Since the 1970s temperatures in the UK have risen by approximately one degree. With the level of greenhouse gas already in the atmosphere it follows that there will be further warming in the next three decades. The UK will have to adapt to the impact of climate change even if emissions are cut quickly and sharply to avoid the levels rising to a dangerous extent.
Greenhouse gases trap some of the sun’s rays causing the planet to heat up. Continuing to burn fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas increases these gases in the atmosphere.
The UK has made it a rule of law to reduce its emissions by at least 80% below 1990 levels by 2050. To this end the Committee on Climate Change has set carbon budgets up to 2032. Overall the UK’s greenhouse emissions were 42% below 1990 levels in 2016. However, the CCC has warned time and again that we are off track for the 4th carbon budget as climate policy has been weakened in very recent years in the areas of energy saving and renewable energy.
One of the key climate threats for the UK is the risk of flooding alongside stresses on water resources, threats to biodiversity and natural habitats.
Studies have been done that show that extremely wet winters could become up to five times more likely over the next century with more intense downpours in the winter months driving a greater risk of flash floods and river flooding alongside risks from sea level rise.
Nicholas Stern said recently in the Guardian:
“We must reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero or face more floods.”
Conversely, studies suggest that the UK could experience warmer, drier summers in the future leading to an increased risk of drought. Heatwaves could become the norm by the end of this century. Extreme heat can have a detrimental effect on the more vulnerable older population, create travel delays with the buckling of railways, threaten water supplies and security and destroy valuable ecosystems.
The Paris Agreement commits nations to pursue efforts to limit warming to 1.5°C. As it stands current UK targets give us at best a 50% chance of hitting 2°C. Many scientists think this is way too risky.
In order to attain the level of warming agreed the UK needs to shift to a renewable energy grid. Renewable sources of energy from wind, wave and sun need to account for 75% of our electricity by 2030.
The UK has had success with renewables as demonstrated in 2016 when renewables were responsible for providing 25% of UK electricity. This was up from just 7% in 2010. Government lent it’s support for renewable power in the early 2010s and took action to make coal power pay for its pollution costs. From May to September in 2016, solar power produced more electricity in the UK than coal.
Onshore wind is now the cheapest form of new electricity generation. It is now cheaper than new gas power stations.
With these trends and the major advances in energy storage, renewable energy is set to become the dominant player at the heart of a clean UK energy system within the next decade.
Find out more about solar here.