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The great escape

Climate change could save the British seaside

St Leonards in the pre-Ryanair era. Print Collector/Getty

People from chillier northern climes have been yearning for hot summers since at least 1923, says Simon Kuper in the FT, “when the American socialites Gerald and Sara Murphy invented sunbathing on the French Riviera”. Since then, a consensus has gradually converged on the climatic sweet spot: “a beach, sunny skies and temperatures around 25C”. But since the heatwaves of 2019, warm weather has morphed from something to crave into “something to fear”. Last summer was Europe’s hottest ever, beating the record set… one year earlier. This year, we have the delights of the hotter El Niño climate cycle to contend with. “No beach is fun at 40C.”

For many of the world’s better off, this will be the first tangible effect of global warming: changing where we choose to go on holiday. As the pandemic years give way to a record era for tourism, a new “global holiday map” is emerging fast. With the Med becoming “unbearably hot”, we will see a trend towards cooler spots in northern Spain, Normandy and the UK. There’s a certain pleasing symmetry to it. Thirty years ago, I spent a long summer in St Leonards-on-Sea, a fading town of “elegant former hotels” on Britain’s south coast. It had been a high-end bathing resort from the 1820s until cheap flights to the Med killed off British seaside holidays. In the new climate, St Leonards and the nearby Sussex vineyards may well revive, and Spain’s boiling Costa del Sol will “inherit the crown of abandoned ex-holiday destination”.