Local impact of climate change
Our climate is already changing and even if we are successful in achieving our ambitions both locally, nationally and internationally, we will still see shifts in weather patterns that will require us to make adaptations to all aspects of modern life and build resilience in our communities.
According to data from the Met Office, the average temperature over the most recent decade (2009-2018) across the UK has been 0.3 °C warmer than the 1981-2010 average and 0.9 °C warmer than the 1961-1990 average. Since records began in 1884, the top ten warmest years for the UK have occurred since 2002.
Looking ahead to future years, both in Worcestershire and across the UK, we can expect to see on average warmer and wetter winters, hotter and drier summers, and more frequent episodes of extreme weather, ie more intense episodes of rainfall at all times of the year, flooding, droughts and heatwaves (Source: Worcestershire Climate Change Strategy).
For example, the chance of experiencing the extended and severe heatwave of 2018 was historically less than 10%. This will rise to 50% by 2050 and increase further with additional warming.
The Met Office has set out forecasts for how the climate is likely to change in both a low and high emissions scenario for a location in Central England, which gives us a likely indication of what we can expect.
Depending on the scenario, by the 2070s we could see summers that are 41% to 57% drier and between 3% and 9% wetter. Winters could be between 22% and 33% wetter. Summers could be up to 5.8 °C warmer and winters up to 4.2 °C warmer.
As well as the impact on human life, there are serious implications for wildlife. These include water stress due to hotter summers which may lead to further declines in water quality. This will impact on freshwater species and habitats. We may lose trees due to severe drought or waterlogging and warmer winters could threaten hedgehog and bat populations, as they may no longer receive the temperature triggers needed to prompt hibernation preparation. We may see a disconnect between food availability and breeding seasons, eg caterpillars appearing before young birds have hatched, threatening bird populations. Changes in rainfall patterns may impact on species-rich grassland growth and distribution which, as well as impacting on biodiversity, will affect efforts to use natural habitats to capture and store carbon.
The impact of climate change globally must also be taken into account as the effects will filter down to a local level. These include increased food insecurity, increased competition for resources leading to conflict, disrupted supply chains, increased costs and increased migration pressure.
What this data highlights is failing to act will have serious consequences not only for our environment but for our residents, businesses and public services as well. It reinforces the need for urgent action to help the UK reduce its emissions and achieve carbon neutrality as soon as possible.