UK temperatures may rise to 40C even if global warming limited to 1.5C, scientists warn

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Recent decades in Britain have been warmer, wetter and sunnier than in the last century, with last year the third warmest on record, a report by climate scientists said on Thursday.

The report points to how Britain's climate is already changing as experts warn that extreme weather events, such as floods, heatwaves and droughts, will increase across the world due to the effects of global warming.

"Average temperatures for the UK continue to climb, with nearly a degree of warming when comparing the most recent 30 years with the preceding 30-year period," said Mike Kenson, lead author and senior climate scientist at the Met Office.

The year 2020 was third warmest after 2014 and 2006, the fifth wettest and eight sunniest on record for the United Kingdom.

"No other year has fallen in the top-10 for all three variables for the UK," the report said.

The State of the UK Climate report is based on observations of temperature, precipitation, sunshine and wind speed from the UK land weather station network managed by the Met Office.

"Our climate is changing and it is changing now and the science is clear that we will see more of it going into the future," Kenson told journalists.

This month, catastrophic floods have swept across northwest Europe, an unprecedented heatwave sent temperatures soaring in Canada and wildfires are raging across the US northwest and southwestern Canada, raising questions about how countries will protect infrastructure and deal with the changing climate.

The Royal Meteorological Society has warned that summer temperatures may regularly hit 40C even if global temperatures are limited to a 1.5C rise above pre-industrial levels.

Britain is due to host the United Nations’ Climate Change Conference COP26 in November, which is seen as a critical opportunity for countries to make more ambitious commitments to achieve net zero emissions by 2050 and keep the global average temperature rise to below 2C this century, which was set under the Paris Agreement in 2015.

All of the top 10 warmest years for the United Kingdom in records dating back to 1884 have occurred since 2002, and, for central England, the 21st century so far has been warmer than the previous three centuries.

The most recent decade (2011-2020) has been on average 0.5 degrees Celsius warmer than the 1981-2010 average and 1.1C warmer than 1961-1990.

Britain has also been on average 6 per cent wetter over the past 30 years (1991-2020) than the preceding 30 years (1961-1990). Six of the 10 wettest years in a series from 1862 have occurred since 1998, the report said.

The annual report, published in The Royal Meteorological Society's International Journal of Climatology, was compiled by scientists at the UK's Met Office, the National Oceanography Centre, the University of Cambridge, the Woodland Trust and Poland's Poznan University of Life Sciences.

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