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Environment

Poorer communities ‘will bear the brunt’ of climate crisis in the UK

It is ‘shameful we have waited until our own streets have flooded’ to take the climate crisis seriously, experts told The Big Issue

Britain’s 10 hottest years on record have all occurred since 2002, according to a new Met Office report, amid warnings deprived parts of the country are on track to “bear the brunt of a climate crisis they did little to cause”.

The study — which revealed British summers could hit over 40°C regularly in years to come — was published in the aftermath of extreme temperature spikes and flash flooding across the country.

The report “confirms for the UK that the climate crisis is not sparing industrialised nations, it’s at our doorsteps,” Steve Trent, CEO of the Environmental Justice Foundation, told The Big Issue.

“For decades, countries in the global south have suffered the impacts of global heating, in a pattern of gross injustice. 99 per cent of all deaths from weather-related disasters occur in the world’s 50 least developed countries — countries that have contributed less than one per cent of global carbon emissions.

“Now, as deadly heatwaves and floods become increasingly likely in the UK, this is played out again on a smaller, national scale. Unless we act now, poorer, marginalised and more vulnerable communities will bear the brunt of a crisis they did little to cause.

“It is shameful that, as industrialised nations, we have waited until our own streets are flooded, our own houses burnt down, to take the climate crisis seriously,” Trent added. “But if we put in place ambitious, effective and equitable policies today, we still have a chance for a just, sustainable world.”

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The last three decades in Britain have been six per cent wetter and nearly one degree hotter than the 30 years prior, according to the State of the UK Climate in 2020 study, published in the International Journal of Climatology. 

February 2020 was the wettest on record, researchers said, and spring was the sunniest, which caused plants to open prematurely. Species could fall out of sync with the environment, the Woodland Trust’s Dr Darren Moorcroft warned, resulting in breakdowns in the food chain.

Enough rain fell nationally on October 3 to fill Scotland’s Loch Ness, a weather extreme “made roughly two and a half times more likely” as a result of the climate crisis, according to Dr Mike Kendon, senior climate scientist for the Met Office.

“In seven out of the last 10 years, we’ve seen temperatures of 34°C in the UK compared to seven out of the previous 50 years before that,” he added, warning global warming as a result of human activity would last for “a very, very long time to come”.

“This is an indication of the fact that our baseline of our climate is changing and what we regard as normal is changing,” he said.

Luke Pollard, Labour’s shadow environment secretary, told The Big Issue the report shows “the climate crisis is right here, right now.

“It’s not something that we can say is far down the world, it’s affecting communities at home and abroad right at this moment,” he said.

Pollard criticised the government’s approach to the crisis, adding: “The real danger is that we’re being fed a diet of greenwash that doesn’t reflect the urgency of the situation. We will be confronted by even tougher choices and more severe consequences in a few years’ time because we are being convinced by people who should know better that everything is okay.”

Global temperatures have already risen between 1.1°C to 1.2°C above pre-industrial levels, scientists said, warning another rise of 0.3°C would mean much more intense heatwaves and temperatures well above those already recorded in the UK.

Environmental justice must be built into every part of the UK’s climate efforts, according to Trent, and ministers must “set clear goals for disadvantaged communities to receive their fair share of the benefit” that the move to a more sustainable society will bring.

“Because it will bring benefits,” he said. “It will mean new jobs, economic revitalisation, and reinvigoration of our relationship with the natural world, making us happier and healthier.”

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