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UK could roast in 40C heat by the end of the century if climate change not addressed

Britain could face sweltering days of up to 40C heat if climate change is not urgently addressed, the Met Office has warned.

Heatwaves far more intense than recent weeks’ scorchers could become ordinary in the UK by the end of the century, according to scientists.

The Met Office has issued a call to action on greenhouse gas emissions – warning that Brits could otherwise face increasingly unbearable heat in cycles of every three to four years.

New research says the south-east of the UK would face the hottest temperatures by the end of this century.

This would tip the mercury in southern regions from London, to Cornwall, Dorset and south Wales as baking hot as Spain at the height of summer.

Chaos at Bournemouth Beach on Thursday when the heatwave saw seashores overcrowded

Climate scientists have warned for decades of the potential for extreme deadly weather events to become increasingly common,

Governments globally face pressure to clamp down on emissions and pursue sustainable energy sources and food production systems.

Climate change caused by human activity is already pushing the mercury to new record highs in Britain according to the national forecaster, with 38.7C in Cambridge in July 2019 the highest temperature ever recorded in the UK.

Only last Thursday the UK recorded its hottest day of 2020 yet, with Brits sweating of highs of up to 33C on a June day.

England’s beaches erupted into chaos in the coronavirus lockdown heatwave, as overcrowding and disorder saw major incidents declared at beaches including Bournemouth.

The new 2019 records prompt the question of whether 40C heat is on the horizon for the UK, with potentially deadly heatwaves becoming more regular.

Wind turbines loom over a packed Liverpool’s Crosby Beach during last week’s heatwave

Researchers at the Met Office Hadley Centre have used a detailed local-scale dataset based on observations to assess the likelihood of future hot spells in the face of high or medium levels of greenhouse gas emissions.

Climate change, driven by greenhouse gas emissions from activities such as burning fossil fuels which heat up the planet, has put the UK on a course to see extremes that would be highly unlikely under a “natural” climate, the scientists said.

Currently the chances of temperatures reaching 40C anywhere in the UK are extremely low.

Bournemouth Beach during last week’s hot spell

But if emissions continue at high levels, worsening climate change, the UK could see days with 40C heat every three to four years on average by 2100, a study published in the journal Nature Communications and released today has found.

Temperatures exceeding 35C currently occur once every five years on average in the UK, but that could rise to every other year with high emissions.

The scientists said if the world takes action on emissions in line with commitments in the international Paris Agreement to limit temperature rises to 1.5C or 2C above pre-industrial levels, the risk of extreme heat would be much lower.

South east cities like London could face extreme heatwaves

Which parts of the UK would be hottest?

The south-east of the UK is more likely to see 40C temperatures, while 35C temperatures are becoming increasingly common in the region.

But the study also found that areas in the north, where it is extremely unlikely to see days that reach 30C, may exceed that temperature at least once a decade.

Lead author Dr Nikolaos Christidis said: “We found that the likelihood of extremely hot days in the UK has been increasing and will continue to do so during the course of the century, with the most extreme temperatures expected to be observed in the south-east of England.

Formby Beach, Merseyside, on the hottest day of the year in the UK last Thursday

“Climate change has already influenced the likelihood of temperature extremes in the UK.

“The chances of seeing 40C days in the UK could be as much as 10 times more likely in the current climate than under a natural climate unaffected by human influence.

“The likelihood of exceeding 40C anywhere in the UK in a given year has also been rapidly increasing, and, without curbing of greenhouse gas emissions, such extremes could be taking place every few years in the climate of 2100.”

Temperatures could send the mercury soaring in the UK by the end of the century

Co-author and Met Office National Climate Information Centre head Dr Mark McCarthy said: “This research shows human-caused climate change has set us on a course to see temperature extremes in the UK that would be highly unlikely under a ‘natural’ climate, although urgent action to reduce emissions now can significantly reduce the occurrence of extreme high temperatures in the UK in the future.”

The Government’s advisory Committee on Climate Change has previously warned the UK is unprepared for the health impacts of increasing heatwaves, which can raise the risk of illness and deaths, particularly among the elderly or those with existing health conditions.

Action is needed to prevent overheating in homes, hospitals and on public transport, the committee has warned.

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