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Scorching heatwaves in UK will be normal within 30 years and spark wildfires and droughts, report warns

The i 15/06/2021 Tom Bawden

The record-breaking summer heatwaves of 2018 will become normal and occur every other year by 2050 – and Britain is underprepared to deal with them, the Government’s climate change adviser has warned.

A report by the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) paints a stark picture of a country in which wildfires, floods, storms, landslides and droughts became increasingly common – killing hundreds of people a year through heat exhaustion, disrupting food supplies and devastating wildlife.

It said it was probably already too late to keep temperature increases in the UK below the 1.5°C target agreed by world leaders, and cautioned that the Government was doing nothing like enough to protect the country from the effects of climate change.

“We really do need to see a recognition that the climate in the UK is changing significantly and will go on changing significantly to 2050 and in some areas beyond,” said Baroness Brown, who chairs the CCC’s adaptation committee.

The report says that UK temperatures have already warmed by 1.2°C since the industrial revolution and forecasts 1.8°C of warming by 2050. This is likely to rise to between 2°C and 4°C by the end of the century, depending on speed and extent of emissions cuts.

Much more emphasis, in particular, needs to be put on keeping houses cool to prevent overheating – with the committee predicting that increased working from home in the future could exacerbate heat-related illness and death because domestic buildings are generally hotter than offices.

Baroness Brown said: “We need to see some action. The severity of the risks we face must not be underestimated. These risks will not disappear as the world moves to net zero; many of them are already locked in.”

Chris Stark, of the CCC, said: “This is aimed to elicit a response from the Government. We don’t see realistic plans to tackle the kind of risks that we have at the moment.”

A government spokesperson said: “The UK was the first major world economy to set a target of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Our plan to further reduce emissions in 2035 by at least 78 per cent compared to 1990 levels is the highest reduction target by a major economy to date.

“As we work to eliminate the UK’s contribution to climate change and build back greener after the pandemic we will increase biodiversity, protect and restore our peatlands, clean up our country’s air and help protect our waterways through our landmark Environment Bill.

“We welcome this report and will consider its recommendations closely as we continue to demonstrate global leadership on climate change ahead of COP26 in November.”

What the Government is accused of ignoring

  • Risks to the viability and diversity of terrestrial and freshwater habitats and species from multiple hazards.
  • Risks to soil health from increased flooding and drought.
  • Risks to natural carbon stores and sequestration from multiple hazards, leading to increased emissions.
  • Risks to crops, livestock and commercial trees from multiple climate hazards.
  • Risks to supply of food, goods and vital services due to climate-related collapse of supply chains and distribution networks.
  • Risks to people and the economy from climate-related failure of the power system.
  • Risks to human health, wellbeing and productivity from increased exposure to heat in homes and other buildings.

Reaction to the report

Politicians and campaigners are calling on the Government to do more to tackle climate change after its official adviser found its actions to be “really inadequate”.

“This is a devastating report, laying out in forensic detail the cost of successive governments’ failure to take the necessary action on the climate emergency,” said Green Party MP Caroline Lucas. “This has to serve as a call to action, far beyond the piecemeal policies and programmes the Government has put in place.”

Dr Doug Parr, the policy director at Greenpeace UK, said: “Despite the claims of climate leadership, it’s clear yet again that the Government is falling behind.”

Craig Bennett, chief executive of the Wildlife Trusts, said: “This is a welcome report showing the magnitude of the challenges we face – and the severe consequences if we fail to change course quickly enough. It is critical that governments and local authorities across the UK sit up and take notice.

“Today, a huge proportion of policy, planning and infrastructure decisions are being made without giving sufficient thought to future impacts of climate change. Houses built in the last few years may well become uninhabitable in just a couple of decades time, while roads, railways and bridges may not be able to withstand extreme weather events.

“Then you have the madness of plans to build new nuclear power stations on some of our fastest eroding coastlines.”

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