change Act made Britain the first country in the world to set legally binding ‘carbon budgets’, aiming to cut UK emissions by 34% by 2020 and 80% by 2050 through investment in energy efficiency and clean energy technologies such as renewables, nuclear and carbon capture and storage.

5. Supporting individuals, communities and businesses to play their part

Everyone has a role to play in tackling climate change, from reducing their own emissions to planning for adaptation. Building on our ‘Act on CO2’ information campaign, the Government is providing a range of support for individuals, communities and businesses, including a major programme of financial help for home insulation and energy efficiency.

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