Feb 22, 2050… and now, a weather forecast from MetMan, sponsored by Dolly’s Carbon-free Brollies:
“Well, it looks like we’re in for another day of blizzards along Oxford Street, a small but potentially devastating hurricane at Land’s End and the potential for some localised flooding around the Isle of Billinge in The County Formerly Known as Lancashire.
“As usual, the best of the weather will be on the dry uplands of Penninesville, with positively balmy conditions in Bradford, the capital. Meanwhile, in Northern Ireland, it’ll be non-stop sunshine, as usual.”
Projecting ahead is a risky business. Climate experts’ predictions for the UK and its neighbours range from a few more storms here and there to catastrophic flooding. Warmer weather is expected with some models predicting temperatures up to 5.4C hotter by 2070, while winters could also be up to 4.2C warmer. That would make Eastbourne feel more like Nice in July, even if it didn’t quite look the part. But it might spell the end of the annual Cairngorm ski season.
The very hot summer of 2018 might be typical for half of all summers by 2050. Rainfall might decrease by up to 47 per cent in the summer – hurrah! – while there could be up to 35 per cent more rain in winter – not so good. More dangerous water could arrive from another angle, with sea levels in London rising by up to 3.8 feet (1.15 metres) by 2100. These were some of the headline statistics in the comprehensive UK Climate Projections 2018 report, which came – inevitably – with as many caveats as it did startling predictions.
But things are definitely, incontrovertibly, indubitably changing. Scotland’s top 10 warmest years have all occurred since 1997 since records began in 1884. Wales has seen a 13% rise in annual rainfall since the 1960s.
Rising temperatures over the coming decades are almost a dead cert and more frequent extreme weather events – storms, heavy rainfall, gales, droughts – are widely predicted.
What could this mean for tourism? At the domestic level, it might mean hotter summers and a revival of some of our half-forgotten beach resorts. Could Rhyl replaced Rhodes in the public’s affections? Will the flashier hoteliers move in on Skegness? That’s improbable, though not impossible. But people might stay at home mainly to avoid going to countries hit even worse by the climate crisis.
The Mediterranean region of Spain has already warmed by about 1.5°C – more than the global average of 1.1°C – since the Industrial Revolution. A 2019 report from the Mediterranean Experts on Climate and Environmental Change found that regional temperature increases will be of 2.2°C in 2040, possibly exceeding 3.8°C in some regions by 2100.
Temperatures could rise to such an extent that the popular southern coastal regions – including places like Marbella and the Algarve – would have a climate more like that of North Africa. This would turn the already dusty slopes of the Costa del Sol into a barren wasteland, and the symbolic harvests that have such allure for travellers – olive and wine – might be unfeasible. Growers are already buying up land in the Pyrenees in case the fair weather moves north.
Back home, there is some evidence that warmer summers could be good for the economy. The authors of a 2009 paper found people took more trips and spent more when the weather was hotter and/or the sun shone longer. Then again, by 2050, perhaps we’ll have become so used to hot summers that we’ll be a little disdainful of the sultriest days, like some southern Europeans – and stay indoors or even at home?
Climate change is as likely to change the way we travel as much as the destinations. As the UK races to meet its zero-emissions targets and be an exemplary signatory of the Paris Agreement, domestic tourism will have to adapt in terms of transport (e-bikes, e-cars, sail-assisted ships, trains), urban planning (pedestrian areas, bike paths, integrated public transport) and hotel design. We’ll also most likely take fewer trips at home or abroad, stay away for longer, fly less, and be less inclined to advertise the fact we like our leisure to be luxurious and indulgent. Artificial resort-cities such as Dubai could revert to being the desert towns they quite recently were.
For more than a century, the seaside has been a natural home for holidays. But we may turn away from the coast – likely to be the focus of much climate-related devastation due to rising sea levels and coastal erosion – and seek our escapist entertainment inland and upland.
The industry has been responding in a haphazard way for a few years, but bodies like the Future of Tourism Coalition – which counts the WWF, Colombian government and the Slovenian Tourist Board among its founding signatories – and Tourism Declares indicate there is a consensus that seeks to link climate-sensitive tourism with broader sustainability goals.
Climate change will make clever tourism providers ever more creative, You might think issues around energy generation would be the death knell for, say, the Blackpool Illuminations. But Blackpool Council already uses renewables to power its famous lights, and has committed to making all its activities net-zero carbon by 2030.
Tourism-related transport accounts for about a 20th of global emissions. Could our staying at home and cutting down on flying be in itself a solution to the climate crisis?
Only climate sceptics think the problem will solve itself. A range of lifestyle and behaviour adaptations and changes in attitude are going to be required. In 2022, the Met Office hopes to switch on its new supercomputer – expected to be the world’s most advanced system dedicated to weather and climate. This should place the UK at the forefront of planning and preparation. Then again, inside the number-crunching, model-elaborating world of meteorology, they say that the last half-century has seen reliable weather forecasting “leap” from one day to about three days, and anything beyond that – the “long range” maps and stats – includes some degree of guesswork. Big data better get its hands out of its pockets if we’re to be fully prepared for the storms to come.