What is causing the UK heatwave? Is it due to climate change and global warming?

The UK has experienced its hottest day on record – but what caused the heatwave and is it connected to climate change?

Temperatures surpassed a blistering 40°C degrees in parts of the UK on Tuesday (July 18), with fires breaking out and rail services impacted in the extreme heat.

In Scotland, the highest temperature ever recorded was experienced in Charterhall in the Scottish Borders, at a sweltering 34.8°C.

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Experts have called the heatwave a “wake-up call” for climate change and the climate emergency, and say these heatwaves are only going to increase in frequency and intensity as global temperatures rise.

Here’s what climate change is and its connection to heat waves and extreme weather events.

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What is climate change? Does it create heat waves?

Climate change is the shift of global temperatures and weather patterns over a long period of time.

Vraska the steller's sea eagle cooling down in her bath with keeper Johanna McQuade at Blair Drummond Safari and Adventure Park, near Stirling, on the hottest day of the year. (Andrew Milligan/PA Wire)

Since the Industrial Revolution, human activity has rapidly accelerated the average warming of the Earth. This is mainly through burning fossil fuels which create greenhouse gas emissions and trap heat in the atmosphere.

Scientists warn of catastrophic consequences if the Earth’s average temperature rises about 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels. This includes extreme heatwaves, droughts, flooding, oceans rising, and the collapse of ecosystems.

If we surpass 2°C of global warming, 1.7 billion more people could experience severe heatwaves at least once every five years, and millions of people in urban areas could be exposed to severe drought.

‘This is a wake-up call.’

The charred remains of homes in the village of Wennington, July 20 2022. The heatwave blaze which has destroyed homes in an east London village has been described as a "worst nightmare" event. (Tom Maddick / SWNS)
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"This is a wake-up call for climate change,” says Professor Hannah Cloke, climate expert and natural hazards lecturer at the University of Reading, “I think these types of temperatures will be seen more often which is very worrying because many people will die.

“We are going to see these worsening hot summers but we can stop it getting really, really bad if we do something now.”

Professor Cloke said heatwaves were becoming more frequent, more intense and were lasting longer. Adaptations would need to be made to cope with rising temperatures, she said.

“The UK Government does need to take it more seriously than they are doing,” said Professor Cloke, “New houses should be set up to deal with this kind of heat when they are built.”

Parts of the UK could hit 40 degrees celsius as a heatwave is set to strike (Getty Images)

She warned health services could be overwhelmed during the heatwave and there would be risks such as heatstroke and dehydration for everyone, but particularly for the vulnerable and elderly.

Ten times more likely

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The Met Office said the likelihood of extremely hot days in the UK is increasing and would continue to do so during the course of the century.

Climate attribution scientist at the Met Office Dr Nikos Christidis said: “The chances of seeing 40°C days in the UK could be as much as 10 times more likely in the current climate than under a natural climate unaffected by human influence.

“The likelihood of exceeding 40°C anywhere in the UK in a given year has also been rapidly increasing, and, even with current pledges on emissions reductions, such extremes could be taking place every 15 years in the climate of 2100.”

Additional reporting by PA.



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