With summer not officially started, Europe is already experiencing a major heatwave as a result of climate change. According to experts at the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO), heatwaves are starting earlier, becoming more frequent and severe due to record-level concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
Speaking to journalists at a news briefing at the United Nations in Geneva, WMO’s spokesperson Clare Nullis said that “an unusually early and intense heat wave has hit parts of Europe this week." She adding saying that "it spread up from North Africa through Spain, Portugal, it’s hitting France today, and then it will peak Switzerland, Germany over the weekend.”
Although it is only mid-June, temperatures are more typical of those witnessed in July or August.
“Some parts of Spain and France, temperatures are more than 10 degrees higher, that's huge than the average for this time of year,” said Clare Nullis.
The WMO’s spokesperson particularly issued a warning of wildfires in Spain.
“Nearly the entire country of Spain, it's a big red map today, faces an extreme fire risk”, Clare Nullis said. “So, our message to Spanish audiences, please, please, please heed all the warnings. There is extreme fire danger today. So please take care.”
Also France saw its warmest and driest May on record. For today, 12 French departments have a top-level Red Alert.
Studies into recent extreme heat events such as in Indian and Pakistan earlier this year, in Siberia in 2020 or in western Europe in 2019 have all highlighted the role of human-induced climate change.
According to Clare Nullis, “as a result of climate change, heat waves are starting earlier. They're becoming more frequent and more severe because of concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere which are at record level.”
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change projects that for 1,5 Celsius of global warming, there will be increasing heat waves, longer warm seasons and short cold season. With the rise of global temperature at 2 Celsius heat extremes would more often reach critical tolerance thresholds for agriculture and health.
Extreme heat is deadly, especially for the vulnerable.
“High minimum overnight temperatures when the body needs to recover, this is particularly dangerous”, pointed out Clare Nullis.
She added that city dwellers are particularly susceptible “because of the urban heat island effect, you know cities temperature can be 6 degrees Celsius higher than rural areas.”
WMO’s message is: We have to adapt through early warning systems, and much more can be done to saving lives than it was done in the past such as regreening the cities.
“You see some of the architecture now in cities which are literally greening cities, greening apartments", Clare Nullis said. "So, there's a lot that we can and that we really should be doing.”