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.

Sport
Alexis Sanchez has completed a £35m move to Arsenal, the club have confirmed
sportGunners complete £35m signing of Barcelona forward
Voices
Poor teachers should be fearful of not getting pay rises or losing their job if they fail to perform, Steve Fairclough, headteacher of Abbotsholme School, suggested
voicesChris Sloggett explains why it has become an impossible career path
Sport
world cup 2014
Sport
Ray Whelan was arrested earlier this week
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
In a minor key: Keira Knightley in the lightweight 'Begin Again'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Celebrated children’s author Allan Ahlberg, best known for Each Peach Pear Plum
books
News
peopleIndian actress known as the 'Grand Old Lady of Bollywood' was 102
News
Wayne’s estate faces a claim for alleged copyright breaches
newsJohn Wayne's heirs duke it out with university over use of the late film star's nickname
Life and Style
It beggars belief: the homeless and hungry are weary, tortured, ghosts of people – with bodies contorted by imperceptible pain
lifeRough sleepers exist in every city. Hear the stories of those whose luck has run out
News
Mick Jagger performing at Glastonbury
people
Life and Style
fashionJ Crew introduces triple zero size to meet the Asia market demand
Sport
Santi Cazorla, Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini of Arsenal launch the new Puma Arsenal kits at the Puma Store on Carnaby Street
sportMassive deal worth £150m over the next five years
Arts and Entertainment
Welsh opera singer Katherine Jenkins
musicHolyrood MPs 'staggered' at lack of Scottish artists performing
Life and Style
beautyBelgian fan lands L'Oreal campaign after being spotted at World Cup
Arts and Entertainment
Currently there is nothing to prevent all-male or all-female couples from competing against mixed sex partners at any of the country’s ballroom dancing events
Potential ban on same-sex partners in ballroom dancing competitions amounts to 'illegal discrimination'
News
business
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Business Analyst Consultant (Financial Services)

£60000 - £75000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Business Analyst Consultant (Fina...

Systems Administrator - Linux / Unix / Windows / TCP/IP / SAN

£60000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A leading provider in investment managemen...

AVS, JVS Openlink Endur Developer

£600 - £700 per day: Harrington Starr: AVS, JVS Openlink Endur Developer JVS, ...

E-Commerce Developer

£45000 - £60000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Exciting opp...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice