The dangerous heatwaves currently raging in North America and Europe would be “virtually unlikely” without man-made or man-made climate change, according to a new report.
The weeks-long heatwaves continued to break heat records on both continents with no sign of abating. The European Space Agency announced last week that in Europe, prolonged hot temperatures are expected in countries such as Italy, Spain, France, Germany and Poland. Areas in the United States experiencing record heat, including the Southwest and Southeast, will continue to experience scorching temperatures for the foreseeable future, projections show.
According to a rapid attribution analysis of World weather distributionan academic collaboration that uses weather observations and climate models to calculate how climate change affects the intensity and likelihood of extreme weather events.
Temperatures have spiked to 45 degrees Celsius — or 113 degrees Fahrenheit — in some regions, researchers say, leading to heat warnings, wildfires and hospitalizations and heat-related deaths.
According to the report, recent heatwaves are no longer considered “unusual” as continued warming from greenhouse gases will make future heat waves even hotter unless emissions are drastically cut.
Climate change has made heat waves hotter, longer and more frequent, evidence shows. The report said the researchers studied the most dangerous heatwaves in each region and found that these heatwaves are no longer uncommon due to warming caused by fossil burning and other human activities.
The study also found that climate change makes the current heat wave in China at least 50 times more likely, and that current temperatures in Europe and North America would not be impossible without the effects of coal burning, oil and gas, deforestation and other human activities.
The analysis found that temperatures in Europe measured about 2.5 degrees Celsius – or 36.5 degrees Fahrenheit – higher than normal, while the heatwave in North America was about 2 degrees Celsius – or 35.6 degrees Fahrenheit. China was also 1 degree Celsius higher – or 33.8 degrees Fahrenheit – according to the report.
Events like this currently have a 10% chance of occurring in any given year in Europe and about a 6.7% chance of occurring in any given year in the US, the analysis found. Without human-caused climate change, extreme heat would likely be limited to once every 250 years, while heatwaves of the magnitude like those experienced in July would be virtually impossible.
As these heat events are expected to become more frequent, the need for humans to adapt and ramp up greenhouse gas mitigation efforts is crucial, the researchers say.
“Our adaptation to that rapid change hasn’t happened fast enough that we can consider them common events at this point,” Julie Arrighi, director of the Red Cross’s Red Crescent Climate Center in the Netherlands, told reporters at a news conference on Monday. “And so it underscores the need for our systems to adapt much more quickly, because risks are growing faster than we’re adapting.”
According to the report, if global temperatures reach a 2°C increase in temperature since the 1800s, then heatwaves will become even more frequent and extreme and occur every 2 to 5 years. According to climate scientists, temperatures have increased by about 1.2 degrees Celsius since the late 1800s.
Friederike Otto, senior lecturer in climate science at the Grantham Institute for Climate Change and Environment at Imperial College London, told reporters at a news conference on Monday: “In the past, these events were extremely rare. “So it’s basically impossible to happen at the same time.”
It is unclear how long the record temperatures will last as the accuracy of the forecasts decreases after a week. While El Niño events may have contributed to further increases in temperatures, the increased global temperature caused by burning fossil fuels is the main reason why heatwaves are so severe, the researchers say.
However, heat waves are not evidence of “rapid warming” or climate change, Otto said, adding that there is still time to reduce greenhouse gases.
“We still have time to ensure a safe and healthy future, but we urgently need to stop burning fossil fuels and invest in reducing vulnerability,” said Otto. “If we don’t, tens of thousands of people will continue to die from heat-related causes each year.”