UK weather warning: 'Runaway' global warming could spark summer droughts and cause prolonged heatwaves to become 'the norm', experts say

James Morris

“Runaway” global warming is set to cause permanent extreme weather, including prolonged summer droughts and severe winter flooding in the UK, leading scientists have warned.

University academics warned exceptionally hot weather, as Brits have experienced this summer, could become the norm and cause the deaths of "a whole lot of plants and animals".

Meanwhile, in winter, the UK could regularly face the threat of flooding as sea levels continue to rise.

It comes as research suggested the Earth could be just decades away from a “hothouse” state because of irreversible warming.

The report claimed the planet is not far off a climatic tipping point that triggers an irreversible level of “runaway” global warming, even if countries meet CO2 targets.

Reacting to the report, Dr Phil Williamson, a climate researcher from the University of East Anglia (UEA), told the Standard: “If every summer is like this, a whole lot of plants and animals are going to die. But we can’t rely on importing. It would be crazy to be flying in lettuce, for example, from America.

“And if there is continued warming, we are also facing the threat of increased sea levels. So we could be seeing winter flooding after summer droughts: extremes at both ends.”

He added: “The ‘hothouse’ earth scenario is a little bit speculative. It’s not something people can say is 100 per cent sure to happen.

“But with the conditions we are experiencing now – it’s hot almost everywhere and we have been having pretty weird weather – there’s no doubt we are on a trend.”

Prof Chris Rapley, professor of climate science at University College London (UCL), said European countries would be at further risk of wildfires, as recently seen in Greece and Portugal.

After a weekend when temperatures approached record 48C levels in Portugal and Spain, he added: “The predictions show the Iberian Peninsula and northern Mediterranean coast will suffer increasing warming, making conditions for humans, livestock, agriculture and water supplies increasingly harsh and challenging.

“A common theme amongst those who downplay or deny climate change is that we will adapt. What we are witnessing and experiencing shows that adaptation is not so easy, and that there are serious consequences.”

He warned the European heatwave of 2003 – when nearly 15,000 heat-related deaths happened in France – could be considered a “cool” summer by 2065.

Meanwhile, Prof Williamson said areas of the world where high temperatures and high humidity combine could become uninhabitable.

He said parts of China and India would be at risk, explaining: “Humans can tolerate 40C, as long as they can keep cool and hydrated. But if it’s 35C to 40C where the humidity is high, the risk of heatstroke is much higher.

“Renewable energy must be fast-tracked. The government needs to set an aim: no carbon dioxide or greenhouse emissions in 20 years’ time. That would be a massive challenge, of course, but rich countries need to take the lead and set an example to the rest of the world.”