What Does the Climate Crisis Mean for British Summer?

by Chelsey Noble

This article will examine the relationship between the climate crisis and the increasingly extreme British summers as global heating leads to hotter and more frequent heat waves, with devastating effects. It will also introduce internationally agreed upon targets to stop global heating, and explore how further global temperature increases may affect UK weather.

A key concern throughout this article is the rate of global heating. Currently, the average global temperature has increased about 1°C compared with pre-industrial levels [1]. Pre-industrial refers to the period before the industrial revolution, 1720-1800 [2].

Global Heating and Extreme British Summers

It is undeniable that Britain is getting hotter — the Met Office reported that the decade 2012-2021 was on average 1.0°C warmer than the period of 1961–1990 [3]. Of course this does not seem like a high number, but it takes into account the average of both summer and winter temperatures, thus indicating a significant temperature increase overall. 

In July 2022, Britain saw a new record high temperature 40.3°C [4]. This alone is an alarming sign, but the temperature was reached during a heatwave with temperatures consistently above the monthly average, including night temperatures which did not fall below 20°C; known as ‘tropical nights’ [4,5]. Tropical nights are not only frustrating as it is too hot to sleep, but they can also be dangerous as our bodies become unable to cool down. They thus work harder, and do not get the valuable rest period during hot nights. This is especially significant in Britain as typically homes are structured to trap heat (to survive cold winters) while lacking air conditioning, meaning that tropical nights are especially hot indoors.

However, sleep was not the only thing affected by the heatwave. During the hottest days, the country saw travel disruptions, increased pressure on the NHS, and fires. The Guardian reported that some surgeries taking place in England had to be cancelled due to operating theatres being too hot [6]. This is another example of Britain being under equipped to deal with extreme heat. 

Limiting Global Heating

While global heating is currently measured at 1°C above pre-industrial levels, it is continuing to rise. For this reason the Paris Agreement was signed at the Conference of the Parties in 2015 (COP21). The goal of this international treaty is to ensure that global heating does not reach 2°C above pre-industrial levels [7]. At the current level of global heating there is already an increase in extreme weather. The Yale School of the Environment reported a significant increase in natural disasters, including floods, storms, droughts, and heatwaves [8]. At 2°C, these events would become even more prevalent.

However, the 2°C target is still too high for avoiding many extreme weather events, thus increasingly 1.5°C has been put forward as a goal. In fact, NASA reported that compared to the 2°C target, a 1.5°C increase in global temperature ‘would reduce the number of people frequently exposed to extreme heatwaves by about 420 million, with about 65 million fewer people exposed to exceptional heatwaves ’[9].

In a world heavily reliant on fossil fuels and industrial practices which release significant amounts of carbon, every ton of carbon not emitted counts to slow down the rate of global heating, irrespective of the concrete temperature goal.


In terms of solving this problem there are two main paths: First, adaptation. Improving the infrastructure in place to handle extreme heat in Britain, so heatwaves do not cause high levels of disruption and destruction. Secondly, mitigation. Managing global heating by reducing greenhouse gas emissions to keep the average global temperature from reaching 2°C (or, ideally, 1.5°C) above pre industrial levels. This should prevent extreme weather conditions from worsening to a point that is even less manageable.Both of these solutions are important to ensure British summers do not become more extreme and cost even more lives.


[1] Global warming reaches 1°C above preindustrial, warmest in more than 11,000 years, Climate Analytics,https://climateanalytics.org/briefings/global-warming-reaches-1c-above-preindustrial-warmest-in-more-than-11000-years/ , accessed on 27th Jul. 2022.
[2] Jonathan Amos, Defining a true ‘pre-industrial’ climate period, BBC, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-38745937 , accessed on 27th Jul. 2022.
[3] RMetS, 2022, State of the UK Climate 2021, International Journal of Climatology (42, S1), https://rmets.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/epdf/10.1002/joc.7787
[4]Record breaking temperatures for the UK, Met Office, https://www.metoffice.gov.uk/about-us/press-office/news/weather-and-climate/2022/red-extreme-heat-warning-ud , accessed on 27th Jul. 2022.
[5] Tropical nights: When the heat makes it hard to sleep, BBC Weather, https://www.bbc.co.uk/weather/features/61829544 , accessed on 27th Jul. 2022.
[6] Dennis Campbell, Surgeries cancelled because operating theatres are too hot, The Guardian,https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/live/2022/jul/18/uk-weather-heatwave-met-office-warning-forecast-temperature-london-schools-latest-updates?page=with:block-62d566908f082dc50bc2ad16&filterKeyEvents=false , accessed on 27th Jul. 2022.
[7] The Paris Agreement, United Nations, https://unfccc.int/process-and-meetings/the-paris-agreement/the-paris-agreement , accessed on 27th Jul. 2022.
[8] Extreme Weather Events Have Increased Significantly in the Last 20 Years, YaleEnvironment360, https://e360.yale.edu/digest/extreme-weather-events-have-increased-significantly-in-the-last-20-years , accessed on 27th Jul. 2022.[9] Alan Buis, A Degree of Concern: Why Global Temperatures Matter, NASA Global Climate Change, https://climate.nasa.gov/news/2865/a-degree-of-concern-why-global-temperatures-matter/, accessed on 27th Jul. 2022.
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