Scientists have found that human-caused climate change is responsible for the historic heatwaves that have ravaged the planet from China to the United States.
World Weather Attribution (WWA) study released on Tuesday says record-breaking heat in Europe and the US would have been nearly “impossible” in a world without global warming.
The researchers, who analyzed records on all three continents, said the likelihood of extreme heat in China, which recently recorded an all-time high of 52.2°C, is now 50 times more likely due to the climate crisis.
Researchers assessed the role of the climate crisis in these extreme heat events using peer-reviewed methods, weather station data from the hottest days in July, and computer models.
It is already known that greenhouse gas emissions caused by the warming of the planet have increased the global average temperature by 1.2°C, which in turn is causing heat waves to become more frequent and more extreme.
The WWA study found that current heatwaves are likely to occur around every 15 years in the US and Mexico region, every 10 years in southern Europe and every five years in China due to increased global average temperatures.
However, without the man-made climate crisis, these heat events would have been exceedingly rare. In China, such a heat wave would have occurred about once every 250 years, while peak heat in the US, Mexico and southern Europe region would have been “virtually impossible”.
The climate crisis not only played a role in causing the heat wave, but also ensured that temperatures were higher than would have been the case with natural phenomena such as El Niño.
The European heatwave was 2.5°C hotter, the North American heatwave was 2°C hotter and the China heatwave was 1°C hotter due to the man-made climate crisis, the study said.
Researchers involved in the study said the greater impact of the climate crisis on the US and Europe is the result of a complex relationship between global and regional factors. Europe is warming faster than the global average, previous studies have shown. Scientists said that’s because the effects of the climate crisis aren’t even global.
“Our study shows once again the significant impact that rapid warming is having on local temperatures in Europe. “It underscores the urgent need for Europe to continuously take adaptation and remedial action,” said Sjoukje Philip, a researcher at the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute and one of the researchers on the study.
“The planet is not warming evenly,” adds Ms. Philip. “Climate scientists are working to understand the complex relationships between rising global and regional mean temperatures.”
Other scientists have also largely attributed recent heat events, including those in the northern hemisphere in July and ocean heatwaves, to the climate crisis.
Previously, WWA researchers also analyzed the April heatwave in a dozen Asian countries, including India, China and Thailand, as well as the UK’s 2022 heat events, which have become “10 times more likely” due to the climate crisis.
Recently, the Met Office also said that the reason for the UK’s hottest June ever was also the climate crisis.
The heatwaves have had a severe impact, with deadly wildfires raging in Greece and Canada, and heat-related illnesses and deaths reported in several countries.
In the US alone, over 200 people died as a result of the extreme heat, and Spain, Italy, Greece, Cyprus, Algeria and China also reported heat-related deaths and increases in hospital admissions.
Last year’s heat in Europe contributed to the deaths of over 61,000 people, according to a recent study.
The study warned that unless there is a rapid reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and a shift away from fossil fuels, heat waves will become even more frequent and severe in the future.
If the global mean temperature increase increases by 2°C, a threshold that is projected to be exceeded over the next 30 years if greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise at this rate, there is a likelihood of heat waves of the kind that currently occur every two to five years.
“The result of this attribution study is not surprising. The world has not stopped burning fossil fuels, the climate continues to warm and heat waves are becoming more extreme. It’s that simple,” said Friederike Otto, Lecturer in Climate Science at Imperial College London and co-founder of WWA.
However, she added that these heatwaves “are not evidence of ‘runaway warming’ or ‘climate collapse’.
“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.”
“If we don’t do that, tens of thousands of people will continue to die from heat-related causes every year. It is absolutely critical that governments legislate the fossil fuel phase-out at this year’s Cop climate conference.”