Cli­mate change made UK heat­wave 30 times more likely – Met Of­fice

The Guardian Australia - - Science - Damian Car­ring­ton in Ka­tow­ice

The swel­ter­ing heat that hit the UK this sum­mer was made 30 times more likely by hu­man-caused cli­mate change, a Met Of­fice anal­y­sis has found.

Sci­en­tists said the re­search showed global warm­ing was al­ready harm­ing peo­ple’s lives and was not only a fu­ture threat.

With­out rapid cuts to green­house gas emis­sions, such heat­waves would hap­pen ev­ery other year by mid-cen­tury, the Met Of­fice said. Its anal­y­sis showed the av­er­age UK tem­per­a­ture dur­ing June, July and Au­gust was more than 2C above pre-in­dus­trial lev­els.

Hun­dreds more early deaths than usual oc­curred at the height of the heat­wave, while farm­ers strug­gled for wa­ter and hay and thou­sands of houses suf­fered sub­si­dence.

The re­search was launched at the UN cli­mate sum­mit in Ka­tow­ice, Poland, and the Met Of­fice’s Prof Pe­ter Stott, who led the work, said: “World lead­ers should be lis­ten­ing not just to sci­en­tists but also to the peo­ple who are be­ing af­fected by ex­treme weather events right now. They are see­ing it with their own eyes and suf­fer­ing from it. Hu­man­ity just won’t be able to cope with the world we are head­ing for.”

Stott said sci­en­tists were mak­ing links across the world be­tween ex­treme weather events and cli­mate change, from heat­waves in Ja­pan to wild­fires in Cal­i­for­nia: “We’re see­ing it hap­pen again and again across the world. This whole se­quence of events would not have hap­pened with­out cli­mate change.”

Prof Mark Maslin, at Univer­sity Col­lege Lon­don, said: “The anal­y­sis clearly shows cli­mate change has al­ready changed our weather pat­terns and is hav­ing ad­verse ef­fects on peo­ple’s lives. It is be­holden on all gov­ern­ments to take heed of these warn­ings and start cut­ting car­bon emis­sions as quick as pos­si­ble.”

John Sau­ven, an ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor at Green­peace UK, said: “The link be­tween cli­mate change and ex­treme weather used to be a fin­ger­print, it now looks more like a smok­ing gun. The science is leav­ing world lead­ers nowhere to hide. They are the first gen­er­a­tion of po­lit­i­cal lead­ers with a clear view of the precipice we’re head­ing to­wards and may be the last to be able to swerve away from it.”

The heat­wave showed the vul­ner­a­bil­ity of farm­ing and food se­cu­rity to global warm­ing, said Minette Bat­ters, the pres­i­dent of the Na­tional Farm­ers Union. “Our in­dus­try is on the fore­front of cli­mate change im­pacts. The sum­mer heat­wave was hugely chal­leng­ing and should be a wake-up call for us all.” She said long-term drought poli­cies were needed, such as mak­ing it eas­ier to get plan­ning per­mis­sion for new reser­voirs.

The Met Of­fice anal­y­sis used so­phis­ti­cated com­puter mod­els to es­ti­mate the prob­a­bil­ity of such a hot sum­mer in the UK in a world with man­made global warm­ing and in a world with­out it. If hu­man­ity’s fos­sil fuel burn­ing had not more than dou­bled the CO2 in the at­mos­phere, there would have been a less than one in 200 chance of the 2018 heat. But in to­day’s warm­ing world, the prob­a­bil­ity was one in eight.

The 30-fold in­creased risk sur­prised Stott: “It is a large num­ber, but we checked it very care­fully.” The method­ol­ogy used has been peer-re­viewed and the new anal­y­sis would be, too, but the Met Of­fice said it was im­por­tant to make the in­for­ma­tion pub­lic as early as pos­si­ble.

Stott’s team also looked at the Cen­tral Eng­land tem­per­a­ture record which stretches back to 1659. They found just one sum­mer, 1826, as hot as 2018 in the two cen­turies up un­til 1850, when CO2 emis­sions be­gan to rise fast. In con­trast, there have been two other sum­mers just as hot as 2018 in the last two decades, in 2003 and 2006.

An ear­lier anal­y­sis of the sum­mer heat in Europe also found that cli­mate change had in­creased its risk, though it looked at the hottest three-day pe­ri­ods, not the whole sea­son. Scores of ex­treme weather events around the world, in­clud­ing droughts and se­vere rain­falls, have been linked to global warm­ing, in­clud­ing the Storm Des­mond down­pour that caused ex­ten­sive se­vere flood­ing in the UK.

Pho­to­graph: An­drew Mc­caren/LNP/REX/ Shut­ter­stock

Low wa­ter level at Swin­sty reser­voir near Har­ro­gate, York­shire, dur­ing the UK’s sum­mer heat­wave.

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