In our Climate Conservations series the Booth Museum has discussed the climate of Sussex 100 million years ago. Now we invite former climate scientist Dr. Diana Wilkins to discuss what is happening to the climate of Sussex today and how it might look like in the future.
Can you think back to February this year? We saw weeks of heavy rain that caused flooding of houses, roads and fields. That was the wettest February recorded in more than 150 years.
Do you remember those hot sticky summer days in August? Temperatures exceeded 34oC across parts of the south-east for six consecutive days. According the Met Office this was ‘one of the most significant heat-waves to affect southern England for sixty years.’ The hot weather made conditions difficult for the elderly and vulnerable and it was likely responsible for a rise in registered deaths.
These are two really unusual events, but because of something called the shifting baseline, we tend to get used to such changes and accept them as the new normal.
Fortunately, scientists don’t forget.
Their detailed records, combined with sophisticated computer modelling, tell us that today’s weather is not normal. Scientists tell us that ‘climate change is exerting an increasing impact on the UK’s climate’.
The most recent decade (2010-2019) has been on average nearly a degree warmer than over the period 1961-1990. That might not sound like much, but it’s a big deal. Globally, the average temperature is rising faster than it has for many thousands of years. While we can’t point a finger and say that ‘this or that’ weather event is definitely due to climate change, we can say that climate change is loading the dice and making long-term changes and extreme events more likely.
How has the climate changed?
- 2016 was the hottest year on record
- 2019 was 2nd hottest year on record
- The ten years to 2019 were the hottest decade on record
- The effect of climate change has been detectable in global weather every single day since 2012
In the UK
- The highest temperature on record was 38.7oC in 2019
- The ten hottest years on record have all occurred since 2002
- February 2020 was the wettest February on record
- Winter 2019/20 was the fifth wettest and mildest winter on record
How will the climate of Sussex change in future?
Climate change means that we can expect to see warmer, wetter winters and hotter, drier summers. We are also likely to see more bursts of heavy rain and possibly increased storminess. There will still be day-to-day and year-to-year variation in the weather, but without cuts in greenhouse gases, the warming trend will continue, and extremes are likely to become more pronounced.
The Met Office predicts that by 2070, with a high level of greenhouse gas emissions, the UK could experience:
- Hot summer days being 3.7 to 6.8 oC warmer[i]
- Hot spells happening four times a year in southern UK
- Winter rainfall increasing by 35%
- Summer rainfall decreasing by 47%
- Intense rainfall increasing by 25% with more intense rainfall in the summer
- Sea levels rising by 30-90 cm by 2100
There is of course uncertainty in the computer modelling and the levels of future emissions, but the broad trends in temperature and rainfall are clear. Together these changes could to lead to an increased risk of flooding, water shortages, drought and wildfires. The south-east is already one of the warmer, drier parts of the UK, and future warming is likely to be greatest in the south.
What can I do?
Government, business and society all need to act to make major cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.
Next year, the UK and Italy are due to host a United Nations summit which is a major opportunity to accelerate action on climate change. The UK Parliament has declared a climate emergency and East Sussex and West Sussex County Councils have climate change action plans.
You can find out about your own contribution to climate change using a carbon calculator. There’s information on how to cut your emissions in our Climate Conversations blog and on Brighton & Hove City Council’s climate change website.
[i] Predicted changes in climate are compared with the average for 1981-2000
But what does climate change mean for wildlife in Sussex? Next time, we will see how climate change is impacting wildlife on our doorstep, starting with the swift. Look out for our next Climate Conversations blog.
Can nature help combat climate change effects in Sussex?
- Discover how the beaver re-introduction programme at the Knepp Estate in Sussex could help flood mitigation.
- Find out how regenerating a kelp forest in Sussex may help to mitigate climate change.