The sweltering 40C summer in Britain last year “will be considered cool” by the turn of the century, as extreme weather events become more frequent, the Met Office has warned.
In its annual State of the UK Climate report, the Met Office analysed the weather of 2022 and warned temperatures higher than 40C, summer droughts, grassfires and downpours will increase in both frequency and severity.
A severe heatwave gripped the country last summer, as a new temperature record was set (40.3C) and numerous wildfires were reported across Britain. More than 3,000 heat-related deaths were recorded in England and Wales during five “heat periods” between June and August 2022, according to a joint report by the Office of National Statistics and the UK Health Security Agency.
While 2022 was an “extraordinary” year for the UK in terms of weather and climate, the Met Office said these conditions “are a potential warning of what we should expect in the future” as a result of human-caused climate change.
Mike Kendon, from the agency’s National Climate Information Centre, said: “In terms of weather and climate, 2022 was an extraordinary year for the UK.
“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 [in] climate history.”
He added that both the record-breaking temperatures and the heatwave last July were made “much more likely” by climate change and that the Met “expects far more high temperature records to be broken” in the future.
Mr Kendon said climate projections show that “even under a medium emissions scenario a year like 2022… could be the norm by the middle of the century and relatively cool by the end of the century”.
Other findings published in the report included that the 2022 heatwave was “made more likely by human-induced climate change” that is also causing these extreme heat events to become “more frequent, intense, and prolonged”.
Experts also warned that Britain’s infrastructure was not built to withstand “the increasingly changeable and turbulent weather we’re seeing today”.
Commenting on the report, a spokesperson for the National Rail said: “Ensuring the resilience of our network in the face of a changing climate is going to be the biggest challenge for the railway in this generation.
“The majority of our infrastructure was designed and built in the Victorian era, and while these assets have largely stood the test of time, they were not built to cope with the increasingly changeable and turbulent weather we’re seeing today.”
The Met’s findings come days after Rishi Sunak appeared to signal a dilution of his government’s environmental policies to tackle the climate emergency, and against the backdrop of an ongoing heatwave in southern Europe as several Mediterranean countries – including Greece – battle raging wildfires.
While Downing Street said it remains committed to achieving its net zero goal by 2050, a spokesperson said the prime minister is “making sure we listen to consumers and business” and will “continually scrutinise” green policies such as the ban on selling new petrol and diesel cars by 2030.
The Tory party is currently divided over environmental policy after the Conservatives narrowly held the Uxbridge by-election as a result of a campaign opposing an upcoming extension of the ultra-low emission zone (Ulez) championed by mayor of London Sadiq Khan.
Dr James Painter, a Reuter Institute researcher with expertise on the portrayal of climate change in UK media, told The Independent that while scepticism about human involvement creating climate change “is very low” in the population, “public support for policies to reduce emissions is more fragile”.
“Research shows that questioning the basic science of climate change is probably diminishing in the mainstream media,” he said.
“This may be in part because it is increasingly difficult for climate sceptics to deny climate change when so many extreme events are happening around the world. However, what we see in recent months is a strong shift towards ‘policy scepticism’, that is a persistent and strident questioning of the policies to address climate change, such as Net Zero or Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs).”