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Last year's weather signals changing climate even though it was unremarkable, Met Office says

Though hardly remarkable overall, 2021 still recorded significant extreme events, including a new temperature record in Northern Ireland in July and exceptional rain in October.

Image:November's Storm Arwen shows how extreme events can strike even in a year where the overall climate unremarkable
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There was nothing exceptional about the weather overall in 2021 in the context of climate change, according to the Met Office.

The annual temperature, rainfall, and sunshine were all near normal compared with the last two decades, it has said in its annual review of the previous year's weather.

Yet it was only "unremarkable" because "our perception of what is normal is changing as our climate changes", the Met Office's Mike Kendon said.

"And these changes are pretty fast" and "fairly concerning", he told reporters at a briefing.

The study - published today in peer-reviewed International Journal of Climatology - compares things like temperatures, rainfall, and sunshine with 1991-2020, and with the previous climate period of 1961-1990.

The temperatures in 2021, now regarded as normal, would have been near record-breaking just over 30 years ago - before 1990, 2021 would have been the second-warmest year since records began in 1884.

While last year was only the 18th warmest on record, 16 of the warmer years have occurred from 1990.

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Responding to a question from Sky News, Mr Kendon said: "You can't have it that every year will be record-breaking."

Yet "every year within the year there are events which are extreme and are very notable", he added, citing the powerful Storm Arwen in November that left thousands of homes without electric and water supplies.

The report also picked out exceptional rain in October and a new record Northern Ireland temperature in July.

But this year's climate has already smashed records, with the country last week enduring up to 40.3C (104.5F) heat that fuelled wildfires, buckled tracks and melted roads.

Image:Even though it didn’t break records, 2021 followed the trends of warming measured since the mid-1900s

"That is a moment of climate history for the UK - an absolutely exceptional event with temperature records really smashed," Mr Kendon later told Sky News in an interview.

"We will see more extremes of this type - so we will see more severe, more intense, more prolonged heat waves moving out towards 2100," he added. "How severe those are depends on what we do next - where the emissions go."

The UK's climate is not just becoming warmer, but wetter and sunnier too, and sea levels have risen by about 16.5 cm around the UK since 1990, the report found.

"The climate that my children will regard as normal when they grow up is different to the climate that I regard as normal now, and that is different to the climate my dad regarded as normal when he was my age," said Mr Kendon.

Image:The temperature in 2022 has changed the game entirely, with last week's heatwave seeing the UK area-average exceed 30C for the first time ever

A warm October meant that trees shed their leaves later, with the average "bare tree" date in autumn delayed for all monitored species. The Woodland Trust said that changes to species' behaviour in response to the changing climate could leave them out of sync.

A spokesperson for the UK government, which retains the presidency of the COP climate talks until Egypt takes over at COP27 in November, said it would push other countries to "go further and faster" to cut emissions by 2030, to keep alive the chances of limiting warming to 1.5°C.

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"This is critical if we are to protect ourselves from the worst impacts of climate change", they added.

They called for every country, and especially the G20, to ramp up their national climate action plans, as promised in the Glasgow Pact, signed at the COP26 climate talks last year.

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