Extreme Heatwaves Becoming the Norm as US and China Record 50C Temperatures, Warns UN

The United Nations weather agency has emphasized that the extreme temperatures observed worldwide this week are indicative of the new normal in a climate change-impacted world. As temperatures soared above 50C (122F) in certain regions of the United States and China on Sunday, the World Meteorological Organization cautioned that the European heatwave could persist well into August. With millions of people under heat advisories, authorities are alerting individuals to the life-threatening risks associated with the scorching temperatures. Even during nighttime, relief remains elusive as temperatures stay above 30C in areas such as Arizona and southern Spain.

Large portions of the globe have witnessed firsthand the ramifications of such extreme heat:

  • Death Valley in California reached a blistering 53.9C (128F) on Sunday, nearly breaking the Earth’s all-time highest recorded temperature of 56.7C (134F).
  • China provisionally broke its record for the highest temperature ever documented on Sunday, registering 52.2C (126F) in the western Xinjiang region.
  • Southern Spain experienced peak temperatures of 46C (115F) on Monday, while forecasts predict intensifying heat of 46C (115F) in Sardinia, Italy, and increased temperatures in Eastern Europe.

Scientists assert that climate change is contributing to longer, more intense, and more frequent heatwaves. The Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organization, Prof Petteri Taalas, stressed the significant impact of extreme weather events on human health, ecosystems, economies, agriculture, energy, and water supplies. Recognizing the need for urgent action, Taalas underscored the imperative of swiftly and significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Dr Frederieke Otto, a prominent UK scientist from Imperial College London, emphasized that the current heatwaves align with expectations in a world that continues to rely on fossil fuels. Human activities are entirely responsible for the escalating global temperatures, and as of now, we cannot predict the exact nature of the new normal since the climate remains unstable. To comprehend the new climate, we must transition away from fossil fuels and embrace renewable energy, Dr Otto suggests.

The International Energy Agency has indicated that tackling climate change necessitates a halt to new oil, gas, and coal projects. Europe, in particular, is experiencing faster warming than initially projected by climate models. Understanding the gravity of excessive heat, Julie Arrighi, interim director of the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre, emphasizes that countries remain unprepared for its reality. Recent wildfires in Greece and home destruction in Spain’s La Palma island highlight the increasing risks associated with extreme heat.

Cities like Phoenix, Arizona, are grappling with persistent temperatures exceeding 43C (110F) for 18 consecutive days. The city has taken measures to provide water, cooling towels, and respite centers to assist residents in coping with the challenging conditions. Professor Hannah Cloke from the University of Reading warns of the grave consequences, emphasizing that over 61,000 deaths were attributed to heat in Europe last year, with this year anticipated to follow a similar pattern.