Official: burning fossil fuels has changed rainfall patterns in the UK

Posted by bex — 24 July 2007 at 2:39pm - Comments


The Red Cross is stretched to their limits, in Tewkesbury. Thousands of people previously living in Gloucestershire’s rolling hills suddenly find themselves homeless. A third of a million people have no drinking water.

While politicians and the media have, so far, rightly focused on supporting the emergency services – getting flood defences in place, evacuating people and delivering drinking water – there seems to be an unspoken question hanging in the air, behind the general sense of bewilderment and unreality. As the Indie puts it:

It is obvious that the Government and the civil powers, from Gordon Brown down to the emergency services, are struggling to cope, not only with the sheer physical scale of the disaster itself, but with the very concept of it. It is entirely unfamiliar. It is new. Yet it is exactly what has been forecast for the past decade and more.

So is the "Great Flood of July" the result of human-made climate change? Is this the future for Britain?

Our climate modelling techniques – and especially our ways of combining different models – are quickly becoming more sophisticated. But it’s still impossible to link a single weather event to climate change; we still don’t know if July’s floods were directly caused by fossil fuels.

But what we can now say with confidence is that burning fossil fuels has changed rainfall patterns around the world, increasing the frequency and intensity of rainfall in the UK.

Tomorrow, for the first time, a scientific paper to be published in the peer-reviewed journal Nature will make it official. Human-induced climate change, it says, is responsible for heavier and more intense rainfall in the UK. This month's unprecedented floods are exactly the kind of weather event predicted by global warming models. And increases in greenhouse gas emissions are likely to bring more increases in future rainfall.

The paper, based on 14 different climate models, confirms that mid-latitude regions like Europe, Canada and Russia are experiencing more rainfall, and that this increase bears the "human fingerprint". According to the Times: "For the European region that includes Britain, the research team estimates that human activity has accounted for about two thirds of the observed trend."

The paper is on the Nature website (you’ll need to subscribe to see it), or you can read more in the FT.

But before you start building a canoe, remember that the future is not decided. Although there might be more in the pipeline, we can still stop the worst effects of climate change, if the government sorts its act out, now. Find out what you can do to help whip the government's policies into shape – from stopping the first coal-fired power plant being built in the UK for 30 years and halting aviation expansion, to ensuring the UK gets the clean and efficient energy system we so desperately need.

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