Met Office: Effects of climate change worse than predicted

Hotter summers, wetter winters and rising sea levels for the foreseeable future: Environment Secretary Michael Gove has launched the UK government’s first major update of climate projections in nearly a decade, which reveal that the Environment Agency is preparing for a worst-case scenario of a four degree rise in temperature.

Flood warning sign
Flood warning sign

Floods set to increase: Seas around the UK are predicted to continue rising until the year 2100. 

Kate Nicholson

The UK government has provided its first major update on climate change in a decade with the launch of the Met Office’s Climate Projections 2018, setting out how regions of the UK will be affected by rising global temperatures.

Announcing the projections, Environment Secretary Michael Gove gave a speech at the Science Museum in London, predicting a future of more extreme weather and providing an explanation of the government’s plans for the declining British environment.

In his address, Gove emphasised how the climate change effects we’ve witnessed so far are only going to worsen. He said: “Today, as we launch the fourth generation of our UK Climate Projections, it is clear that the planet and its weather patterns are changing before our eyes.”

The Climate Projections reveal the key areas of concern for the UK, with global warming promising a particularly shocking change from our current climate. Nine out of 10 of the warmest years have already occurred since 2002, a trend that is expected to continue. Under the highest emission scenario, warming by 2070 is predicted to be between 0.9˚C to 5.4°C in summer compared to 1981 to 2000.

The projections also revealed that the mean sea level in the UK has risen by approximately 16cm since 1900, and that seas are predicted to continue rising around the UK until the year 2100. This rise, already predicted in the 2009 Climate Projections, is expected to exceed even those forewarnings, with London sea levels alone likely to rise as much as 1.15m.

Meanwhile, land also needs to be protected and restored to ensure we hold on to the carbon-rich natural habitats and wildlife they support. Agriculture is under threat, as global farms may face more severe weather conditions that prevent them from producing enough food, which will in turn push UK farmers to play an even more important role in world food production.

Government action

Throughout his speech, Gove explained how the government intends to face the potential threat  of drought, flooding and storms for UK residents.

He pointed out that the government is investing a record £2.6 billion in flood defences and hope to protect 300,000 homes from flooding by 2021. Additionally, he said: “By 2050, we are committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80 per cent compared to 1990 levels. Since 1990 we have cut emissions by 42 per cent – faster than any other G7 nation – and our economy has grown by two thirds.”

Gove also emphasised the international effort that will be needed if any change is expected to take place. The UN Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) recently revealed in its October report that the world can keep to a 1.5˚C warming limit if nations collaborate; for this to be achieved, global net greenhouse gas emissions produced by human activity need to be zero by the middle of the century. This is a change from the 2016 Paris Agreement, which suggested nations try to stick to a 2˚C temperature increase.

“This is why we are aiming to limit warming to well below two degrees,” Gove clarified, “but the Environment Agency is preparing for four degrees when planning flood defences. We know that every half a degree makes an enormous difference to outcomes. Keeping warming to 1.5˚C rather than 2˚C, as the Paris Agreement urges us to attempt, spares up to 10 million people from being exposed to the risks of rising seas, according to the IPCC.”

Gove also emphasised the UK’s global responsibility: “While climate change cannot be blamed for growing wealth inequality, it is the case that it disproportionately affects nations with the least resources to cope – nations which have also contributed least to emissions in the first place.”

With this in mind, the government will be committing nearly £6 billion of funding between 2016 and 2020 to help developing countries both reduce emissions and build resilience to potential threats from climate change.

There is a potential long-term approach in the pipeline too, as the Environment Agency – which published its own report into climate change today – will issue a new 50 year strategy next year. The UK is also leading international efforts on climate resilience for the UN Secretary General’s Climate Summit in 2019.

Does government action go far enough?

There has been some opposition to Gove’s intended plan of action. Green Party MP Caroline Lucas said the Met Office projections required more extreme action: "These projections paint a devastating picture of what climate breakdown means for the UK if we continue down the path we're on. Michael Gove's vague talk of mitigating the worst impacts of floods, droughts and storms are far from reassuring.

"It's increasingly clear the government isn't going to embark on the urgent economic transformation we need to secure our futures. It's now up to Parliament to create a Select Committee on Climate Change to pile pressure on ministers and chart a course out of this crisis.

"Those MPs must urgently begin drafting legislation to impose absolute limits on our use of resources and outlaw wasteful product designs. They must measure the Government’s success according to people's quality of life and the health of our ecosystems – not economic growth. And they must set out binding plans to ensure people can thrive as we reimagine our society."

You can find more information about the UK Climate Projections on the Met Office website.