Climate change UK: Leaders under fire over climate action as global temperature records go up in flames

UK and Scottish leaders are coming under unprecedented pressure to ramp up climate action as wildfires burn across the world and this month was confirmed as the hottest in modern human history.

July 2023 is on track to be the hottest month ever recorded globally. It may be the planet’s warmest in the last 120,000 years, scientists have said.

Air and sea temperatures as well as losses of Antarctic sea ice have all smashed previous records this summer, bringing relentlessly extreme heatwaves and wildfires across the world.

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The World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) and Copernicus, the European Union’s climate watchers, said this July would be the hottest “by a significant margin” despite looking at data from only the first three weeks.

Last month was also the hottest June on record in the UK and worldwide, while an unprecedented marine heatwave saw sea surface temperatures around the British coast reach their highest since monitoring began.

Wildfires yesterday reached the outskirts of Athens as strong gusts of wind caused flare-ups around Greece. The fires have raged across parts of the country during three successive Mediterranean heatwaves over two weeks, leaving five people dead.

The international report coincides with warnings from UK meteorologists, who say record-breaking heat which saw thermometers shoot above 40C in the UK for the first time ever last year – the nation’s hottest since records began – could soon be the new normal – and may even seem “cool” by the end of the century.

The Met Office’s latest State of the UK Climate report, which uses long-term records to assess changes taking place in the nation’s weather system, shows a continuing trend of warmer, wetter and sunnier weather across the region in recent decades.

The wildfires on Rhodes are a climate disaster that has prompted growing concern about the lack of effective action to tackle global warming. Picture: Dan Kitwood/Getty ImagesThe wildfires on Rhodes are a climate disaster that has prompted growing concern about the lack of effective action to tackle global warming. Picture: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images
The wildfires on Rhodes are a climate disaster that has prompted growing concern about the lack of effective action to tackle global warming. Picture: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

A heatwave in July 2022 – the UK’s hottest year to date – saw records tumble, with the mercury peaking at 40.3C in England, 37.1C in Wales and 35.1C in Scotland.

“In terms of weather and climate, 2022 was an extraordinary year for the UK,” said Mike Kendon from the Met Office’s National Climate Information Centre.

“It was the warmest year for the UK in our long-running record national series back to 1884, and for Central England in a series of more than three centuries. We also had an unprecedented heatwave, with 40C recorded in the UK for the first time, marking a moment of climate history.

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“However, we should not necessarily be surprised by these events. Studies have shown that both the record warm year and July heatwave were both made much more likely by climate change.”

Mr Kendon said the country should prepare for high temperature records to continue to be broken, “potentially by wide margins”.

He said heat levels like last year’s “could be the norm by the middle of the century and relatively cool by the end of the century” and served as “a potential warning of what we should expect in the future”.

Prof Liz Bentley, chief executive at the Royal Meteorological Society, added: “2022 was certainly a record-breaking year for the UK and is another example that extreme heat events are becoming more frequent, intense and prolonged because of human-induced climate change – something we are seeing being played out across Europe as the report is being published.”

Climate change, caused by greenhouse gas emissions from human activities – mainly burning of fossil fuels – is being blamed as the key driver of the severe conditions.

Both the UK and Scottish governments have come under fire for failing to make adequate progress towards climate goals, which aim for net zero emissions by 2050 and 2045 respectively.

Recent assessments by independent advisers at the Climate Change Committee found progress had “stalled” and the country had lost its status as a leader in environmental action.

WMO secretary-general Professor Petteri Taalas said: “The extreme weather which has affected many millions of people in July is unfortunately the harsh reality of climate change and a foretaste of the future. The need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is more urgent than ever before.

“Climate action is not a luxury, but a must.”

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Gareth Redmond-King, head of international programme at the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU), an independent advisory organisation, said: “Last year was the UK's hottest.

“We’ve just had the hottest June, a succession of the world’s hottest days, and hottest sea surface temperatures. Heat records tumble, wildfires rage, Antarctic sea-ice is at its lowest by some considerable way, and dangerous storms are flooding towns and cities in many parts of the world.

“And now July is the hottest month ever experienced by modern humans. These are ever more urgent reminders that if we don’t bring emissions down to net zero, these extremes will continue to get worse.”

UN member states are committed to the Paris Agreement, which aims to prevent the global temperature rising 1.5C above pre-industrial levels and certainly no more than 2C. The earth has already warmed by more than 1.2C, but this is expected to rise to about 2.5C by 2100 with the emissions reduction policies currently in place.

The record-breaking heat comes as fossil fuel giants continue to rake in their biggest ever profits, sparking criticism from environmental and humanitarian organisations.

Shell has reported profits of £3.9 billion for the second quarter of 2023 alone, while British Gas owner Centrica scooped £2.1bn for the first six months of the year.

Gwen Hines, chief executive of Save the Children, said: “Soaring temperatures in the UK and across the world are a wake up call that the climate crisis is here, now. While children are the least responsible for the mess we’re in, they have the most to lose.

“And as fossil fuel giants release their profits today, it’s a timely reminder that urgent action is needed from the biggest polluting industries and the UK Government – without it, children will be facing an increasingly inhospitable world.”



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