The Changing UK Climate

Climate change is a global issue, with global impacts, but that disproportionately affect different parts of the world. But what does climate change look like in the UK asks Net Zero Officer, Alice.

The UK has a temperate maritime climate, which means that we generally have a cool and mild climate with changeable weather. However, with the increase in global temperatures, the UK can expect to see warmer and wetter winters, hotter and drier summers, and more frequent and intense weather events, such as wildfires, flooding, droughts, and storms.

Climate change will make these conditions and events more likely, and change is already happening. The Met Office has determined using its land-based weather stations that the UK has already warmed by 1°C since around the 1950s. You may have noticed that this is reflected in the longer and more frequent warm and hot spells, high temperature records broken across the UK, shorter and less frequent cold spells, and less frost and snow.

Given the worst case emissions scenario, where the world continues to create high levels of emissions, compared to 1990, by 2070 the Met Office projects that winters could be between 1°C-4.5°C warmer and up to 30% wetter, summers could be between 1°C-6°C warmer and up to 60% drier, and hot summer days could be between 4°C-7°C warmer. These changes would bring many real-world impacts that will affect our lives.

Climate change is already impacting peoples’ lives in the UK. Sea levels have risen by around 16.5cm since 1900, but the Met Office says the rate of rise is increasing (by 3-5.2mm a year). The erosion of the coastline by rising sea levels is causing building foundations to collapse and homes to be destroyed.

Many of our homes and infrastructure are also at risk of flooding caused by more frequent and intense rainfall and failing power and water supplies caused by more severe storms. Storm Arwen (November 2021) resulted in thousands of homes being without power for days. Food production in the UK and around the world will need to adapt. Whilst the growing season in the UK may lengthen, there will be more droughts, resulting in crop failures.

Some of the crops grown in the UK today may not be suited to the future higher temperatures. Public health and demand on the NHS will be affected by more frequent heatwaves, particularly for more vulnerable people such as the very young, the elderly and those with chronic health conditions.

Homes will need to be adapted to help people cope during hot weather spells. Globally, we can expect to see increases in climate refugees (a person who has been forced to leave their home because of the effects of climate change on their environment). The UK and world population is increasing, and with parts of the planet becoming less inhabitable, we will see a greater demand on land that is habitable. With the changing climate, we will see further decline of biodiversity in the UK. Biodiversity is the variety of all living things on Earth and how they fit together in the web of life, bringing oxygen, water, food, and countless other benefits to us.

Species are beginning to spread northwards as temperatures rise, seabirds such as the little tern which nest on beaches are at risk from rising sea levels, and wading birds will struggle to find food as wetland habitats dry out. Habitat loss will also occur from extreme weather events like flooding, droughts, and wildfires. Wildfires not only destroy habitats but in the burning of these habitats, including peat bogs, wildfires have the potential to emit huge amounts of carbon dioxide, adding to climate change further.

For ideas about how you can reduce your impact on climate change visit our blog post highlighting swaps to reduce your carbon footprint.

For more information, visit the links below:

Climate change in the UK – Met Office

5 questions about Climate Change • Northumberland National Park

Climate Change • Northumberland National Park