Will the next prime minister
keep cool in a heatwave,
asks Saskia Murphy

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Anyone who dared to go outside last week could be forgiven for thinking they’d been transported to the Sahara desert, or accidentally stepped insidean oven.

The “red extreme” heat weather warning issued by the Met Office hit us all at full throttle, and last Monday and Tuesday we all turned into puddles of uselessness as the temperatures peaked at 40C in Doncaster, and the highest temperature in the UK was recorded at a staggering 40.3C in Coningsby, Lincolnshire.

Even the most ardent climate change denier has to admit that last week was just too hot. London Fire Brigade announced it had seen its busiest day since World War Two as it dealt with record-breaking temperatures last Tuesday, and 14 other areas across theUK declared major incidents as firefighters tackled blazing housesand rampant wildfires.

The images published in the newspapers the following day were terrifying. Scorched earth and blackened, skeletal trees told the story of the devastating reality of a planet that is getting hotter, and it is estimated that there were around 1,000 excess deaths during the heatwave.

The alarm bells have been ringing for decades, and now the chickens are coming home to roost, or, perhaps more accurately, roast.

Last year, in a report by the IPCC, climate scientists warned human activity is changing the earth’s climate in ways “unprecedented” in thousands or hundreds of thousands of years, with some of the changes now inevitable and “irreversible”.

It is likely we will see more 40C days in future. In time, right-wing newspapers like the Daily Mail will stop covering extreme heatwaves as a novelty, labelling those who are concerned as “snowflakes”, as it did last Tuesday.

What should happen next? Well, last week’s heatwave laid bare the inadequacy of much of our infrastructure, which was designed for a cooler climate. The runway at Luton Airport “melted”, and hundreds of trains were cancelled due to fears railway tracks could buckle as temperatures climbed upwards of 30C.

In Sheffield, the city’s Supertram service was suspended on Tuesday dueto the risk of damage to overhead lines, and schools across the country announced closures to keep childrensafe from overheating.

We should of course do everything in our power to prevent the impact of climate change, but we should also prepare buildings and infrastructure for more extreme weather events in future.

As the final candidates in the Tory leadership race go head to head this week, the climate emergency must be at the forefront of the debate. The current government’s net zero strategy, published last October, included commitments to end the sales of new fossil fuel cars by 2030 and gas boilers by 2035. But last week the High Court ordered the government to outline exactly how its net zero policies will achieve emissions targets after a legal challenge from environmental groups, which are rightly holding the government to account over its plans.

Last week’s heatwave was a wake-up call. Anyone who fancies themselves as the next prime minister must be ready to take the threat from climate change seriously.

Saskia Murphy is a Manchester-based freelance journalist. Follow her on Twitter @SaskiaMurphy

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