Experts have said extreme heat and temperatures of more than 40C are becoming increasingly likely in the UK due to climate change as the Met Office prepares to publish its annual report.
The weather agency will release its State of the UK Climate report for 2022, which saw recorded temperatures of over 40C for the first time as well as numerous wildfires and a record number of heat-related deaths.
It comes as extreme heat sweeps across Europe, North America, North Africa and Asia just a year later, while June 2023 was the world’s hottest month on record.
Climate experts have warned that the 40C heat seen last year would not be possible without climate change and that Britain is underprepared for increasingly likely extreme weather events.
Oli Claydon, from the Met Office, said the 40C milestone is still viewed as an “extreme weather event” but it is going to be increasingly more likely in the UK as the years go on.
“It is evident that the climate is possible to reach 40C in the UK now, as we saw in a number of stations in July last year,” he said.
“The likelihood of exceeding it going forward somewhere in the UK in a given year is now increasing due to human-induced climate change,” Mr Claydon added.
“So as well as the need to mitigate against future climate change by reducing emissions of greenhouse gases, we’re already experiencing the impacts of climate change now, so there’s already a need to adapt to the types of weather extremes that we can see in the UK.”
Dr Candice Howarth, of the London School of Economics Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, said 2022 was “very significant” for the UK climate after temperatures hit 40C for the first time.
She said: “The 2022 heatwaves would not have been possible without climate change.
“We know that the July heatwave was extremely rare, a one-in-1,000-year event, and was made 10 times more likely due to anthropogenic climate change.”
Dr Howarth also said the UK is not prepared for extreme heat, adding that local authorities, emergency services and utility companies “only just managed to respond” to the record 2022 summer temperatures.
She said: “If the Government fails to show more leadership in preparing for these extreme heat events, then we are likely to see a rise in heat-related deaths, wider impacts on workers’ health and productivity, and increasing rates of overheating in UK homes and buildings that are ill-equipped to stay cool in the summer.”
Sir David King, chair of the Climate Crisis Advisory Group, said the average temperature in Europe in 2022 was “actually a little bit cooler” than 2021 but there is still a longer-term trend of warming.
He said: “It’s important that we understand (to) look at it on a two, three, four-year basis and you’ll see the trend very clearly.”
On what the UK should do to prepare for warmer weather, he said: “The most important thing is we need to try to understand as well as we can what the Met Office is telling us about our own weather systems and what precautions need to be taken in our own houses because if it’s extremely hot, you ought to keep out of the sunshine, but it doesn’t help if indoors it is very, very warm.
“We don’t have to have air conditioning but moving air is critical – just to get the perspiration off our skin. That’s how we cool ourselves down.”
Mike Childs, head of science, policy and research at Friends of the Earth, said the extreme weather events of 2022, which also included winds of up to 122mph during Storm Eunice and a cold spell in December, are “just a taste of what’s to come”.
He said: “This should be galvanising our leaders into delivering meaningful action, yet the Prime Minister is reportedly planning to weaken the UK’s existing green policies and ministers have vowed to extract every last drop of North Sea oil and gas.
“This report is expected to reinforce what headlines about deadly heatwaves and wildfires have shown us over the last week – that there is an urgent need for measures that will both cut emissions and ensure we’re braced for the extreme weather we cannot now prevent.”
Fritha West, a phenologist at the Woodland Trust – whose Nature’s Calendar citizen science scheme records the signs of the seasons – said their data shows a trend in UK seasons changing, forcing some species to change their patterns.
She said: “Much-loved plants and animals, such as oak trees and ladybirds, are impacted by the shifting seasons and extreme weather events.
“Species will react in different ways, and these reactions will impact human life in different ways, but the speed of these changes could cause concern.”