Yesterday the latest UK State of the Climate report was issued by the Met Office. Today those heading to Devon and Cornwall for their summer holidays are being buffeted by Storm Evert with yellow wind warnings. This is not the only freak weather event this week. The weekend saw flooding in two London hospitals and countless flash floods across the country. Clearly disruptive climate change is already here. The question we need to ask is whether we have already missed too many opportunities to act.
2020 was the third warmest UK year since 1884 at 9.6°C. The chart confirms the stark upward rise in the average mean temperature. All the years in the top 10 are since 2002 and typically a degree above where they were 100 years before.
In the last thirty years we are 0.9°C hotter on average. Not much space to our common target of 1.5C and already an increased likelihood that we will breach this before 2050.
Heat brings increased chances of compromised infrastructure. In the heatwave, such as the week of 19th July, roads start to melt and rails and electrical cabling start to buckle. All have short term and longer term impacts due to changes in material and its composition. Deformed roads lead to potholes.
Spring 2020 was the UK’s sunniest on record. It was sunnier than most UK summers! While last year was one of the least snowy on record. The trend on snow is a decline in the number and severity of events.
The combination of these may sound good, but has a significant impact on the wider environment and food production. Fruit trees require a certain number of frosty days in the winter for optimum bud formation. When they burst into bloom from early sun that same cold will kill the blossom. Longer term, England may no longer be a green, pleasant and temperate land.
While we may think heat is good, 2020 was the UK’s fifth wettest year; six of the 10 wettest years have been since 1998. Warm air is able to carry more moisture. It can then dump more of it in the same place at the same time. If we combine this with changes in winds that prevent wider cloud dispersion such as occurred over Germany and Belgium this month, then catastrophe ensues.
In the UK over £5B will be spent on 2,000 flood defence schemes in the next 5 years. Big numbers demonstrate the severity of the issue with some 5M homes currently seen to be at risk of flooding. Defences built to the right height can protect property and built in the right way prevent simply transferring the issue to downstream areas. The height and nature of those defences has changed considerably to meet 1 in 100year events.
A Time to Act?
For the last 18 months the world has fought the Covid pandemic. This has changed the way we live, work and play. Out of sight the climate emergency has continued. In the last month, it has demonstrated its disruptive power at its yet early stages.
Much hot air has resulted from discussing climate change since the 1992 Kyoto Protocol and 2016 Paris Agreement; but are we following through with the necessary actions before that change is completely uncontrollable?
For UK transport, the figure for CO2 contribution is basically unchanged since 1990. The potential behavioural change from Covid provides an opportunity to act especially for rural transport. Are we prepared to seize it for the many benefits it will bring to enable all to respond to weather changes, both today and in the future? Rural Techs is.