Page last updated at 17:04 GMT, Thursday, 18 June 2009 18:04 UK

UK 'must plan' for warmer future

By Richard Black
Environment correspondent, BBC News

Flooded town
Some regions of the UK are likely to see more floods, especially in winter

The UK needs to plan now for a future that will be hotter and bring greater extremes of flood and drought, says Environment Secretary Hilary Benn.

Launching the UK Climate Projections 2009 report (UKCP09), Mr Benn told MPs that the UK climate will change even with a global deal on emissions.

By 2080, London will be between 2C and 6C hotter than it is now, he said.

Every part of the UK is likely to be wetter in winter and drier in summer, according to the projections.

Summer rainfall could decrease by about 20% in the south of England and in Yorkshire and Humberside by the middle of the century.

These projections show us the future we need to avoid, and the future we need to plan for
Hilary Benn


Scotland and the north-west of England could see winter rainfall increase by a similar amount.

The government hopes UKCP09 will allow citizens, local authorities and businesses to plan for future decades.

It uses computer models of the world's climate to make projections of parameters such as temperature, rainfall and wind.

"Climate change is going to transform the way we live," said Mr Benn.

"These projections show us the future we need to avoid, and the future we need to plan for."

UK CLIMATE PROJECTIONS

Change in Summer Mean Temperature
By the 2080s, average summer temperatures could be up to six degrees warmer in parts of southern England
Changes in Summer Mean Rainfall
Average summer rainfall could decrease by 22% in the already water-stressed southern England
Changes in Winter Mean Rainfall
An increase of 16% in winter rainfall in the North West, increasing the amount of rain on the wettest days leading to higher flood risk
BACK {current} of {total} NEXT
 

An effective global deal at December's UN climate talks in Copenhagen could keep the summer temperature rise in southern England to about 2C, the projections suggest.

But if greenhouse gas emissions rise quickly, that figure could be as high as 12C, Mr Benn said.

Probable futures

The UK Met Office, which led the scientific analysis, says UKCP09 is the "most comprehensive set of probabilistic climate projections at the regional scale compiled anywhere in the world".

FROM THE WORLD AT ONE

Scientists collated data from 400 variations of the climate computer model developed by the Hadley Centre, part of the Met Office.

Each variant has been checked to see how well it predicted the climate of past decades; and the numbers have been compared with projections of other computer models.

This allowed scientists to assign probabilities to various forecasts.

Using a range of online tools including a "weather generator", people will be able to enter their postcodes and see projections of how conditions are likely to change within 25 sq km grid squares at different points in the future.

But some climate scientists have reservations about trying to project the future on such a detailed scale.

"If your decisions depend on what's happening at these very fine scales of 25 km or even 5 km resolution then you probably shouldn't be making irreversible investment decisions now," commented Myles Allen of Oxford University, one of the UK's leading climate modellers.

Earth

But the idea of the impact assessment has been well received by environment groups.

"It's great that the government has decided to put together such a scientifically robust analysis of the potential impacts of climate change in the UK," said Keith Allott, head of climate change at WWF-UK.

"But the picture it paints is an alarming one,"

"This research confirms that not only is climate change already having a serious impact in Britain, but that we are also locked into further impacts, and that these impacts will get much worse unless we act now to tackle the problem."

Mild UK

Campaigners say that the UK impacts are likely to be minor compared to other parts of the world.

Last month a report from the Global Humanitarian Forum, the think tank chaired by former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan, said the UK was among the 12 countries likely to be least affected by climate change.

"Life in parts of the UK will get harder, but it will get a great deal harder in countries already suffering the impact of climate change," said Alison Doig, senior climate policy expert with Christian Aid.

Beetroot

"Their plight will worsen dramatically unless the international community wakes up to the fact that a full-blown emergency is looming."

On Friday, the Environment Agency will release an assessment of how the changing climate will affect the risk of impacts such as flooding in England and Wales.

Commenting on the UKCP09 projections, Environment Agency chairman Chris Smith said:

"These new projections remind us starkly of the choices we face in ensuring a sustainable future for our fragile planet.

"A failure to cut greenhouse gas emissions will lead to a battle for survival for mankind and many other species across the globe by the end of this century; and we will feel the effects here in the UK too."

The agency is likely to recommend measures that would protect areas of the UK, and sectors of the economy, against climate impacts such as flooding.

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Richard.Black-INTERNET@bbc.co.uk



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