All change in the UK?
As ministers, environmentalists and lobbyists from 180 countries gather in
the Hague for the UN Climate Change conference, BBC News Online looks at how
global warming could affect the UK. Most
climate scientists agree that human pollution, mainly from burning fossil
fuels, has increased global warming in the past 50 years.
Global warming may already have had a significant effect on the
climate in the UK. Four of the five warmest years for more than three
centuries have occurred in the last 10 years.
By the 2050s, annual temperatures in the south east of the country
could be on average more than 2C warmer than they are now - 30 years later
that may rise to more than 3C.
So can we look forward to more long lazy summer days, and regularly
dining alfresco in our sunset years?
Dr Merylyn Mckenzie-Hedger, of the UK climate impacts programme, at
Oxford University, says: "Things may grow better for a while and
there has been a move towards outdoor living with barbecues and café
society, so there will be positive side
effects, but it is a complicated package. Quite a lot if it will be quite nasty."
As well as hotter, we are also likely to get much wetter, both through
increased rainfall and rising sea levels, due to melting ice caps.
Predictions by the Climate Research Unit at the University of East
Anglia put global sea level rises between 12cm and 67cm by 2050.
By far the worst effects will be felt in low-lying areas of countries
like Bangladesh and Pakistan - but there will also be some serious
consequences for the UK.
Parts of East Anglia as well as parts of the south east could end up
under water. The threat of
rising sea levels is compounded by the fact that the UK is gradually
tilting. The south east of the country is sinking while the north west
is rising. With holding
back the sea a notoriously expensive business, eventually some low-lying
coastal areas will probably have to be abandoned.
The recent floods and storms in the UK could also be part of a pattern of
more extreme weather occurring as a result of climate change.
But Prof Phil Jones, of the Climatic Research Unit, is keen to point
out that, as a single event, the floods do not have much significance,
instead long term trends will have to be studied.
Studies of long term trends at the Climate Research Unit have found
that winter precipitation could increase by more than 20% by the 2080s.
By contrast, in summer, central and southern UK could be much dryer than
it is now with up to 18% less rainfall by 2080s. However northern
England and Scotland is likely to experience the double whammy of both
wetter summers and wetter winters.
With hotter weather, the demand for water would increase
significantly as would evaporation from reservoirs.
As a result
droughts, already a problem in the south during the summers, are likely to
become more severe.
Ocean currents transport large amounts of heat around the world:
climatologists call it thermohaline circulation (THC).
One example is the gulf stream which warms the UK and the rest of
North West Europe. Temperatures are on average about 9C higher than the
latitude should allow. Some
experts predict that climate change could disrupt THC. If the gulf stream
slows down or moves further south the UK could end up with a climate more
like that of Newfoundland. But
Prof Jones says this is unlikely. "It's
very difficult to turn THC off. If Greenland melted perhaps - but there is no
sign of Greenland melting."
Research also suggests that the varieties of plants grown in the UK will
also be affected by global warming. If
we got a couple of degrees warmer our current range of arable crops would
shift northward and maize, more often grown in Southern Europe and North
America, would become more popular in the south and the midlands.
Fruits that are also associated with warmer climates, like peaches and
nectarines, would also be grown more widely. And the hot summers could also
be a real boost to the British wine industry.
Warmer seas around the UK are likely to attract fish that, up until now,
have favoured more southern waters. Recently fishermen have reported seeing
surprising numbers of mullet, anchovies and various species of shark.
A Mediterranean climate doesn't sound too bad - that is until we also take
into account the insect pests that also thrive in warmer summers.
Farmers fear the destructive Colorado beetle could get more of a
foothold if the weather warms. In residential areas cockroaches could become
more common along with fleas and mites.
Bloodsucking ticks, scorpions and poisonous spiders and even malaria
carrying mosquitoes all might become a feature of life in a hotter UK.
And of course if we don't cover up in the sun, increased levels of
skin cancer and cataracts are also a possibility.
But whatever climate change occurs in the UK we can be sure that other
parts of the world will be far worse off.
"We certainly have the resources to cope with it," says Prof
Jones. "We are better off
than a lot of people."