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Sunday, 12 November, 2000, 01:45 GMT
Climate crisis: All change in the UK?
As ministers, environmentalists and lobbyists from 180 countries gather in the Hague for the UN Climate Change conference, BBC News Online looks at how global warming could affect the UK.

Many climate scientists agree that human pollution, mainly from burning fossil fuels, has increased global warming in the past 50 years.

Some researchers argue that global warming may already have had a significant effect on the climate in the UK. Four of the five warmest years for more than three centuries have occurred in the last 10 years.

By the 2050s, annual temperatures in the south east of the country could be on average more than 2C warmer than they are now - 30 years later that may rise to more than 3C.

So can we look forward to more long lazy summer days, and regularly dining alfresco in our sunset years?

Dr Merylyn Mckenzie-Hedger, of the UK climate impacts programme, at Oxford University, says: "Things may grow better for a while and there has been a move towards outdoor living with barbecues and café society, so there will be positive side effects, but it is a complicated package.

"Quite a lot if it will be quite nasty."

Turning the tide?

As well as hotter, we are also likely to get much wetter, both through increased rainfall and rising sea levels, due to melting ice caps.

Predictions by the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia put global sea level rises between 12cm and 67cm by 2050.

By far the worst effects will be felt in low-lying areas of countries like Bangladesh and Pakistan - but there will also be some serious consequences for the UK.

Milkman
We will have to learn to live with climate change
Parts of East Anglia as well as parts of the south east could end up under water.

The threat of rising sea levels is compounded by the fact that the UK is gradually tilting. The south east of the country is sinking while the north west is rising.

With holding back the sea a notoriously expensive business, eventually some low-lying coastal areas will probably have to be abandoned.

Weathering the extreme

The recent floods and storms in the UK could also be part of a pattern of more extreme weather occurring as a result of climate change.

But Prof Phil Jones, of the Climatic Research Unit, is keen to point out that, as a single event, the floods do not have much significance, instead long term trends will have to be studied.

Studies of long term trends at the Climate Research Unit have found that winter precipitation could increase by more than 20% by the 2080s.

By contrast, in summer, central and southern UK could be much dryer than it is now with up to 18% less rainfall by 2080s. However northern England and Scotland is likely to experience the double whammy of both wetter summers and wetter winters.

With hotter weather, the demand for water would increase significantly as would evaporation from reservoirs.

As a result droughts, already a problem in the south during the summers, are likely to become more severe.

Goodbye gulf stream?

Ocean currents transport large amounts of heat around the world: climatologists call it thermohaline circulation (THC).

One example is the gulf stream which warms the UK and the rest of North West Europe. Temperatures are on average about 9C higher than the latitude should allow.

Some experts predict that climate change could disrupt THC. If the gulf stream slows down or moves further south the UK could end up with a climate more like that of Newfoundland.

But Prof Jones says this is unlikely.

"It's very difficult to turn THC off. If Greenland melted perhaps - but there is no sign of Greenland melting."

Fruit and veg

Research also suggests that the varieties of plants grown in the UK will also be affected by global warming.

Maize
Maize could become more widely grown in the UK
If we got a couple of degrees warmer our current range of arable crops would shift northward and maize, more often grown in Southern Europe and North America, would become more popular in the south and the midlands.

Fruits that are also associated with warmer climates, like peaches and nectarines, would also be grown more widely. And the hot summers could also be a real boost to the British wine industry.

Warmer seas around the UK are likely to attract fish that, up until now, have favoured more southern waters. Recently fishermen have reported seeing surprising numbers of mullet, anchovies and various species of shark.

Pests and diseases

A Mediterranean climate doesn't sound too bad - that is until we also take into account the insect pests that also thrive in warmer summers.

mosquito
Insect-borne diseases could become more common
Farmers fear the destructive Colorado beetle could get more of a foothold if the weather warms. In residential areas cockroaches could become more common along with fleas and mites.

Bloodsucking ticks, scorpions and poisonous spiders and even malaria carrying mosquitoes all might become a feature of life in a hotter UK.

And of course if we don't cover up in the sun, increased levels of skin cancer and cataracts are also a possibility.

But whatever climate change occurs in the UK we can be sure that other parts of the world will be far worse off.

"We certainly have the resources to cope with it," says Prof Jones.

"We are better off than a lot of people."


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