How to

5 July 2017

June Heatwaves Largely Impacted by Climate Change

It was pretty much impossible to escape the heatwave that hit the UK a few weeks back, not unless you worked somewhere that had amazing air con.

For a week, the country sweltered in temperatures exceeding 30°C, reaching as high as 34°C in some places on what was the warmest day of June in four decades. The extreme heat was also felt across much of Western Europe with France, Switzerland and the Netherlands having to trigger emergency heat plans, and Portugal suffering from a forest fire that killed at least 64 people.

In the wake of the heatwave, an analysis was carried out by World Weather Attribution to identify whether or not the heightened temperatures were a result of climate change influenced by human activity. According to Dr Friederike Otto from the University of Oxford, it worked by simulating “what is the possible weather under the current climate” and then the “possible weather without anthropogenic climate change”. From this, a risk ratio was discovered when the two likelihoods were compared.

“We found a very strong signal,” Otto confirmed.

In countries like Spain and Portugal, the unexpected heat was made 10 times more likely by man’s influence in changing the climate. Across the rest of Western European, the rate was a lot lower at four or two times more likely, although the impact of human activity on the intensity and frequency of such temperatures was evidently still prominent.

The analysis gives a strong indication of the growing effect climate change is having on the planet, with the need to reduce carbon emissions now more essential than ever. Climate researcher Robert Vautard pointed out that:

“Hot months are no longer rare in our current climate. Today we can expect the kind of extreme heat that we saw in June roughly every 10 to 30 years, depending on the country. By the middle of the century, this kind of extreme heat in June will become the norm in Western Europe unless we take immediate steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

Researchers who worked on the analysis felt that time was of the essence when they made their results public. They chose not to wait to publish it in a peer-reviewed journal because the need for change is urgent. There is belief amongst the team that some of the results may even be too conservative, with countries like Spain and France liable to higher chances of extreme heat by up to forty times, all because of climate change.

Many parts of Europe aren’t accustomed to soaring temperatures on a regular basis and if nothing is done to drastically reduce emissions, we could be in for some long hot summers for years to come. 

James Darvill

James is a passionate scriptwriter and reluctant poet with a talent for the dystopian. When he’s not staying up late watching the Simpsons he’s beating the world at Mario Kart, always with a glass of wine in hand.