Yesterday, the UK officially reached 40C – a temperature that the Met Office said is “virtually impossible” in an undisrupted climate.
A provisional temperature of 40.3°C was recorded at Coningsby in Lincolnshire at 15:12 which, if confirmed, will beat the previous record of 38.7°C set in 2019 by 1.5°C.
Yesterday, a number of fires broke out across the country in Wennington, Upminster, Croydon, Dartford and Wembley, creating devastation and chaos.
Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme, London Mayor Sadiq Khan stated that: “Yesterday was the busiest day for the fire service in London since the Second World War.
“Normally we get 350 calls a day, on a busy day we can get up to 500 calls. Yesterday the fire service had more than 2,600 calls a day.”
The London Fire Brigade is one of fifteen areas in the UK to declare a major incident.
London Fire Brigade Assistant Commissioner Jonathan Smith also reported that the brigade dealt with 15 major fires, along with a large number of wildfires and grassland fires.
“We will investigate all of those incidents and make sure we get a full picture of why the fire occurred.
“But what we can say with some certainty is that the heat and dry conditions we’ve experienced over the last week created the perfect scenario for these rapidly spreading fires across grassland and woodland, and it was the speed of these fires which was a particular challenge for us to deal with.”
A further comment from the Chair of the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) Mark Hardingham highlights the severity of the situation:
“I’ve been in the fire service for over 30 years now and yesterday was just about the busiest I’ve ever seen the fire and rescue service in that time.
“The images that we saw yesterday remind me of what I’ve seen in California, Australia and southern Europe in recent years, and not so much in the UK.”
Many news stories have been focusing on yesterday’s fire in Wennington in East London. The London Fire Brigade reported that two rows of terraced houses, four other homes, 12 stables and five cars were destroyed by the blaze, with a firefighter at the scene describing it as “absolute hell.
Heatwaves and Fires: What next?
While the sweltering heat has subsided today, the Met Office has issued a yellow warning for south-East England where heavy showers and thunderstorms are expected this afternoon.
Phil Garrigan, who leads the NFCC’s National Resilience group, says the UK must now consider what equipment it has to fight wildfires .
“Most European countries where they have significant wildfires have planes or helicopters which would be utilised to collect or distribute water to areas where the fire is developing”, and it looks like the UK may have to follow suite.
As the BBC reports, the world has already warmed by about 1.1C since the industrial era began and temperatures will keep rising unless governments around the world make drastic actions to make steeps cuts to emissions, as a matter of urgency.
Speaking to BBC News, Met Office chief scientist Prof Stephen Belcher stated that while the UK needs to adapt to very high temperatures, “aggressive emissions cuts” would very sharply reduce the frequency of extreme temperatures.
It is clear that structural and cultural changes may be necessary to curb the most vicious effects of climate change in the UK.
Climate Change from a Global Perspective
Yet while the heatwave has sparked serious conversations and debates about the effects of climate change in the UK, it is equally important to pay attention to the global impacts.
As the Met Office report,
“Though developed countries produce most greenhouse gas emissions, developing countries are predicted to see most of the severe effects. With fewer resources to adapt to these changes, the impact on people in developing countries is expected to be higher.”
For example, the ice in the Arctic is melting fast. It is already 65% thinner than it was in 1975. Late summer Arctic Sea ice area is currently the smallest in at least 1,000 years. If we do not reduce our use of carbon emissions soon, we could see ice-free summers in the Arctic by the middle of this century.
We live in an international community where consumerist lifestyles ultimately affect the world’s most vulnerable populations the most. While cutting carbon emissions ultimately starts with big corporations and fossil fuel companies, it is always worth thinking of the small lifestyle changes that we can make to help ensure that climate disasters do not become a normalised part of life in the future.
Ensuring that corporations are held accountable for their carbon emissions is also essential, as well as electing a government that has a clear climate strategy. Thus, to ignore the climate crisis will not only normalise climate denial rhetoric. Wildfires that we saw tear through the nation, will become the climatic standard. Is the Britain we want to live in?
Read more insights on what we should expect from governments and corporations here.