"It’s going to be one very hot day..."

From heatwave 'dismay'
to the 'deadly' effects of climate change, here's what two Cambridge experts say about the UK's record-breaking temperatures.

scenery of grass and trees

On 25 July 2019, the highest temperature recorded in the UK was confirmed as 38.7°C in the Cambridge University Botanic Garden. Today, the Met Office announced that parts of the UK have provisionally reported 40°C for the first time ever. Emily Shuckburgh and Beverley Glover have been speaking about this serious reminder of climate change.

Professor Emily Shuckburgh, Director of Cambridge Zero, the University of Cambridge’s major climate change initiative, says the temperatures we are seeing are "quite simply deadly" and require urgent action to reduce carbon emissions.

Photo of Emily Shuckburgh

"I'm worried that, the world over, policymakers are simply not taking the threat of climate change seriously enough," she told Channel 4 News. "We're now seeing the impacts of climate change occurring in every single region of the world. Heatwaves, as we're experiencing at the moment; flooding events as we've seen repeatedly impact communities across the world including in the UK; devastating wild fires that we've also seen causing devastation to communities. This isn't a problem of the future, it's a problem of today."

Watch the full interview:

Channel 4 News speaks to Emily about the heatwave, climate change and the responses now urgently needed

On 11 July 2022, Emily joined the UK government’s chief scientific adviser in giving an emergency climate change briefing to MPs, warning of the dangers of the climate crisis and urging them to act. 

Watch the full briefing:

"The challenge with climate change is if we are going to live in a society with the temperatures and other climate change impacts that we are already experiencing then we need to focus on how we adapt to that change. But at the same time the biggest thing we can be doing to limit the risk of those things happening is to reduce our emissions in the first place because that is how we stop climate change," she told BBC Breakfast:

Find out how Cambridge Zero is helping to create a resilient, zero-carbon future through research, innovation, education, policy debate and leadership.

Professor Beverley Glover, Director of the Cambridge University Botanic Garden (CUBG), says she "can't help but feel dismay" at the high temperatures predicted this week and how these serve as a serious reminder of climate change and its impacts.

Beverley Glover in the garden

"It’s looking like it’s going to be one very hot day in Cambridge University Botanic Garden...

We’ve been recording the weather at our weather station here in the Garden since 1904. This long history of data is used by the Met Office and was verified by them in defining the scale of the 2019 heatwave, when the highest ever temperature in the UK – 38.7 degrees Celsius – was recorded here 25 July 2019. This data set is also used by researchers analysing climate change. However, recording these high UK temperatures serves as a serious reminder that we all need to be taking climate change and its impacts seriously.

Board showing temperature

The record-breaking temperature in July 2019 at CUBG

The record-breaking temperature in July 2019 at CUBG

We can’t help but feel dismay at the high temperature recorded in 2019 and the predicted high temperatures [this week] and the very real implication that our local climate is getting hotter. This has inevitable consequences for people, plants and animals around us. This intense heat, and the summer storms we’ve been experiencing over recent years, highlights how dynamic the climate is.

We are concerned about the potential impact of hotter, drier weather on our living collection, which we grow for teaching and to support scientists and their research worldwide. It’s this research which is looking to solve some of the world’s greatest challenges such as climate change and the supply of food and medicines, so it’s vital our collection is well maintained and looked after. 

Our collection consists of over 8,000 species of plants from all over the world, from the Arctic to the Himalayas to the Tropics. Some are basking in this hot weather and others are not so happy. This may mean a change of what we are able to successfully hold in our collections in the future, and this in turn will have an impact on the research which is able to be done using it.

All of the current global challenges – climate change, biodiversity and feeding the population – are intimately inter-connected and if one goes wrong they all start to suffer. We monitor biodiversity in the Garden and our plants are being used in all aspects of research in the current climate emergency. For example, research into plant-pollinator relationships. As the climate changes, the range of insect changes and the range of plants changes and if they don’t change at the same rate, then it uncouples that important relationship between plant and pollinator. This can have a major impact, for example in crop plants, with implications in terms of food security.”

Read more about temperature recordings and coping with hot weather in CUBG's longer Q&A with Beverley Glover. Learn how plants will respond to the changing climate on a Plants and Climate Change Trail created by CUBG in partnership with Cambridge Zero.

Published 19 July 2022

Compiled and designed by Louise Walsh

With thanks to Helen Needham and CUBG for contributing

Banner photography: Photo by Jake Givens on Unsplash

The text in this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License