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Southern England will be hit by more flooding unless there is a limit to global warming while all of Northern Europe can expect extreme rainfall if temperatures exceed 1.5 degrees.
The UN’s stark findings on climate change released today shows that the United Kingdom and Scandinavia are highly likely to be impacted by a warming planet unless there is a reduction in emissions.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) paper said there will be a projected increase of precipitation in winter in Northern Europe and extreme precipitation and pluvial flooding projected to increase at warming levels that exceed 1.5 C in all areas except the Mediterranean.
At a press conference with scientists who worked on the UN report, Dr Tamsin Edwards, a climate scientist specialising in sea-level rise at King’s College London said that while Scotland and Northern Ireland would be less affected, England would see flooding.
“We know that under the kind of emission scenarios closest to where we’re heading at the moment, we’d be looking at a best estimate of around 60 centimetres of sea level rise. But we can limit that by about a third if we go down to very, very low emission scenarios, consistent with a one and a half degree target,” she said.
“On the other hand, if the greenhouse gas emissions are very high, and we were unlucky with how much the ice sheets lose ice… sea level rise could be approaching one metre or even approaching two metres this century, and in the UK, in the southern regions of the UK we’ll see increases in flooding. Scotland and Northern Ireland has a little less [flooding], because the land is rising.”
“But the more we limit warming, the more we can limit that increase in flooding that we know will happen.”
Dr Edwards, who wrote the report’s chapter on sea-level change, said even if there are strong reductions to emissions and limits to global warming, a one in a century coastal flood event would become annual for some locations in the UK.
In its projections for Northern Europe the report said that regardless of level of global warming, relative sea level will rise in all European areas except the Baltic Sea, and so-called “extreme sea level events” will become more frequent and more intense.
“Shorelines along sandy coasts will retreat throughout the 21st century,” the report predicted.
Some of the most extreme flooding in recent years in England has been severe winter flooding in West Yorkshire, South Yorkshire, the East and West Midlands and Cumbria. Somerset, Worcestershire and Gloucestershire have also been hit, as well as South Wales.
While London experienced dramatic flash flooding this summer, it can also expect more heatwaves in the future, according to the report’s projections for urban areas.
It found that urbanisation has exacerbated changes in temperature extremes in cities globally, in particular night time temperatures, and more construction or urban sprawl will make air temperatures even higher.
“Compared to present day, large implications are expected from the combination of future urban development and more frequent occurrence of extreme climate events, such as heatwaves, with more hot days and warm nights,” the report said.
Part of the heating problem is the way buildings have been constructed very close together so absorb and store heat and reduce natural ventilation. Both heating systems and air conditioning and running vehicle engines also contribute to cities getting hotter, as does concrete which absorbs heat and re-emits it at night.
The regional projection for Australasia includes more “fire weather” events, after scientists concluded that it was likely there had been longer than average bushfire seasons since the 1950s.
The severe fires of the summer season of 2019/2020 led to the loss of life, destroyed 46 million acres and more than 3000 homes in Australia, with a huge ecological impact as thousands of animals were killed.
The report predicted with high confidence an “intensity, frequency and duration of fire weather events” throughout Australia, and with medium confidence for New Zealand.
Sir Patrick Vallance, the government’s chief scientific adviser, said the report Dr Edwards had co-written was both “stark, and rightfully uncomfortable.”
He said: “I think it makes a very clear point, which is the 2020s is the decade where you really got to make something happen. It’s very often looked at as ‘well, 2050 – that’s a long way off’, the whole point is, it’s not. If we don’t do it now, then we don’t stand a chance of getting this right.”
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