July heatwaves ‘would have been almost impossible without climate change’ - but it's not too late to curb warming

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July's deadly heatwaves would have been almost impossible without human-induced climate change, scientists have said

July's deadly heatwaves would have been almost impossible without human-induced climate change, scientists say - as they urge policymakers it's not too late to rein in rising temperatures.

After the hottest June ever recorded, heatwaves named after hellish figures from Greek mythology scorched the Mediterranean, breaking temperature records in Italy and leading to wildfires that forced the evacuation of thousands of people in Greece.

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Temperatures soared in the US Southwest and Mexico, with reports of people dying in Phoenix after suffering burns from super-heated roads, while China also experienced its hottest ever day at 52.2C, with temperatures in some areas remaining above 35C overnight.

World Weather Attribution, a group of scientists from the UK and the Netherlands, said the heatwaves will get hotter and happen more frequently until the world stops burning fossil fuels.

A deer runs through a burnt out area after a wildfire on the Greek island of Rhodes, during Europe's enduring heatwave (Photo by SPYROS BAKALIS/AFP via Getty Images)A deer runs through a burnt out area after a wildfire on the Greek island of Rhodes, during Europe's enduring heatwave (Photo by SPYROS BAKALIS/AFP via Getty Images)
A deer runs through a burnt out area after a wildfire on the Greek island of Rhodes, during Europe's enduring heatwave (Photo by SPYROS BAKALIS/AFP via Getty Images) | AFP via Getty Images

Their rapid study found that without human-induced climate change, China’s heat would have been a one-in-250-year event, while the heatwaves in the US and Mexico and in Southern Europe would have been statistically almost impossible.

Researchers said the heatwaves were 2.5C warmer in Southern Europe, 2C warmer in North America and 2C warmer in China compared to what they would have been if people had not warmed the atmosphere by emitting greenhouse gases.

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Extreme heatwaves are no longer rare and are now expected once every 15 years in the US and Mexico, once every 10 years in Southern Europe and once every five years in China, scientists warned, while if the global average temperature is allowed to increase to 2C above pre-industrial levels, heatwaves will occur every two to five years.

Dr Friederike Otto of the Grantham Institute for Climate Change and the Environment, Imperial College London, said the results were no surprise. “The world hasn’t stopped burning fossil fuels, the climate continues to warm and heatwaves continue to become more extreme. It is that simple."

But, he said, it was important to note the heatwaves did not mean the world had already reached "runaway warming" or "climate collapse".

“We still have time to secure a safe and healthy future, but we urgently need to stop burning fossil fuels and invest in decreasing vulnerability," Dr Otto said. “If we do not, tens of thousands of people will keep dying from heat-related causes each year.”

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While there have been reports of hundreds of deaths in this year’s extreme heat, the true death toll will not be known for some time - as many places do not keep detailed heat-death records and statisticians need time to calculate the number of excess deaths.

The World Weather Attribution scientists warned the new study “underscores the urgent necessity for Europe to continuously take adaptation and mitigation measures", as well as the “urgent need” for heat action plans - especially in cities.

This comes after Downing Street announced it would be scrutinising government's net-zero policies to see if they are “proportionate and pragmatic”, with both the Tories and Labour purportedly considering watering down green pledges they fear might be unpopular - after a narrow by-election loss was attributed to an environmental policy.

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