Towns and cities may be around 8°F warmer by 2100, study claims

Towns and cities across the globe may be around 8°F warmer by the end of the century, study claims

  • Researchers applied 26 different climate models to temperatures in urban areas
  • They looked at the impact on specific areas and types of location worldwide 
  • Without a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions temperatures could increase by as much as 8 degrees Fahrenheit over current levels by the end of the century 

The average temperature of towns and cities around the world could be up to 8.1f (4.5C) warmer than today by the end of the century, researchers claim. 

A team from Illinois University applied 26 different complex climate models to urban areas in a first of its kind study, to better understand the impact of climate change.

The world is facing ‘environmental armageddon’ if carbon emissions remain high, warn the US team, who say devastating wether events including extreme droughts and catastrophic floods are inevitable unless action is taken.

Britain would regularly sizzle in temperatures of over 104 degrees Fahrenheit (40C) if the predictions made by the team from Illinois prove to be correct.  

The world is facing ‘environmental armageddon’ if carbon emissions remain high, warn the US team, who say devastating wether events including extreme droughts and catastrophic floods are inevitable unless action is taken

Corresponding author Dr Lei Zhao, of Illinois University, said over half the world’s population lives in an urban environment such as a town or a city. 

‘Cities also tend to warm more than rural or suburban areas because built surfaces made out of concrete and asphalt absorb more heat and inhibit cooling,’ Zhao said.

‘Incorporating these variables into climate change predictions is crucial for understanding future urban climate – but doing so can be challenging.’

The UN Paris climate change agreement calls on nations to take action to prevent average global temperatures by more than 3.6F (2C) above pre-industrial levels. 

That is an average over all areas of the planet, but people in urban areas could be facing more than double that increase within the next 80 years, Zhaeo predicts. 

He said: ‘Urban regions across the globe could warm more than 4°C under a high-emissions climate change scenario.’

Based on their study, the team found average warming across the planet will rise by 3.4F (1.9C) even with significant cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.  

Dr Zhao said despite occupying only three per cent of the Earth’s land surface, cities will be home to 70 per cent of the population by 2050 and are where major human-perceived climate change impacts will occur by 2100. 

‘Many globally recognised environmental problems, such as heat stress, water scarcity, air pollution and energy security, are amplified in built areas through the uniqueness of urban climates and high population density,’ he added.

The phenomenon has been largely overlooked in previous climate change models that have taken a more holistic approach to predicting temperature increases.

Dr Zhao said: ‘Our results can accurately account for the human-perceived impacts of climate change in population hotspots.’

It isn’t all bad news, the study published in Nature Climate Change also predicted a near-universal decrease in relative humidity in cities.

This would make surface evaporation more efficient- suggesting adaptation strategies like urban vegetation could be effective.

Dr Zhao said: ‘Effective urban planning for climate-driven risks relies on robust projections specific to built landscapes.

Based on their study, the team found average warming across the planet will rise by 3.4F (1.9C) even with significant cuts in greenhouse gas emissions

‘Our findings support green infrastructure intervention as an effective means of reducing urban heat stress on large scales.’

The current record for the hottest temperature ever recorded in the UK stands at 101.7F (38.7C) – which was set in Cambridge in July 2019.

The past two summers have seen periods of significant and uncomfortable heat across much of Britain and Europe and without action to reduce carbon emissions, temperatures will increase and hot periods will last longer, the team warned.

Met Office researchers have found the recent hot periods occurred partly as a result of warming gases originating from human activities.

In fact, the use of energy, transport and all the other carbon that we’ve been producing made the heatwave of 2018 around 30 times more likely.

The findings have been published in the journal Nature Climate Change. 

Revealed: MailOnline dissects the impact greenhouse gases have on the planet – and what is being done to stop air pollution


Carbon dioxide

Carbon dioxide (CO2) is one of the biggest contributors to global warming. After the gas is released into the atmosphere it stays there, making it difficult for heat to escape – and warming up the planet in the process. 

It is primarily released from burning fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas, as well as cement production. 

The average monthly concentration of CO2 in the Earth’s atmosphere, as of April 2019, is 413 parts per million (ppm). Before the Industrial Revolution, the concentration was just 280 ppm. 

CO2 concentration has fluctuated over the last 800,000 years between 180 to 280ppm, but has been vastly accelerated by pollution caused by humans. 

Nitrogen dioxide 

The gas nitrogen dioxide (NO2) comes from burning fossil fuels, car exhaust emissions and the use of nitrogen-based fertilisers used in agriculture.

Although there is far less NO2 in the atmosphere than CO2, it is between 200 and 300 times more effective at trapping heat.

Sulfur dioxide 

Sulfur dioxide (SO2) also primarily comes from fossil fuel burning, but can also be released from car exhausts.

SO2 can react with water, oxygen and other chemicals in the atmosphere to cause acid rain. 

Carbon monoxide 

Carbon monoxide (CO) is an indirect greenhouse gas as it reacts with hydroxyl radicals, removing them. Hydroxyl radicals reduce the lifetime of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. 


What is particulate matter?

Particulate matter refers to tiny parts of solids or liquid materials in the air. 

Some are visible, such as dust, whereas others cannot be seen by the naked eye. 

Materials such as metals, microplastics, soil and chemicals can be in particulate matter.

Particulate matter (or PM) is described in micrometres. The two main ones mentioned in reports and studies are PM10 (less than 10 micrometres) and PM2.5 (less than 2.5 micrometres).

Air pollution comes from burning fossil fuels, cars, cement making and agriculture 

Scientists measure the rate of particulates in the air by cubic metre.

Particulate matter is sent into the air by a number of processes including burning fossil fuels, driving cars and steel making.

Why are particulates dangerous?

Particulates are dangerous because those less than 10 micrometres in diameter can get deep into your lungs, or even pass into your bloodstream. Particulates are found in higher concentrations in urban areas, particularly along main roads. 

Health impact

What sort of health problems can pollution cause?

According to the World Health Organization, a third of deaths from stroke, lung cancer and heart disease can be linked to air pollution. 

Some of the effects of air pollution on the body are not understood, but pollution may increase inflammation which narrows the arteries leading to heart attacks or strokes. 

As well as this, almost one in 10 lung cancer cases in the UK are caused by air pollution. 

Particulates find their way into the lungs and get lodged there, causing inflammation and damage. As well as this, some chemicals in particulates that make their way into the body can cause cancer. 

Deaths from pollution 

Around seven million people die prematurely because of air pollution every year. Pollution can cause a number of issues including asthma attacks, strokes, various cancers and cardiovascular problems. 


Asthma triggers

Air pollution can cause problems for asthma sufferers for a number of reasons. Pollutants in traffic fumes can irritate the airways, and particulates can get into your lungs and throat and make these areas inflamed. 

Problems in pregnancy 

Women exposed to air pollution before getting pregnant are nearly 20 per cent more likely to have babies with birth defects, research suggested in January 2018.

Living within 3.1 miles (5km) of a highly-polluted area one month before conceiving makes women more likely to give birth to babies with defects such as cleft palates or lips, a study by University of Cincinnati found.

For every 0.01mg/m3 increase in fine air particles, birth defects rise by 19 per cent, the research adds. 

Previous research suggests this causes birth defects as a result of women suffering inflammation and ‘internal stress’. 

What is being done to tackle air pollution? 

Paris agreement on climate change

The Paris Agreement, which was first signed in 2015, is an international agreement to control and limit climate change. 

It hopes to hold the increase in the global average temperature to below 2°C (3.6ºF) ‘and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C (2.7°F)’.

Carbon neutral by 2050 

The UK government has announced plans to make the country carbon neutral by 2050. 

They plan to do this by planting more trees and by installing ‘carbon capture’ technology at the source of the pollution.

Some critics are worried that this first option will be used by the government to export its carbon offsetting to other countries.

International carbon credits let nations continue emitting carbon while paying for trees to be planted elsewhere, balancing out their emissions.

No new petrol or diesel vehicles by 2040

In 2017, the UK government announced the sale of new petrol and diesel cars would be banned by 2040.  

However,  MPs on the climate change committee have urged the government to bring the ban forward to 2030, as by then they will have an equivalent range and price.

The Paris Agreement, which was first signed in 2015, is an international agreement to control and limit climate change. Pictured: air pollution over Paris in 2019.

Norway’s electric car subsidies

The speedy electrification of Norway’s automotive fleet is attributed mainly to generous state subsidies. Electric cars are almost entirely exempt from the heavy taxes imposed on petrol and diesel cars, which makes them competitively priced.

A VW Golf with a standard combustion engine costs nearly 334,000 kroner (34,500 euros, $38,600), while its electric cousin the e-Golf costs 326,000 kroner thanks to a lower tax quotient. 

Criticisms of inaction on climate change

The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) has said there is a ‘shocking’ lack of Government preparation for the risks to the country from climate change. 

The committee assessed 33 areas where the risks of climate change had to be addressed – from flood resilience of properties to impacts on farmland and supply chains – and found no real progress in any of them.

The UK is not prepared for 2°C of warming, the level at which countries have pledged to curb temperature rises, let alone a 4°C rise, which is possible if greenhouse gases are not cut globally, the committee said.

It added that cities need more green spaces to stop the urban ‘heat island’ effect, and to prevent floods by soaking up heavy rainfall. 

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