Climate crisis made heatwave five times likelier

Scorching: Paris banned around five million cars to reduce the effects of pollution in the heat.

Can Europe adapt to rising temperatures? Last week, France had its hottest day in history. Yesterday, experts confirmed that the heatwave was made five times more likely by the climate crisis.

Thursday, Germany: As a wave of hot air from the Sahara desert moves across Western Europe, Germany’s government is forced to lower speed limits on the high-speed autobahn, in case deadly cracks appear in the road’s surface.

Friday, France: Four thousand schools shut down as end-of-year exams are delayed. The small town of Gallargues-le-Montueux records the country’s highest-ever temperature: 45.9C.

Saturday, Spain: Villages are evacuated as wildfires rage across thousands of acres of land. The destruction confirms what a TV weatherman had predicted at the start of the week: “Hell is coming.”

Last week’s heatwave is over now, but Europe is still tallying its consequences. Eight countries recorded their hottest-ever June. So far, 10 people are confirmed to have died due to the heat.

And, yesterday, scientists revealed what many had already suspected: the heatwave was made five times more likely because of the climate crisis. They added that European heatwaves are around 4C hotter than they were a century ago.

“This is a strong reminder again that climate change is happening here and now. It is not a problem for our kids only,” said Oxford professor Friederike Otto.

Temperatures are forecast to rise again tomorrow, although they will stay at more normal levels for now. And Europe can expect more heatwaves in the years to come: its five hottest summers have all occurred in the last 15 years.

The worst of these was in 2003, when the heat killed 70,000 people. This is because we struggle to regulate body temperature in extreme heat, especially if we are not used to it. Babies, old people, and those with underlying medical conditions are all particularly vulnerable.

And Europe was simply not built to withstand such high temperatures. Most homes do not have air conditioning. Towns and cities are densely packed, which makes them even hotter. Roads and railways begin to melt.

“This is a war, a battle on two fronts, on the front of causes and effects,” said France’s environment minister on TV, on Monday. “We’ve got so much to do.”

Dead heat?

Can Europe adapt to the climate crisis? Last week, it drew on the lessons from 2003 by closing schools, restricting cars in cities, and handing out thousands of bottles of water to thirsty tourists on the hottest days. But as global warming worsens, many think that Europe will have to do much more to withstand the heat.

Others argue that the focus should be on preventing the climate crisis. Air-conditioning units are a huge contributor to greenhouse gases: “adapting” by installing more of them will make things worse in the longer term. Europe should take the heatwave as a sign that it must get serious about reducing its emissions.

You Decide

  1. Do you enjoy summer heatwaves?
  2. Should governments focus more on adapting to the climate crisis right now, or preventing it in the future?

Activities

  1. Draw and label a diagram explaining the causes and effects of climate crisis.
  2. Create a video, poster or leaflet with clear advice on how to stay safe in extreme summer temperatures.

Some People Say...

“I want you to act as if our house is on fire. Because it is.”

Greta Thunberg, Swedish, 16-year-old climate activist

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Scientists from World Weather Attribution analysed the average temperatures (27.5C, including day and night temperatures) between 26 to 28 June in France, last week. They compared these to temperature records going back to 1901, to work out the probability of such a strong heatwave hitting. They said it was at least five times more likely due to the climate crisis.
What do we not know?
Whether the heatwave was directly caused by the climate crisis. This is because heatwaves can and do happen naturally. And climate scientists rely on probabilities. Also, we do not know how common extreme heatwaves will become as the climate crisis worsens, although we can expect more of them.

Word Watch

Autobahn
Germany’s motorway system. It usually operates without a speed limit.
Wildfires
Several hundred soldiers were called out to battle four fires in central and northern Spain. The fires destroyed around 25,000 acres of land.
Scientists
The climate scientists were all attending the same climate conference in Toulouse, France, which meant they were able to do a quick study of last week’s weather. Although scientists cannot directly link events to the climate crisis, they found that the possibility of a heatwave had increased by at least five — possibly up to 100 — times in France.
Climate crisis
As humans release more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere (such as by burning fossil fuels), this slowly raises the Earth’s average temperature. In addition to global warming, this also makes extreme weather more likely.
70,000 people
According to research from 2008. On one Monday that year, 3,000 people died in Paris alone.

Subjects

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