climate change

The UK declares a national emergency as a climate-fuelled heatwave bites

Wildfires breaking out in Wennington, east London. Photo credit: Leon Neal / Getty Images.

By Anders Lorenzen

The UK has braced itself after its national weather forecaster, the Met Office, declared a first-ever red warning for the heatwave the country has been experiencing this week. The forecaster has only ever issued warnings like these in the autumn or winter for other weather-related issues such as floods, storms and snowfall.

Although Brits love a bit of sun, it is clear that there is such thing as too much of a good thing, with the southern part of the country experiencing heat wave-like conditions for the past + 10 days already and the temperature hardly dropping below 28 degrees C in London.

Temperature records broken

But forecasts predictions that a new record of  40 degrees C or above would be reached on Monday or Tuesday – have just come true with Surrey measuring a staggering 40.3C on Tuesday. 

Serious health warnings have followed with the UK Cabinet Office minister Kit Malthouse warning that the National Health Service (NHS) could come under severe pressure if the mercury hit 40 degrees C. As a result, the UK government followed the move of London Mayor Sadiq Khan and declared the heatwave a national emergency.

Many schools and hospitals closed over the hottest days, due to them not being built to withstand such high temperatures. And people are being urged to look out for the vulnerable such as the elderly, young children and those with underlying health issues.

But experts were keen to stress that even if you are fit and healthy this heat can adversely affect anyone, urging people to be cautious and shield themselves from the sun and stay hydrated. 

A bigger picture

This heatwave is part of a bigger picture with much of western Europe affected; the warm air hitting the UK has travelled up from Spain and Portugal with many other European countries battling the extreme temperatures and resulting wildfires. As the heat engulfed London, the capital was hit by a series of wildfires on the outskirts of the capital putting pressure on emergency services. 

Whilst scientists still need to examine how much climate change has played a role in this heatwave, the odds are high that it contributed to the extremity of this event. 

The UK is getting warmer and experiencing more frequent, prolonged and extreme heat spells and heatwaves in line with what climate scientists have warned about for decades. Many experts are underlining that this is the type of extreme weather event we will see becoming much more forceful in the future if we do not increase our ambition in bringing down carbon emissions. As the heatwave struck climate scientist Bill McGuire warned that + 40 degrees C for London could become the new normal.

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