UK warming faster than global average – report

Grantham Research Institute study warns UK government needs to be better prepared for extreme weather events

The Thames' flood barrier. (Pic: L.Bailey_Beverley)

The Thames’ flood barrier. (Pic: L.Bailey_Beverley)

By Nilima Choudhury 

The average annual temperature recorded in the UK has been rising at a faster rate than the global average, according to new research.

The paper, Recent and future changes in the global and UK climate shows that the average warming rate of UK annual mean temperature was 0.18°C per decade between 1950 and 2012.

This compares with a rise of 0.12°C per decade in the global mean surface temperature since 1950.

The authors point out that the seven warmest years in the UK since records began in 1910 have all occurred from 2000 onwards. Overall the UK average annual temperature increased by about 0.59°C between 1910-1939 and 1983-2012.

Met Office records were used in the policy brief by the ESRC Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy and the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at LSE.

Bob Ward, one of the authors of the report, told RTCC the focus on the UK was a deliberate effort to engage the population with the issue.

“We wanted to draw attention to the fact that the impacts of climate change are happening here,” said Ward. “We think the current debate in the UK has been slightly one-sided on climate change.

“There’s a lot of discussion about the cost of measures to deal with climate change with almost no attention being paid to the risks that we will face if we do not tackle it.”


The policy brief indicates that UK annual rainfall has been increasing since about 1970, with six of the 10 wettest years on record all occurring within the last 15 years.

There was flooding in many parts of the UK during 2012, which was the second wettest year on record.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said this summer that from 2015 it would spend £370 million on new UK-wide defences, rising to over £400 million in 2021.

Ward said Defra cannot protect people against flash flooding which are “very difficult to deal with.

“You can’t really build flood defences. You have to rely on having adequate drainage and that’s proving to be a real problem.”

Ward continued: “Even with flood defences, the environment agency has warned that from 2070 onwards it’s going to need enhanced flood defence system to protect London against the impact of having higher sea levels.”

Government inaction

Ward criticised Defra for not taking the recently released IPCC report “as seriously as it should do” because the government department failed to mention the contribution that climate made to flooding risks in the UK.

The authors of the IPCC report concluded that it was extremely likely that most of the global warming since 1950 is due to human activities, such as burning fossil fuels and deforestation.

“Defra,” said Ward, “claimed that the report showed that climate change would be even less of a problem than before. And that’s a complete misreading of the IPCC report.

“It’s not some theoretical distant future.”

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