It’s been an unusually hot July for much of the planet thanks to heat waves made worse by climate change. A new study shows how much of a role the climate crisis played in bringing record temperatures this month.
Large areas of the Northern Hemisphere have been sweltering for weeks, with heat domes forming over North America, North Africa, the Mediterranean and Asia this summer. The first week of July is likely to be the planet’s hottest week on record, according to preliminary data from the World Meteorological Organization. Temperatures exceeded 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit) in North America’s Death Valley and parts of northwest China this month. All-time heat records were also broken in parts of Spain, France, Algeria and Tunisia.
Large areas of the Northern Hemisphere have been submerged for weeks
The study published today magnifies the heat spells in the southwestern United States, northern Mexico, southern Europe, and the lowlands of China when they were heaviest in July. Heat waves affecting North America and Europe would be “virtually impossible” without climate change, says the study by the World Weather Attribution (WWA), an international collaboration of researchers. China’s severe heat spell this month was also about 50 times more likely due to global warming. Climate change showed the biggest impact in Europe, where temperatures were 2.5 degrees Celsius hotter than they would have been without climate change.
The study authors used peer-reviewed methods to compare real-world temperatures with what they might have been without the roughly 1.2 degrees of global warming humans have caused since the Industrial Revolution. Unless the world transitions to clean energy, heat waves are predicted to continue to become more frequent and more intense with climate change. Heat waves like the one the world saw in July could happen as often as every two years if global warming rises 2 degrees above the pre-industrial era, the study says.
So while it’s clear that temperatures have reached new extremes this summer, researchers warn that it’s quickly becoming the new norm. “It could be that this is what a cool summer will be like in the future if we don’t stop burning fossil fuels,” Friederike Otto, one of the study’s authors and a senior lecturer in climate science at Imperial College London, said at a press conference yesterday.
That means it’s time to adapt to a warmer world, and every region the researchers studied has already begun to do so. This includes creating action plans for heat disasters, designing cities to stay cool, and strengthening energy grids to avoid outages that could rob people of climate when they need it most. “Simple actions like checking on your neighbors, drinking enough water and finding a cool place to go during the hottest part of the day can save lives,” the report said.