The heat is on as Britain moves 100 miles south

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The Independent Online
Britain will experience changes in climate during the next 25 years which will have the effect of moving the country more than 100 miles south. In 2020, it will be as though Manchester has moved to Oxford.

By 2050 we may prefer Britain's beaches to those of the uncomfortably hot Mediterranean, but our health is likely to suffer. Droughts will increase across the most densely populated and intensively farmed parts of the country.

According to a government report published yesterday, tourism and leisure industries are expected to boom, especially in southern England, but the Scottish ski industry may be wiped out by lack of snow.

Most aspects of national life will be affected, creating a range of winners and losers. Home heating bills may fall because demand for fuel is expected to drop by 3 per cent, but water bills may rise sharply in southern England to pay for new reservoirs as demand soars.

''Summer droughts are forecast to be more severe and frequent in the south,'' says the report.

The main benefits of global warming fall on forestry, where tree plantations will grow more quickly; on cattle and sheep grazing in a warmer and wetter Scotland and northern England; and in tourism and recreation.

But it is expected to have a net adverse effect on soil erosion, wildlife, the insurance industry, health, water supplies and crop-farming in the Midlands, southern England and Wales.

The 270-page document, written by a panel of 22 experts, was launched by John Gummer, Secretary of State for the Environment, in advance of international negotiations on combating global warming in Geneva later this month.

Mr Gummer hopes it will increase pressure on governments of wealthy nations like Britain - which have produced the lion's share of 'greenhouse emissions' - to pledge themselves to curbing pollution in the first 10 years of the millennium.

"Unless we act now, the consequences outlined in this report will cost us and our children dear in the future, " he said.

The report examines the impact of climate change in 2020 and 2050, based on the latest forecasts from the Meteorological Office's Hadley Centre. The government-funded centre in Bracknell, Berkshire, is one of a handful around the world using supercomputer simulations to predict how the atmospheric build-up of heat- trapping gases will alter air and sea temperatures, currents, winds, rain and snowfall.

There is now a consensus among climate experts that the 0.75 degrees C rise in global average temperatures over the past century will be man- made.

Average UK temperatures are expected to be about 0.9 C higher than the 1961-1990 average by 2020, and 1.6 C higher in 2050. While total annual rainfall is predicted to increase by 5 per cent by 2020 and 10 per cent by 2050, summer rainfall is expected to decline over most of England and Wales.

The report points out that three of the five warmest years in the Met Office's 337-year Central England Temperature Record occurred in the past 10 years - 1989, 1990 and 1995. The summers of 1976 and 1995 were the warmest ever recorded in England.

However, Britain should not be affected by the spread of tropical diseases, such as malaria, dengue and leishmaniasis, which are carried by insects and thrive in warm conditions. But food-borne and water-borne diseases, which cause diarrhoeal and dysenteric infections are "likely to spread more readily in warmer and wetter conditions," says the report.

Wildlife species living on semi-Arctic mountain tops, such as the ptarmigan and snow bunting, may disappear from a warmer Britain, along with their habitat. The brown trout, which needs cold water in its life cycle is also likely to decline.

Many beech trees and ''street trees'', planted along the pavements of towns and cities, are expected to fall victim to the hotter, drier summers in the southern half of Britain.

Sea levels in southern England will be two feet higher in 2050, although they will be much lower in the north - the southern half of the UK was already sinking before global warming expanded the oceans.

5 Review of Potential Effects of Climate Change in the United Kingdom, DoE, pounds 28, HMSO.