The impacts of climate change on the United Kingdom

Dr Flora Whitmarsh, Science Communications Research Analyst in Climate Change at the Grantham Institute, Imperial College London

Flood sign Changes to the average and extreme weather conditions in the UK, including more intense heat waves and heavier rain, are expected to affect the country directly. These changes could affect health and agriculture, and change flood risk. Changes to the climate in other countries can affect us indirectly, largely through their effects on global supply chains.

The unusually wet and stormy weather last winter (2013-2014)

The exceptionally wet weather this winter was mostly due to the unusual behaviour of the jet stream; more research is needed before we can say whether this was linked to climate change. However, climate change has increased the risk of very heavy rain and sea levels have already risen. Both these factors will have worsened the effects of the stormy weather conditions we experienced this winter. Read more

Extreme rainfall

As temperatures increase, the amount of water vapour in the atmosphere is also increasing. The total average rainfall worldwide will only increase slightly, but there is expected to be a larger increase in the intensity of the heaviest rain globally, including in the UK. Very heavy rain can intensify flooding and/or cause crop damage. Read more

Domestic food production

Additional carbon dioxide in the atmosphere encourages plant growth and warmer temperatures may be beneficial for crop growth in countries with cool climates like the UK. However, these positive effects depend on adequate water and nutrients being available. Changes to rainfall extremes, heat waves, water availability and the plant disease fusarium ear blight could potentially  have an adverse effect. Read more

Heat waves

While there may be benefits in terms of reducing the number of winter deaths, the intensification of heat waves in the UK could potentially have consequences for the number of people affected by heat related illness. Read more

Urban flooding

There is the potential for climate change, in combination with other human factors, to increase the risk of flooding in urban areas around the world, including the Greater London area. Read more

Global Supply chains

Our economy is globally integrated and changes to the climate in other countries have the potential to affect our supply chains. Work at Imperial is looking at the impact of climate change on global supply chains, with an initial focus on French companies. Read more

Food sourced from abroad

Globally, the effects of climate change on food supply are expected to be mixed. For example, many regions that are already hot and dry are expected to become even hotter and drier, potentially causing problems for agriculture. Other areas may become suitable for crops that were not grown in that region before.  The resultant impacts on crop growth will be dependent on factors such as the potential for irrigation and adaptation.  Read more