Extreme heatwaves are predicted as the new normal for British summers by 2040

Report calls for dramatic curbs in greenhouse gas emissions and warns of threat to human society

A A A

Global temperatures are climbing so rapidly that by 2040 Britain will spend up to a fifth of its summer months in an extreme heatwave, a new report warns.

Click image above to enlarge graphic

Unless something dramatic is done to curb the volume of greenhouse gas emissions widely regarded as responsible for climate change, then conditions currently regarded as “extreme” will become the “new normal” in the UK and most of the world by the end of the Century, the findings say.

Under this scenario, by the end of the century Spain and France are likely to be experiencing extreme temperatures during 80 per cent of their summer - across much of June, July and August - with the UK slightly lower at between 50 and 60 per cent, according to Dim Coumou, the lead author of the study from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

For Britain, this would mean the July 2006 heatwave - the hottest month since records began in 1659 with an average temperature of 17.8C - would become normal.

“The tropics, the Mediterranean and the Middle East will be worst affected, but in the UK you will definitely see a very strong increase in heat extremes as well,” Mr Coumou said, adding that this would be hugely damaging to agriculture and health.

“Heat extremes can be very damaging to society and ecosystems, often causing heat related deaths, forest fires or losses to agricultural production. So an increase in frequency is likely to pose serious challenges to society,” Mr Coumous said.

The extreme heatwaves referred to in the report are known as “3-sigma” events. These are categorised by a hugely complex formula, which compares the average temperature over the course of a month with the average for that time and place for every year since the beginning of the 20th Century.

Technically, the chance of experiencing a 3-sigma event is roughly one in a hundred. However, given the impact of human-emitted greenhouse gases in recent decades, such events have gone from being virtually unheard of in 1950s to becoming increasingly common in the past decade, Mr Coumou said.

“A good example of a recent three-sigma event is the 2010 heat wave in Russia. In the Moscow region the average temperature for the whole of July was around 7C warmer than normal,” said Mr Coumou.

Other examples include the European heatwave of 2003, which was the hottest summer on record for the continent as a whole since at least 1540.

Last month, while cooler than July 2006, may also qualify as a 3-sigma heatwave, said Mr Coumou, who cannot confirm this because he has not finished analysing the data.

The report predicts that by 2020, a tenth of the world's land surface will be on the receiving end of a 3-sigma heatwave at any one time during the summer months - a figure that will double to a fifth by 2040. At the moment, 5 per cent of the world's land surface is affected in this way, compared to just 1 per cent in the 1960s.

The changes between now and 2040 will happen regardless of the amount of carbon dioxide that is pumped into the atmosphere over that period because there is typically a ten to 20 year time lag between greenhouse gases being emitted and the resulting warming of the planet, Mr Coumous says.

However, beyond 2040 the amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere in the coming decades will have a huge bearing on the frequency and intensity of heatwaves as they exacerbate climate change, he says.

If carbon emissions keep on growing then by the end of the century, 85 per cent of the global land area will be subject to extreme heatwaves during the summer months, the research found.

However, if emissions are severely curtailed, the frequency and severity of heatwaves would stable at 2040 levels, Mr Coumous said. This makes it extremely urgent to take decision action to curb climate change, he said.

The Potsdam report comes shortly after research linking a warmer world with droughts with a substantial increase in violent conflict between both individuals and entire societies. A review of 61 detailed accounts of violence published in the journal Science concluded that personal disputes and wider civil conflicts increase significantly with significant changes to weather patterns, such as increases in temperature and lack of rain.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Ashdown Group: Graduate UI Developer - HTML, CSS, Javascript

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Graduate UI Application Developer - ...

Day In a Page

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?
Season's finale brings the end of an era for top coaches and players across the continent

The end of an era across the continent

It's time to say farewell to Klopp, Clement, Casillas and Xavi this weekend as they move on to pastures new, reports Pete Jenson
Bin Laden documents released: Papers reveal his obsession with attacking the US and how his failure to keep up with modern jihad led to Isis

'Focus on killing American people'

Released Bin Laden documents reveal obsession with attacking United States
Life hacks: The innovations of volunteers and medical workers are helping Medécins Sans Frontières save people around the world

Medécins Sans Frontières's life hacks

The innovations of volunteers and medical workers around the world are helping the charity save people
Ireland's same-sex marriage vote: As date looms, the Irish ask - how would God vote?

Same-sex marriage

As date looms, the Irish ask - how would God vote?
The underworld is going freelance: Why The Godfather's Mafia model is no longer viable

The Mafia is going freelance

Why the underworld model depicted in The Godfather is no longer viable