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Climate change in the United Kingdom

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Climate change has increased the risk of flooding.[1]
Climate change has increased the risk of flooding.[1]

Climate change in the United Kingdom is leading to a range of impacts on the natural environment and humans, including increasing storms, floods, heatwaves and sea level rise. Climate change inaction has been a subject of protest and controversies and various policies have been developed to mitigate its effects. The government has a commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by the United Kingdom by 50% on 1990 levels by 2025 and to net zero by 2050.[2][3] In May 2019, Parliament declared a 'climate change emergency', however this does not legally compel the government to act.[4]

In December 2020, Boris Johnson declared that the UK will set a target of 68% reduction in GHG emissions by the year 2030 and include this target in its commitments in the Paris Agreement.[5]

Greenhouse gas emissions

In 2019, net greenhouse gas emissions in the United Kingdom (UK) were 454.8 million tonnes carbon dioxide equivalent (CO
e), of which 80% was carbon dioxide (CO
).[6] Since 1750 around 80 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide alone have been emitted in the UK. Emissions decreased in the 2010s due to the closure of almost all coal-fired power stations,[7] but in 2018 emissions per person were around 7 tonnes,[6] still somewhat above the world average.[8]

The UK has committed to carbon neutrality by 2050[9] and the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU) has said it would be affordable.[10] The target for 2030 is a 68% reduction compared with 1990 levels.[11] As part of an economic stimulus to attempt to get out of the COVID-19 recession a green industrial policy is being considered.[12] One of the methods of reducing emissions is the UK Emissions Trading Scheme.[13]

The Committee on Climate Change is an independent body which advises the UK and devolved government. Meeting future carbon budgets will require reducing emissions by at least 3% a year.

Impacts on the natural environment

Temperature and weather changes

This section needs to be updated. Please update this article to reflect recent events or newly available information. (May 2019)

By 2014 the United Kingdom's seven warmest and 4 out of its 5 wettest years had occurred between the years of 2000–2014. Higher temperatures increase evaporation and consequently rainfall. In 2014 England recorded its wettest winter in over 250 years with widespread flooding.[14]

In parts of the south east of the UK the temperature in the hottest days of the year increased by 1°C per decade in the years 1960 - 2019.The highest ever recorded temperature in the United Kingdom, was recorded in 2019 in Cambridge - 38.7°C. In 2020 the chances of reaching a temperature above 40°C are low, but they are 10 times higher than in a climate without human impact. In modest emission scenario by the end of the century, it will happen every 15 years and in high emissions scenario every 3 - 4 years. Summers with temperatures above 35°C occur in the UK every 5 years, but will occur almost every other year in the high emission scenario by 2100.[15]

According to the Met Office, figures for December 2013 and January 2014 combined were the wettest since records began in 1910.

Current/past Köppen climate classification map for Great Britain for 1980–2016
Predicted Köppen climate classification map for Great Britain for 2071–2100

Extreme weather events


London population density and low elevation coastal zones.
London population density and low elevation coastal zones.

An interactive map from the UK government shows areas at risk of flooding.[16]

Impacts on people

Economic impacts

According to the Government the number of households in the flood risk will be up to 970,000 homes in the 2020s, up from around 370,000 in January 2012.[17] The effects of flooding and managing flood risk cost the country about £2.2bn a year, compared with the less than £1bn spent on flood protection and management.[18]

In 2020 PricewaterhouseCoopers estimate that Storm Dennis damage to homes, businesses and cars could be between £175m and £225m and Storm Ciara cost up to £200m.[19][20]

Friends of the Earth criticised British government of the intended cuts to flood defence spending. The protection against increasing flood risk as a result of climate change requires rising investment. In 2009, the Environment Agency calculated that the UK needs to be spending £20m more compared to 2010 to 2011 as the baseline, each and every year out to 2035, just to keep pace with climate change.[21]

The British government and the economist Nicholas Stern published the Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change in 2006. The report states that climate change is the greatest and widest-ranging market failure ever seen, presenting a unique challenge for economics. The Review provides prescriptions including environmental taxes to minimise economic and social disruptions. The Stern Review's main conclusion is that the benefits of strong, early action on climate change far outweigh the costs of not acting.[22] The Review points to the potential impact of climate change on water resources, food production, health, and the environment. According to the Review, without action, the overall costs of climate change will be equivalent to losing at least 5% of global gross domestic product (GDP) each year, now and forever. Including a wider range of risks and impacts could increase this to 20% of GDP or more.

No-one can predict the consequences of climate change with complete certainty; but we now know enough to understand the risks. The review leads to a simple conclusion: the benefits of strong, early action considerably outweigh the costs.[23]

Stern's review came in for much criticism at the time. Sir Partha Dasgupta, Frank Ramsey Professor of Economics at Cambridge University said that Stern's assumptions would require the current generation to save 97.5 cents of every dollar produced: 'so patently absurd that we must reject it out of hand . . . the cause is not served when parameter values are so chosen that they yield the desired answers.' William Nordhaus, an economist from Yale, said the Stern Review should be read primarily as 'a document that is political in nature and has advocacy as its purpose.' This assessment seems to be justified by this statement within the Review itself: 'Much of public policy is actually about changing attitudes.'

Health impacts

Climate change had made heat wave 30 times more likely in the UK and 3,400 people died from them in the years 2016 - 2019. But the impact of climate change on heatwaves in other countries important for crop production can be much more severe that in the UK and will have a bigger impact on the United Kingdom.[24]

2018's temperature was 16.1 °C (61.0 °F), meaning it ranks as the 18th warmest June recorded in England in the past 359 years, also being the warmest since 1976.

Mitigation and adaptation

This section needs to be updated. Please update this article to reflect recent events or newly available information. (May 2019)

Governmental efforts

The Climate Change Programme was launched in November 2000 by the British government in response to its commitment agreed at the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development.

London Green500 is a programme to reduce the carbon emissions of the London city organisations including new building by 60% by 2025. Urban areas account for 75% of world CO
emissions, but less than 1% of the Earth's surface.[25]

Boris Johnson announced that UK will set a target of 68% reduction in GHG emissions by the year 2030 and include this target in its commitments in the Paris agreement. Environmentalists expected it will be 75%.[26]


There is in place national legislation, international agreements and the EU directives. The EU directive 2001/77/EU promotes renewable energy in the electricity production.

The Climate Change and Sustainable Energy Act 2006 is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom which aims to boost the number of heat and electricity micro-generation installations in the United Kingdom, so helping to cut carbon emissions and reduce fuel poverty.

The Climate Change Act 2008 makes it the duty of the Secretary of State to ensure that the net UK carbon account for all six Kyoto greenhouse gases for the year 2050 is at least 80% lower than the 1990 baseline.

In May 2019, Parliament approved a motion declaring a national climate change emergency. This does not legally compel the government to act, however.[4]

The Climate and Ecological Emergency Bill was tabled as an early day motion on 2 September 2020 and received its first reading the same day.[27][28]

Society and culture


Calculations in 2021 indicated that, for giving the world a 50% chance of avoiding a temperature rise of 2 degrees or more the United Kingdom should increase its climate commitments by 17%.[29]:Table 1 For a 95% chance it should increase the commitments by 58%. For giving a 50% chance of staying below 1.5 degrees the United Kingdom should increase its commitments by 97%.[29]

A number of lobby groups in the UK focus on climate change including Friends of the Earth (who ran the Big Ask Campaign), Stop Climate Chaos coalition, the UK Youth Climate Coalition, Campaign against Climate Change, Extinction Rebellion, and

In February 2014 during the British flooding the Church of England said that it will pull its investments from companies that fail to do enough to fight the "great demon" of climate change and ignore the church's theological, moral and social priorities.[30]

See also


  1. ^ "Heavier rainfall from storms '100% for certain' linked to climate crisis, experts warn". The Independent. 18 February 2020. Retrieved 2 February 2021.
  2. ^ "Climate Change Act". Climate Change Laws of the World. Grantham Research Institute, Sabin Center for Climate Change Law, Columbia Law School.
  3. ^ Shepheard, Marcus. "UK net zero target". Institute for government. Retrieved 29 December 2020.
  4. ^ a b "UK Parliament declares climate emergency". 1 May 2019. Retrieved 2 May 2019.
  5. ^ Harvey, Fiona (4 December 2020). "UK vows to outdo other economies with 68% emissions cuts by 2030". The Guardian. Retrieved 27 December 2020.
  6. ^ a b "Final UK greenhouse gas emissions national statistics: 1990 to 2019". GOV.UK. Retrieved 30 March 2021.
  7. ^ Harrabin, Roger (5 February 2019). "Climate change: UK CO2 emissions fall again". Retrieved 5 January 2020.
  8. ^ "Where in the world do people emit the most CO2?". Our World in Data. Retrieved 25 January 2020.
  9. ^ Harrabin, Roger (12 June 2019). "UK commits to 'net zero' emissions by 2050". BBC News. Retrieved 26 January 2020.
  10. ^ "Net zero: economy and jobs". Energy & Climate Intelligence Unit. Retrieved 5 January 2020.
  11. ^ "UK sets ambitious new climate target ahead of UN Summit". GOV.UK. Retrieved 30 March 2021.
  12. ^ Harrabin, Roger (6 May 2020). "UK warned over coronavirus climate trap". BBC News. Retrieved 9 May 2020.
  13. ^ Ng, Gabriel (23 January 2021). "Introducing the UK Emissions Trading System". Cherwell. Retrieved 2 February 2021.
  14. ^ 2014 on track to be England's hottest year in over three centuries The Guardian 3 December 2014
  15. ^ "Chances of 40°C days in the UK increasing". Met Office. Retrieved 2 July 2020.
  16. ^ "Flood map for planning - GOV.UK". Retrieved 8 February 2021.
  17. ^ Government gambles by excluding climate change from flood insurance deal FOE 6 December 2013
  18. ^ [1] WWF-UKMay 2017
  19. ^ Storm Dennis damage could cost insurance companies £225m Guardian 20 Feb 2020
  20. ^ Storm Ciara expected to cost up to £200m in insurance claims Guardian 14 Feb 2020
  21. ^ Cameron's claims on flood defences don't stack up FOE 6 January 2014
  22. ^ Stern, N. (2006). "Summary of Conclusions". Executive summary (short) (PDF). Stern Review Report on the Economics of Climate Change (pre-publication edition). HM Treasury. Retrieved 28 April 2011.
  23. ^ Sir Nicholas Stern: Stern Review : The Economics of Climate Change, Executive Summary,10/2006 Archived 20 September 2008 at the Wayback Machine
  24. ^ Rosane, Olivia (1 July 2020). "Chance of 40 Degree Celsius Days in UK 'Rapidly Increasing' Due to Climate Crisis". Ecowatch. Retrieved 2 July 2020.
  25. ^ "About Green 500".
  26. ^ Harvey, Fiona (4 December 2020). "UK vows to outdo other economies with 68% emissions cuts by 2030". The Guardian. Retrieved 27 December 2020.
  27. ^ "Climate emergency bill offers real hope". The Guardian. 2 September 2020. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 21 January 2021.
  28. ^ Lock, Helen (4 September 2020). "The New UK Climate Bill: Everything You Need to Know". Global Citizen.
  29. ^ a b R. Liu, Peiran; E. Raftery, Adrian (9 February 2021). "Country-based rate of emissions reductions should increase by 80% beyond nationally determined contributions to meet the 2 °C target". Communications Earth & Environment. 2. doi:10.1038/s43247-021-00097-8. Retrieved 9 March 2021.
  30. ^ Jones, Sam (12 February 2014). "Church of England vows to fight 'great demon' of climate change". The Guardian.
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Climate change in the United Kingdom
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