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Soaring heatwave temperatures linked to climate change

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As the Met Office issued the UK’s first ever red heat warning, advising people to stay indoors and take heat advice seriously, similar dangerous weather events have been happening around Europe.

For the first time ever, temperatures of 40°C have been forecast in the UK. This would break the previous land temperature record of 38.7°C for the UK, which was set in 2019. Nine out of ten of the hottest days ever recorded in the UK have been since 1990.

Spain, Portugal, Greece and France have seen devastating wildfires over the last few days, whilst temperatures in Western European nations such as Belgium and Germany peaked dangerously close to 40°C.

Closer to home, the temperature in London is expected to exceed that of areas in Western Sahara and the Caribbean. The question is, how is this UK heatwave linked to climate change?

Met Office scientists have recently estimated that climate change has made it ten times more likely for the UK to have a heatwave such as the one we are currently experiencing. Industrialisation processes in the last 200 years, fuelled by the burning of coal and oil, have emitted dangerous levels of greenhouse gases which heat our atmosphere. This altered temperature balance means weather patterns become severely disrupted, causing fires, flooding, storms, and droughts.

Whilst heatwaves in previous decades have been bearable, allowing citizens to enjoy the warmer weather on beaches or at tourist attractions, the soaring heat in 2022 has dangerous implications on the health and safety of both young and elderly people.

Infrastructure in the UK is not accustomed to such high temperatures; where other hotter European countries have stiff breezes and air conditioned buildings, buildings and homes in the UK are traditionally heavily insulated to keep them warm in winter.

Nigel Arnell, a professor of climate system science at the University of Reading, said Britain needs to prepare for a future of increased temperatures and disrupted weather. “Adaptation and resilience need to become a political priority. We can’t keep on dealing with extremes in crisis mode.”

However, combating climate change has much more to do with decarbonisation than it does with air conditioning. A focus on reducing energy consumption and producing our energy from green sources such as wind, solar and hydrogen, will form the foundation of our efforts into slowing climate change.

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