Extreme Heat Puts Life on Hold in Britain, a Land Not Built for It (2023)

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In a country more accustomed to temperate weather, a brutal heat wave tested Britain’s infrastructure and forced millions to choose between a Stygian commute or a stifling home office.

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Extreme Heat Puts Life on Hold in Britain, a Land Not Built for It (1)

By Mark Landler

LONDON — Trains slowed to a crawl. Schools and doctors’ offices shut their doors. The British Museum closed its galleries. Buckingham Palace curtailed the changing of the guard. And the government urged people to work from home.

(Video) Extreme heat puts life on hold in Britain, a land not built for it

Much of Britain took an involuntary siesta on Monday as merciless heat filtered north from a fire-ravaged European Continent, driving temperatures close to triple digits Fahrenheit in many areas and reaching the hottest mark ever recorded in Wales.

Authorities placed most of the country under a “red” warning for heat for the first time in history, with the mercury hovering around 100 degrees (37.5 degrees Celsius) across London and the country’s south and Midlands. Britain’s top reading, 100.6 Fahrenheit (38.1 Celsius), did not quite reach the record of 101.7 set in Cambridge in July 2019, but to a sweltering nation, that felt like a distinction without a difference.

On the sweltering London Underground — most lines are not air-conditioned — Georgia McQuade, 22, lugged a heavy suitcase as she made her way to Victoria bus station, where she planned to catch a bus home to Paris.

“The Tube is really hot right now,” Ms. McQuade said. But she added, “I don’t want to get an Uber, because using cars so much is what caused this heat in the first place.”

She expected to encounter even more ferocious temperatures in Paris, as a mass of hot air has baked Italy and Spain over the past week and fanned wildfires in France and other parts of Europe, before spilling across the English Channel.

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On Monday, French firefighters were battling two enormous wildfires that had torn through 55 square miles of dry pine forest in southwestern France over the past week, forcing about 16,000 people to evacuate.

For Britain, a nation known for its scudding clouds, frequent showers and temperate weather, the blast-furnace of Arizona-style heat was enough to disrupt much of the country. It even intruded into the political debate during a campaign season.

In the United States and other countries more accustomed to it, such heat might scarcely register. But essential infrastructure in those climates, from schools to public transportation to private homes, has been designed to deal with it, and people’s bodies are more acclimated to it.

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In Britain, the houses, especially older ones, were built to retain warmth, and their residents are similarly outfitted. Britons, in fact, are famously unprepared for extreme weather of all kinds — whether winter blizzards or summer downpours — and pavement-shimmering heat is no exception.

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Extreme Heat in Britain Leads to Major Train Delays

British trains are operating under speed restrictions amid fears that the intense heat in the region could cause the rails to buckle.

WEBVTT 00:00:07.063 —> 00:00:09.960 We’ve had blanket speed restrictions across 00:00:09.960 —> 00:00:11.457 most of England and Wales, 00:00:11.457 —> 00:00:15.449 and that really, really extends journey times for passengers. 00:00:15.449 —> 00:00:18.260 So for instance, if you’re going from London to Leeds 00:00:18.260 —> 00:00:21.350 today after midday, rather than two and a half hours, 00:00:21.350 —> 00:00:23.330 you’re looking at a five-hour journey. 00:00:23.330 —> 00:00:26.306 So, big increases as we put these speed restrictions on 00:00:26.306 —> 00:00:29.346 to keep trains and keep people safe. 00:00:37.690 —> 00:00:40.191 We’re expecting record rail temperatures as well. 00:00:40.191 —> 00:00:42.930 And in those kind of temperatures, it can buckle, 00:00:42.930 —> 00:00:45.405 and the last thing we want to do is a rail to buckle under 00:00:45.405 —> 00:00:47.430 a moving train because that’s dangerous. 00:00:47.430 —> 00:00:49.270 That’s why we slow things down, 00:00:49.270 —> 00:00:51.114 that’s why journeys are taking longer 00:00:51.114 —> 00:00:53.190 and that’s why there’ll be delays and disruption 00:00:53.190 —> 00:00:54.796 for people over the next two days.

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Extreme Heat Puts Life on Hold in Britain, a Land Not Built for It (3)

Some train services were canceled while others ran at reduced speeds for fear that the rails could buckle. Luton Airport, north of London, closed briefly after the heat caused a “defect” in the runway, forcing flights, some from Mediterranean holiday resorts, to divert to other airports.

In London, the cast-iron chains and pedestals of the Hammersmith Bridge on the Thames were wrapped in reflective foil to shield them from the sun. Previous heat waves had caused cracks in the iron to widen, raising fears that the majestic but corroded 19th-century bridge could collapse.

A 14-year-old boy was missing Monday evening and believed to have drowned while swimming in the Thames, according to London’s police service, as thousands defied warnings and flocked to stretches of water to escape the heat.

The Royal Air Force halted flights into and out of its largest base as a preventive measure, a spokesman said, because tar on the runway may have melted. Alternative airfields were being used and Air Force operations were not affected, he added.

Officials urged people to use public transportation only if necessary, and to work from home Monday and Tuesday — a plea reminiscent of the depths of the coronavirus pandemic. But few homes have air-conditioning, forcing millions to choose between a torrid commute or a stifling home office.

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“Our immediate concern is to get the country through the next 36 hours in as good a shape as possible,” said Kit Malthouse, the cabinet minister overseeing the government’s response. Forecasters warned that Tuesday would be even hotter, putting records again at risk.

Mr. Malthouse defended Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who stayed at his country residence, Chequers, and skipped crisis meetings of the cabinet. Mr. Malthouse said he was briefing Mr. Johnson, who announced his resignation after losing the support of his party two weeks ago, about the latest developments.

With the Conservative Party in the thick of a clamorous leadership race to replace Mr. Johnson, the weather has inevitably played into politics. Whatever the temperature, though, combating climate change has fallen well down the list of priorities.

Britain’s cost-of-living crisis has, for now at least, elbowed aside the country’s ambitious targets to reach net zero in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. During a televised debate, four of the five candidates voiced only tepid endorsements of the policy while one expressed open doubts.

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Prince Charles, the heir to Britain’s throne and a fervent climate change activist, waded into the debate, declaring on Monday that “those commitments around net zero have never been more vitally important as we all swelter under today’s alarming record temperatures across Britain and Europe.”

Blisteringly high temperatures are becoming more common globally, and climate scientists say that the burning of fossil fuels is a significant driver. Some of the recent heat extremes the world has experienced would have been virtually impossible without the influence of human-induced climate change, scientists have found.

Some critics argue that Britons habitually overreact to weather extremes. In February, nine train companies canceled their services when Storm Eunice battered the country with snow, rain, and winds of up to 90 miles per hour. Planes, buses, and ferries were also disrupted.

Still, on Monday, most Britons were dealing with the heat in time-tested ways.

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Retailers in Britain reported skyrocketing demand for fans and air-conditioning units. A spokeswoman for John Lewis, one of Britain’s largest department stores, said on Sunday that sales of fans were up more than 250 percent in the past week, compared with the same period a year earlier, and air-conditioner sales were up more than 525 percent.

There is little data on how many homes in England have air-conditioning, but the best estimates place it at under 5 percent, according to a 2021 report from Britain’s Department for Business Energy & Industrial Strategy.

Hospitals and nursing homes were a particular concern, officials said, with many older and other vulnerable patients in buildings without air-conditioning. Officials urged schools, in their final week of classes before a break, not to close because it would leave children unsupervised in the heat — a directive that some education districts were ignoring.

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For the most part, though, Britons endured it all with stoicism. Mona Suleiman, 45, and her friend, Zaina Al Amin, 40, were waiting for a bus in the afternoon sun and watched the temperature creeping steadily higher.

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“I am not worried about myself in this heat,” said Ms. Suleiman, who is originally from Eritrea. “But I am worried about my children.”

Her apartment gets too hot, she said, and despite being advised to keep her children, 6 and 10, home from summer school, she decided to send them in because she thought it might be cooler there.

Ms. Al Amin said she and Ms. Suleiman, who wore traditional Eritrean dress and head scarves, did not mind the heat in their lightweight cotton clothing. But they worried about boarding the bus. “It’s too difficult,” she said. “There’s not enough air.”

Others in London seemed less bothered, like the four artists painting graffiti on a mural wall outside Trellick Tower, a high-rise apartment building. “This is nothing, mate,” one said. “I’ll be out here again tomorrow.”

For a few Londoners, the answer was to head for the beach. Sam Darlaston and Imogen Duffin took a midday train from Victoria Station to the seaside resort of Brighton. The friends, both 28, had made the impulsive decision to take the day off an hour before the train departed.

Mr. Darlaston, a radio host wearing a Hawaiian-themed shirt, said he was glad not to be back in a stuffy studio. “I thought I might have to work,” he said, “and sometimes at work you have to wear trousers and a shirt, if you’re interviewing someone.”

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Reporting was contributed by Megan Specia, Stephen Castle, Euan Ward and Derrick Bryson Taylor in London, Constant Méheut and Aurelien Breeden in Paris, and Saskia Solomon in Brighton, England.

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FAQs

Why do land and climate in Britain have a lack of extremes? ›

Britain is in the temperate climate zone and does not have extremes of temperature or rainfall. The Gulf Stream, a large Atlantic Ocean current of warm water from the Gulf of Mexico, keeps winters quite mild whilst during summertime, warm but not excessively hot temperatures are experienced.

Why is the UK not built for heat? ›

This is largely due to a concept known as the urban heat island effect, where concrete buildings and heat-absorbing surfaces amplify the already scorching heat.

How do people live in extreme heat? ›

Keep cool. Seek out air-conditioned buildings, draw your blinds, use a fan, take cool showers and dress in light and loose clothing made from natural fabrics. Plan ahead. Schedule activities in the coolest part of the day and avoid exercising in the heat.

What is causing the extreme heat in the UK? ›

Climate change made UK heatwave more intense and at least 10 times more likely. New study finds human-caused climate change will increase the likelihood and severity of heatwaves in the UK faster than predicted.

Which climate is called as British climate? ›

British Type Climate or Cool Temperate Western Margin Climate or North-West European Maritime Climate. The cool temperate western margins are under the influence of the Westerlies all-round the year. They are the regions of frontal cyclonic activity [Temperate Cyclones].

What is the reason for the temperature difference in Britain? ›

Distance from the sea

Coastal areas are most affected by the sea. The sea takes longer to heat up and cool down than land. So in the winter the sea keeps coastal areas warm and in summer, it cools them down.

Is the UK built for heat? ›

The UK isn't built to take this heat. Our homes and workplaces already tend to be too hot in summer and too cold in winter. And as prolonged spells of dry weather and drought become more common, our homes' inefficient and wasteful approach to water use and conservation will become distressingly more evident.

Are UK homes built to keep heat in? ›

Few British homes are built to withstand high temperatures – rather, they are built to trap heat in. In the morning, it is advised that homeowners should close all windows and blinds to keep out direct sunlight and heat before peak outdoor temperature is reached.

Are houses in the UK built to keep heat in? ›

For generations, homes in Britain were designed to retain heat, to make cold winters bearable. Keeping them cool in the typically mild summers was an afterthought, if it was a thought at all. But in recent years, each new heat wave brings a fresh reminder that buying a fan or two simply won't always cut it.

How do you survive extreme heat outdoors? ›

Drink plenty of fluids even if you don't feel thirsty. Schedule outdoor activities carefully. Wear loose, lightweight, light-colored clothing and sunscreen. Pace yourself.

Is it better to live in extreme heat or cold? ›

NOAA's take: heat is the bigger killer

Over the 30-year period 1988 – 2017, NOAA classified an average of 134 deaths per year as being heat-related, and just 30 per year as cold-related—a more than a factor of four difference.

What can you do in extreme heat UK? ›

Bring everything you will need with you, such as a bottle of water, sun cream and a hat. If you have to go out in the heat, walk in the shade, apply sunscreen, and wear a hat and light clothing. Be prepared, as heatwaves can affect transport services and you might need extra water.

Why is extreme heat a problem? ›

Heat can cause severe dehydration, acute cerebrovascular accidents and contribute to thrombogenesis (blood clots). People with chronic diseases that take daily medications have a greater risk of complications and death during a heatwave, as do older people and children.

Who is most affected by extreme heat? ›

Certain population groups already face higher risks of heat-related death, and increases in summertime temperature variability will increase that risk. The population of adults aged 65 and older, which is expected to continue to grow, has a higher-than-average risk of heat-related death.

What can extreme heat cause to the environment? ›

Heat can exacerbate drought, and hot, dry conditions can in turn create wildfire conditions. Buildings, roads, and infrastructure absorb heat, leading to temperatures that can be 1 to 7 degrees F hotter in urban areas than outlying areas – a phenomenon known as the urban heat island effect.

What is British weather known for? ›

The UK is often associated with rain, but this is because the weather can be unpredictable. The rain doesn't come all in one season – it can come at any time of year, and on any day. You might experience beautiful sunshine, blustering winds and drizzling rain – all in one afternoon.

What is British weather called? ›

The climate in the United Kingdom is defined as a humid temperate oceanic climate, or Cfb on the Köppen climate classification system, a classification it shares with most of north-west Europe. Regional climates are influenced by the Atlantic Ocean and latitude.

What part of Britain has the best climate? ›

Southern England offer the best weather with mild winters. The south coast of England is the sunniest part of the country. Southeast: Southeast has more temperature variations with warmer summers and cooler winters.

Why is Britain warmer than other countries? ›

The Gulf Stream affects the climate in Britain by bringing warm water from the Caribbean to North West Europe. This keeps the climate in Britain warmer than other places at a similar latitude.

What are the major controls on British climate? ›

The climatic conditions in the British Isles are largely related to the influence of the Atlantic Ocean. The Atlantic Ocean acts as heat reservoir, storing warm water through the winter. In the summer, due its thermal capacity it takes longer to warm up than the land around it and so has a cooling influence.

What are the 5 causes of weather? ›

Weather is made up of six main components. These are temperature, atmospheric pressure, cloud formation, wind, humidity and rain. A small change to any of these conditions can create a different weather pattern.

Why do British homes not have air conditioning? ›

“We are a heating-dominated country, not a cooling-dominated country,” said Tadj Oreszczyn, a professor of energy and environment at the University College London Energy Institute. He added: “We haven't designed our homes historically to cope with overheating. We've designed them to keep ourselves warm.”

Is Britain having a heatwave? ›

The 2022 United Kingdom heatwaves were part of several heatwaves across Europe and North Africa.
...
August heatwave.
Typeheatwave
AreasUnited Kingdom
Start date9 August 2022
End date15 August 2022
Peak temp.34.2 °C (93.6 °F), recorded at Wiggonholt, West Sussex on 11 August 2022

Why UK houses are so cold? ›

Over a third of the homes in the UK were built before 1945 and three quarters before 1980. This puts the UK at the top the rankings for the oldest building stock in Europe. Often these older homes are single dwellings with poor insulation and heating systems that consume four times as much energy.

How are homes built for a very hot climate? ›

Compact house forms, rather than sprawling, multi-wing designs work best in hot locales. Home designs with shaded porches, wrap around porches or plans with courtyards that create a shaded open area within the building are ideal.

Are British houses insulated? ›

Data shows that from 2008 to 2019 the most common insulation measure was full double glazing – by 2020, 86.7 per cent of houses in the UK were thus equipped. Also by 2020, however, only 49 per cent of dwellings had cavity or solid wall insulation, with loft insulation found in just over 39 per cent of housing.

Are older houses cooler in summer UK? ›

In hot weather old houses beat their newer counterparts hands down. Before techy gizmos were invented builders relied on simpler ways to cool houses, such as an overhanging roof and windows to limit heat from the sun from entering.

Why is British summer so hot? ›

High pressure has dominated the UK weather this summer bringing long spells of dry and warm weather to many areas allowing heatwaves to develop each month, but most notably in July. Overall, the UK has seen 62% of its summer rainfall and mean temperatures were 1.1°C above the average of 14.6°C.

How many homes overheat in UK? ›

The UK has little regulation to prevent overheating in new buildings, despite the fact that as many as 4.6 million homes overheat every year in England alone, according to a recent survey by Loughborough University.

How can I keep my house warm without heating UK? ›

10 step guide to keep your house warm without heating
  1. Rejig your furniture. ...
  2. Use a terracotta heater. ...
  3. Invest in insulation. ...
  4. Think about your habits. ...
  5. Put a shelf above a radiator. ...
  6. Bleed your radiators. ...
  7. Analyse any draughts. ...
  8. Block your chimney up.
26 Aug 2022

How do people survive the heat UK? ›

Tips for coping in hot weather

Keep out of the heat if you can. If you have to go outside, stay in the shade especially between 11am and 3pm, wear sunscreen, a hat and light clothes, and avoid exercise or activity that makes you hotter. Cool yourself down.

What happens when its too hot outside? ›

When it's very hot, you can sweat away too much fluid, along with essential minerals like sodium and potassium. You may be thirsty and pee less than usual, and your mouth and tongue might feel dry. You could even feel dizzy, lightheaded, and confused.

How do you survive when heat goes out? ›

Use Low-tech Equipment
  1. Set up a tent in a room that connects with a bathroom and spend time/sleep inside the tent. ...
  2. Make a Buddy Burner for light and a small amount of heat. ...
  3. Keep hand and feet warmers inside pockets, gloves, and/or shoes. ...
  4. Use an indoor-safe portable stove to cook small meals.
9 Nov 2021

Why is hot better than cold? ›

Nearly twice as many people die from exposure to cold weather than those who succumb to hot weather. British researchers compiled the data and found that while weather related fatalities are trending down, you still have a greater risk of dying from the cold.

Are extreme temperatures good for you? ›

High environmental temperatures can be dangerous to your body. In the range of 90˚ and 105˚F (32˚ and 40˚C), you can experience heat cramps and exhaustion. Between 105˚ and 130˚F (40˚ and 54˚C), heat exhaustion is more likely.

How long can you live in extreme heat? ›

If the body's temperature rises quickly, its natural cooling mechanism – sweat – fails. A person's temperature can rise to a dangerous 106 degrees or higher within just 10 or 15 minutes. This can lead to disability or even death.

Can I refuse to work in extreme heat UK? ›

There's no law for maximum working temperature, or when it's too hot to work. Employers must stick to health and safety at work law, including: keeping the temperature at a comfortable level, sometimes known as thermal comfort. providing clean and fresh air.

What do you do if you work in extreme heat? ›

Safety tips for working in the heat
  1. Stay hydrated. Always have water on hand when outdoors. ...
  2. Take frequent breaks. It's important that you take time to rest and get out of the hot weather. ...
  3. Take time to acclimatize. ...
  4. Dress light. ...
  5. Watch what you eat and drink. ...
  6. Monitor the weather. ...
  7. Use the buddy system.

Should I open windows in extreme heat? ›

“Generally, when it is really hot outside it is a good idea to keep windows closed during the daytime, as you don't want the hot external air to come into the house warming it up. However, after the sun goes down, the outside air will start to cool down,” Browning explains.

What are the 5 effects of heat? ›

The important effects of heat on an object are :
  • Raises the temperature.
  • Increases volume.
  • Changes state.
  • Brings about chemical action.
  • Changes physical properties.

How does extreme heat make you feel? ›

Signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion include: heavy sweating, weakness, dizziness, visual disturbances, intense thirst, nausea, headache, muscle cramps, breathlessness, palpitations, and skin which is pale, cool, and moist.

What is effects of heat? ›

Milder effects: rashes, cramps, heat exhaustion. • Severe effects: Heat stroke. This is a severe illness. Body temperature rises to 105°F or more and can be accompanied by delirium, convulsions, coma and even death.

Who is at risk from heat? ›

Who is at greatest risk for heat-related illness? Those at greatest risk for heat-related illness include infants and children up to four years of age, people 65 years of age and older, people who are overweight, and people who are ill or on certain medications.

Why are some people so affected by heat? ›

Those with heat intolerance may have a disorder called dysautonomia that affects their autonomic nervous system. The autonomic nervous system helps regulate automatic functions of the body, including the body's response to heat. Several medical conditions can cause dysautonomia, including: diabetes.

Does the UK suffer from extreme weather? ›

The UK generally experiences warm summers and cool winters. Only rarely do we face the extremes of heat or cold common in other climates. There is increasing evidence that things are changing. Heatwaves, storms and flooding, wildfires and even extremely cold snaps are happening unexpectedly.

What are some of the problems of the UK's climate? ›

Even if we do reduce greenhouse gas emissions, sea levels around the UK will keep rising beyond 2100. Parts of the UK will be in danger of flooding, with low lying and coastal cities at particular risk. Farming in the UK will be affected by climate change, too.

Why does Britain not experience very cold weather? ›

The British Isles undergo very small temperature variations. This is due to its proximity to the Atlantic, which acts as a temperature buffer, warming the Isles in winter and cooling them in summer. Coastal areas tend to be more temperate than inland areas, as the influence of the ocean is less acute.

How will climate change affect extreme weather in the UK? ›

The amounts and frequency of rain will change. Winters will be wetter and summers will become hotter and more prolonged. There will be increased local flooding with more flash flooding occurring. This will result in increased pressure on water resources in the UK.

Will England become a hot country? ›

The likelihood of exceeding 40C anywhere in the UK in a given year has also been rapidly increasing and, even with current pledges on emissions reductions, such extremes could be taking place every 15 years in the climate of 2100.” It looks as if the threat of extreme heat will not be over this week.

Where should I live to avoid climate change UK? ›

At the other end of the spectrum, 86 per cent of the safest cities are located in Europe and the Americas. The UK is home to the five cities considered most insulated from climate change impacts: Glasgow, Edinburgh, Belfast, Preston and Middlesbrough.

Is the UK in a drought 2022? ›

The UK experienced a prolonged period of dry weather in 2022 which culminated in a severe summer heatwave and record-breaking temperatures, posing challenges for water resources as we move into the autumn.

What are the problems and solutions of climate change? ›

The main ways to stop climate change are to pressure government and business to:
  • Keep fossil fuels in the ground. ...
  • Invest in renewable energy. ...
  • Switch to sustainable transport. ...
  • Help us keep our homes cosy. ...
  • Improve farming and encourage vegan diets. ...
  • Restore nature to absorb more carbon. ...
  • Protect forests like the Amazon.

Who is affected by climate change? ›

The most vulnerable groups, including children, the elderly, people with preexisting health conditions, outdoor workers, people of color, and people with low income, are at an even higher risk because of the compounding factors from climate change.

What are the effects of climate change essay? ›

The ocean level is rising, glaciers are melting, CO2 in the air is increasing, forest and wildlife are declining, and water life is also getting disturbed due to climatic changes. Apart from that, it is calculated that if this change keeps on going then many species of plants and animals will get extinct.

Is 2022 going to be a cold winter UK? ›

According to Met Office forecasts, the chances of a cold winter are now slightly higher than usual. “The likelihood of a colder three-month period overall is slightly greater than normal,” the Met said in its outlook. Even so, the most likely scenario remains an average winter, according to the outlook.

Will it be cold this winter UK 2023? ›

Though colder weather is still possible in the early months of 2023, it is more likely that wet, windy and mild spells will become more prevalent.”

Will 2022 be a snowy winter UK? ›

There is a chance that low pressure systems will run to the south of the UK, at least for a time, whilst northern areas remain drier, allowing colder air to become more established further north. This scenario could result in snow in central areas of the country and perhaps wintry showers in parts of the north.

Will the UK have a good summer 2022? ›

The summer of 2022 will be remembered as a dry and sunny three months, and for England, the joint warmest summer on record according to mean temperature*.

What is the UK doing to stop climate change? ›

Trees play an important role in removing carbon emissions from the atmosphere. At the global climate summit COP26 in November 2021, the government agreed to end deforestation in the UK by 2030. It has an ambitious target to plant 30,000 hectares of trees a year by 2025 (a hectare is a bit bigger than a football pitch).

What are 5 effects of climate change? ›

More frequent and intense drought, storms, heat waves, rising sea levels, melting glaciers and warming oceans can directly harm animals, destroy the places they live, and wreak havoc on people's livelihoods and communities.

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