How the UK will be affected.
Climate change is a problem that no one can avoid. We have already started to see its effects here in the UK. Without action now the effects will be increasingly damaging to the economy, environment and our society as a whole.
The average yearly temperature of the UK could be between 1°C and 4.5°C hotter by the end of the century. This means that in the UK we face warmer, wetter winters and hotter, drier summers.
As summers become warmer and drier,droughts are more likely. There may also be more intense downpours of summer rainfall, which could lead to flash flooding. The extreme heat wave of 2003, when average summer temperatures were 2 °C higher than normal, led to more than 2,000 deaths in the UK. Such hot summers could become 5 to 10 times more likely over the next years, occurring at least once a decade.
Heavier winter rainfall is expected to become more frequent, potentially causing more flooding. Flooding may cause loss of life, displacement from homes, water supplies may be lost or contaminated and this can have immediate health effects upon people and animals. The economy can also be severely affected by flooding, The Association of British Insurers has estimated the cost of the July 2007 flooding, in insurance claims alone, at over £3billion.
Rising Sea Levels
The average sea level around the UK is now about 10 cm higher than it was in 1900. Rising sea levels pose a major threat to millions of people living in low-lying areas who are at risk of losing their homes to coastal flooding. Scientists warn that large areas of the Norfolk Broads and the Thames estuary are likely to disappear by 2100.
Cities including London, Hull, and Portsmouth will need to invest significant amounts of money in new flood defenses.
We will also face disruption to transport and energy systems as many rail lines run along river valleys that will be flooded more regularly.
Many power stations, including nuclear power stations, are located along the coast and will be in danger from sea level rises.
Animals and plants are able to adapt to changing climates, however the threat to wildlife is the complete loss of habitats, and the speed at which this change is happening.
Sea-level rise may result in the loss of freshwater habitats such as reedbeds and wet grasslands, which are essential feeding and roosting areas for important flocks of migratory birds.
More droughts will make the countryside increasingly vulnerable to wildfire. Broadleaved woodlands particularly in the South of the country may suffer from fires that can drastically alter their structure and species content.
One of the main concerns with species shifting from where they are now is that if climate change occurs very quickly, some wildlife may not be able to adapt and so may not survive.
In some cases species may migrate to other parts of the country to find a hospitable habitat but to do so they must overcome human barriers such as major roads or intensively managed farmland which may limit their ability to disperse.
It is estimated 20-30% of plant and animal species will be at risk of extinction if the temperature rises by more than 1.5 - 2.5C.
Costs to the UK
As we try to adapt to climate change it is clear that there will be significant financial costs to the UK.
Damage caused by extreme events such as drought and flooding have already cost billions of pounds, and these events are expected to become more severe. The effects of flooding, and managing flood risk, cost the UK around £2.2 billion each year: we currently spend around £800 million per annum on flood and coastal defences; and, even with the present flood defences in place, we experience an average of £1,400 million of damages.
It is estimated that:
- 1.5% of the country is at risk from direct flooding from the sea
- About 7% of the country is likely to flood at least once every 100 years from rivers
- 1.7m homes and 130,000 commercial properties, worth more than £200 billion, are at risk from river or coastal flooding in England
- Many more properties are also at risk from flash floods.
Reports such as the Stern Review make it clear that we must invest in climate change adaptation to reduce the costs that may be incurred from such events.
Adaptations to climate change include the additional spending needed to improve measures such as building new flood defenses and transporting water for agriculture, treating an increase in the range and severity of diseases, and replacing buildings and other infrastructure affected by rising temperatures or water levels.
The effects of global warming will hit the poor the hardest. This means that developing countries are most at risk from global warming caused by emissions created by developed countries like the UK. As a result there is a responsibility for the UK and other developed countries to assist developing countries to cope with climate change.
The UK is expected to spend around £3 billion to aid poorer countries to develop the necessary measures to limit the damage of climate change and to develop their economies without contributing huge amounts of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.
Overall it is clear that we need to act now to adapt to a changing climate as well as taking steps to minimise the amount of change by reducing our emissions today. We need to do more than simply reduce our carbon emissions. We need to prepare for the changing climate and start having a positive impact on the environment.