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Last Updated: Thursday, 7 August, 2003, 13:27 GMT 14:27 UK
Heat wave part of global trend

By Tim Hirsch
BBC environment correspondent

Britain is enjoying some of the hottest temperatures of the year at the moment but high temperatures are not just affecting this country.

The rest of Europe has also been hit by an exceptional heat wave - with temperatures hitting 40C in several countries this week.

Margate beach
Sunbathers took to UK beaches during the heat wave

At least 30 people have died as a result of the hot weather and in fires that have raged across the continent. Many people are asking if climate change is to blame.

One heat wave does not prove that the world is getting hotter, but this week's weather fits a global trend which has seen previous records shattered with increasing regularity.

In nine out of the past 12 years, average temperatures worldwide have been higher than at any time since records began in the 19th century and it is very likely that the 1990s were the warmest decade for 1000 years.

For several months now, temperatures across Europe have been, on average, five degrees warmer.

Above average

Sea temperatures in the Mediterranean region are two to three degrees warmer and reached their peak a month earlier than usual.

And here in the UK, temperatures for this last week are already around 10 degrees above average.

Dr John Turnpenny from the University of East Anglia, who helped draw up the latest forecast of how global warming is likely to affect the UK, says there will be more changes to come.

Fire in Spain
Extreme temperatures in Europe have caused fatal fires

"Certainly the evidence is very, very strong that the climate is changing and that we are likely to see much more of the kind of weather that we've been seeing this week, in the future," he said.

"It's likely that a very hot August with spells of weather like we're seeing now, could occur perhaps two years in every three by the last quarter of this century."

Climate change sceptics say the Earth's weather has always varied over time, and argue that natural phenomena such as solar activity could be producing the changes observed in recent decades.

But the overwhelming consensus of the scientific world, is that the biggest single cause of global warming is the burning of fossil fuels such as coal and oil. This adds heat-trapping gases to the atmosphere.

International efforts to limit these emissions are proving extremely difficult to implement.

Yet even drastic cuts would only slow down climate change; the warming trend is fixed for decades to come by the pollution of the past.




SEE ALSO:
No let-up in Europe heatwave
06 Aug 03  |  Europe
Drought leaves Europe's farmers helpless
30 Jul 03  |  Science/Nature



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