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Landmark science warns Britain is facing dangerous climate change



Ref: 140/09
Date: 18 June 2009

Benn says ‘Threat of heat waves and floods means UK has to act now to adapt to changes that are coming and to stop these getting worse.’

Cutting-edge scientific projections, launched today by Environment Secretary Hilary Benn, provide the most detailed picture to date of the threat facing Britain from soaring summer temperatures, more extreme weather and rising sea levels.

The UK Climate Projections 2009, based on Met Office science, illustrate the extent of the changes the UK might face in the absence of global action to cut emissions – warmer and wetter winters, hotter and drier summers, increased risk of coastal erosion and more severe weather. The maps and findings are publicly available online.

Across the UK, the Projections show a range of climate changes up until the end of the century based on three possible greenhouse gas emissions pathways – high, medium and low. Broadly speaking the world’s emissions are currently equivalent to the medium pathway, although there is a risk we could still be heading even for the high scenario. While we cannot be absolutely certain what will happen in the future, these projections – for the first time – show the probabilities of potential changes for the UK. They are not a long range weather forecast.

The Projections show us a future that we must avoid. The medium emissions scenario shows that within the lifetimes of our children and grandchildren - by the 2080s – we could be faced with:

  • An increase in average summer temperatures of between 2 and 6 degrees C in the South East with a central estimate of 4 degrees;
  • A 22% decrease in average summer rainfall in the South East  - which is already water stressed - and an increase of 16% in average winter rainfall in the North West, with increases in the amount of rain on the wettest days leading to a higher risk of flooding; and
  • sea level rise of 36cm.

Temperatures would rise even more under a high emissions scenario and could be up to 12 degrees C warmer on the hottest summer days, with peak summer temperatures in London regularly hitting over 40 degrees.

These findings are sobering.  Without decisive action, there will be an increase in water shortages, heat stress and floods. All of these would have a severe impact on people’s health and quality of life, the economy and the natural environment.

The message is clear that to avoid these dangerous levels of climatic change in the second half of this century, we need a strong global deal at Copenhagen this December to restrict global temperature rises to less than 2 degrees (above pre-industrial levels). This would mean reducing emissions below those in the Projections.

At the same time the Projections show that some climate change is now inevitable whatever we do.  Past emissions are likely to make summers over 2 degrees hotter in southern England by the 2040s (compared to the 1961-1990 average). It is therefore vital that we plan and prepare for those changes alongside international action to reduce global emissions.  Even at a 2 degree global temperature increase we will need to adapt the way we live and work – for example the 2003 heatwave saw average daily temperatures of 2 degrees above average and caused 35,000 deaths across Northern Europe.

Environment Secretary, Hilary Benn said:
‘There is no doubt about it – climate change is the biggest challenge facing the world today. Climate change is already happening – the hottest ten years on record globally have all been since 1990. This landmark scientific evidence shows not only that we need to tackle the causes of climate change but also that we must deal with the consequences.

‘The Projections will allow us to make sure we have a resilient infrastructure to cope – whether it’s the design of school buildings or protection of new power plants, maintaining the supply of drinking water, adjusting ways of farming for drier summers or understanding how our homes and businesses will have to adapt.’

Energy and Climate Change Secretary, Ed Miliband said:
‘The science is pushing us harder than ever towards an ambitious global deal in Copenhagen this December.  These projections add to the overwhelming body of scientific evidence that says mankind must cut carbon emissions now to prevent a future of extreme weather patterns which could threaten the livelihoods of people across the world as well as put plants, animals and sea life in peril.

‘Now is the time to act. The UK has set an example to the world through our Climate Change Act, committing to cut UK emissions by a third by 2020 and by 80% by 2050. We are well placed to achieve this and are determined to seize the economic and job opportunities presented by the shift to low carbon. We need all other countries to be part of a global deal on climate change.’

The UK Climate Projections 2009 are available on the web and will be used as part of risk-based planning for local government, utilities and other organisations. Defra is rolling out an extensive training programme to help organisations make best use of the Projections. Defra has also today launched a consultation  on the use of its new Adaptation Reporting Power, which will require over 100 organisations  providing a public service to report on the risks climate change poses to their operations and the plans they have in place to respond. For the first time Government departments will have to publish their plans to adapt by spring 2010.

Julia Slingo, Met Office Chief Scientist said:
‘Through UKCP09 the Met Office has provided the world’s most comprehensive regional climate projections with a unique assessment of the possible changes to our climate through the rest of this century.  For the first time businesses and other organisations have the tools to help them make risk-based decisions to adapt to the challenges of our changing climate.’

A Five Point Plan to Tackle Climate Change

The Government is tackling climate change on five fronts:

1. Protecting the public from immediate risk

Climate change is already happening in the UK - the Government has more than doubled spending on flood protection since 1997, developed a heat wave plan in the NHS and is helping communities affected by coastal erosion. 

2. Preparing for the future

Whatever is done to reduce emissions in the future, past emissions mean that some climate change is already inevitable.  Defra’s UK Climate Projections published today will be used to help plan for a future with a changing climate.  It’s planned that over 100 providers of important public services will be required to report on their assessment of climate risks and their plans to respond to these.  Government Departments will also be producing Adaptation Plans by April 2010.  Building climate risk into decision making means, for example, changing the way we build our houses and infrastructure, managing water better and adjusting farming practices. 

3. Limiting the severity of future climate change through a new international climate agreement

To limit global temperature increases to less than two degrees and avoid the most dangerous effects of climate change, the Government is leading international efforts to achieve a new international climate agreement at Copenhagen in December.  We must ensure global emissions start to fall within the next decade and be at least 50% below 1990 levels by 2050.  Later in June the Government will set out its aims for the Copenhagen deal.

4. Building a low carbon UK

To play our part in reducing global emissions, Britain needs to become a low carbon country.  The 2008 Climate Change Act made Britain the first country in the world to set legally binding ‘carbon budgets’, aiming to cut UK emissions by 34% by 2020 and 80% by 2050 through investment in energy efficiency and clean energy technologies such as renewables, nuclear and carbon capture and storage.    

5. Supporting individuals, communities and businesses to play their part

Everyone has a role to play in tackling climate change, from reducing their own emissions to planning for adaptation.  Building on our ‘Act on CO2’ information campaign, the Government is providing a range of support for individuals, communities and businesses, including a major programme of financial help for home insulation and energy efficiency. 

Notes to editors

  1. The Projections are based on three global emissions scenarios outlined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – high, based on a fossil fuel reliant economy; medium, based on a mix of fossil fuel reliance and new lower carbon technologies; and low, based on increased use of new technologies. The UK’s Committee on Climate Change suggests that the world’s emissions are currently equivalent to a medium emissions scenario.
  2. The Climate Projections 2009 were developed by a consortium of organisations using Met Office climate modelling in conjunction with the UK Climate Impacts Programme, Newcastle University, University of East Anglia, British Atmospheric Data Centre, Tyndall Centre, Proudman Oceanographic Laboratory, Environment Agency and Marine Climate Change Impacts Partnership.
  3. They have been developed using the Met Office climate change model combined with results from 12 internationally recognised global models to provide a range of probabilistic outcomes based on the strength of evidence – for example a minimum temperature increase below which we think is unlikely, a maximum, above which is unlikely and a central estimate at which the probability of change being higher or lower is equal. Although there are still uncertainties, and assumptions have been made in building the climate models. An expert international panel reviewed the work that has been done and found it to be credible describing them as a large step beyond UKCIP02. They begin to quantify the uncertainties we face and will help us make judgements on the risks that lie ahead
  4. The 2009 Projections are presented for each UK region at a 25km resolution to take into account local topography for more detailed simulations across the country. The probabilistic approach allows users to adopt a risk-based approach to planning – for example users may choose to use the worst case scenario (eg high emissions scenario, projected maximum temperature increase) for planning decisions where the risk of getting it wrong – e.g. the future of the Thames Barrier – would have huge consequences.
  5. The Projections build on the data published in 2002 which provided one best estimate for climate changes rather than a probabilistic range.

All single figures quoted in the press release are the central estimate for the medium emissions scenario for 30 year period 2070-2099 (the 2080s) except for the potential hottest summer day on the high emissions scenario which is the highest probability level (90%). The projections are presented as ranges for each of the emissions scenarios from 10% to 90% probabilities, with 10% unlikely to be less than and 90% unlikely to be more than. A central estimate is represented by the 50% probability. The Projections use a baseline of 1961-90 and provide information on temperature rise, rainfall,  humidity, radiation and cloud level for all three emissions scenarios in 30 year time periods. There is also more information for the marine and coastal environment including sea level rise, storm surge, waves, currents and salinity. The Projections can be found at

  1. The Adaptation Reporting Power was taken under the Climate Change Act and requires specified bodies to report on the risks that climate change poses to their operations and their adaptation plans. Defra has launched a consultation on how the reporting power will be implemented. The consultation can be found
  1. Each main Government department will have to produce a plan showing how they will plan for the risks presented to major infrastructure and policies from a changing climate.
  2. Defra’s coastal change consultation and coastal change fund were launched on Monday 15th June 2009.

Supportive quotes

Professor Bob Watson, Defra Chief Scientific Adviser, said:

“The UK Climate Projections are the best science to date to help us understand the complexities of the UK climate. They are a world first in presenting how probable the level of potential climate change will be against emissions scenarios and will be invaluable to help us plan for a changing future. They provide a stark message – some climate change is inevitable but we must act now to limit the severity of that change.”

Professor John Beddington, the Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser, said:

“The projections offer new insights into the climate risks facing the UK. They will be a valuable tool to help us make risk based decisions and investments now that are resilient to the climate changes that are possible through this century.     

“We now know that some further climate change over the next two to three decades is already unavoidable due to past emissions. But what the projections also show is that strong mitigation action now can start to make a real difference by 2050 and lead to very different climate outcomes by the 2080s." 

Lord Krebs, Chair of the Adaptation Sub-Committee to the Committee on Climate Change, said:

“These projections represent an important addition to the evidence base in planning for climate change in the UK.  The Government and other organisations should consider how to make best use of the projections in assessing the risks and opportunities presented by climate change.  The Adaptation Committee will be assessing the Government’s progress in doing so, and reporting to Parliament.

“It is of course important not to treat the numbers as certain, but as a valuable guide to the likely direction of change in climate over the coming decades.  The further one goes into the future, and the finer the scale of projection, the more uncertainty is introduced.  These projections attempt to quantify that uncertainty in a systematic way for the first time – and, taking account of the uncertainties, they certainly underline strongly the case for action on both adaptation and mitigation.” 

John Healey , Communities and Local Government Housing Minister said:

“Tackling climate change is core to our work on housing, planning, tightening building standards and with our fire and rescue services. We have already set clear expectations for adaptation on major infrastructure projects, regional strategies and local developments - which must all take account of a changing climate.  We are also encouraging innovation - for instance through eco-towns and through the Code for Sustainable Homes. These projections will be important in taking our work with local planning authorities forward.

"And the message is clear that we need to take serious action to reduce carbon emissions which is why we are improving current standards for new homes or buildings from 2010.”

Fiona Reynolds, Director General at the National Trust, said:

“Climate change is already having significant implications for the cherished places and landscapes in our care and our approach therefore has to be one of continual and wide-scale adaptation, being flexible to accommodate inevitable change, as well as doing all we can practically to reduce emissions.  All of us - governments, charities, enterprises, communities and individuals - need to act immediately to do what we can to help minimise the effects of a changing climate."  

Stephen Haddrill, Director General of the Association of British Insurers, said:

"These projections show the importance of acting now to meet the challenge of climate change. The risk of flooding is rising and investment in flood defences needs to rise in parallel. The more that can be done to reduce the risk, the more confident property owners can be that the insurance industry will be able to continue to protect them."

Friends of the Earth’s Executive Director Andy Atkins said:

“This valuable report shows the urgency of reducing greenhouse gas emissions now - we mustn’t just sit back and wait for climate disaster to hit us.

“Climate change will make life in this country much tougher - through flooding, droughts and heat waves, the loss of land to sea level rise and the rise in health problems like skin cancer.

“The UK Government must take stronger action on climate change – and show real leadership ahead of crucial climate negotiations in Copenhagen in December, by committing to cuts in greenhouse gas emissions of at least 40 per cent by 2020 with no carbon offsetting.

“Local councils have to slash their emissions too – by investing in solutions such as cutting energy waste, boosting renewable power and green transport – this will create thousands of green jobs, reduce people’s fuel bills and boost local economies while helping to secure a greener future for us all.”


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Page published: 18 June 2009