WMO secretary-general Petteri Taalas has warned that the recent heatwaves and record temperatures in the UK and Europe will become “normal” in the future due to climate change.
On July 19, a record 40.3°C was recorded in UK, with widespread extreme heat, wildfires and stress on health systems reported across the European continent.
“We have broken an all-time high in the UK,” said Taalas. “Heatwaves will happen more frequently because of climate change. The connection has been clearly demonstrated by IPCC.”
July 19 was also expected to be the hottest day of the year so far in France. Expected temperatures ranged from 36°C to 40°C, with almost all parts of the country on heatwave alert, according to Météo France.
“The heatwave will continue at least until the middle of next week with continued high temperatures in much of Western Europe,” said Bob Stefanski, chief of applied climate services at WMO. “This is alarming with over 40 days to go in the meteorological summer.”
The hottest temperature ever recorded in Europe was 48°C (Greece, 1977). A suspected new record may have occurred in 2021 (48.8°C in Sicily) and is being reviewed by the WMO.
“In the future, these kinds of heatwaves are going to be normal,” said Taalas. “We will see stronger extremes. We have pumped so much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere that the negative trend will continue for decades. We haven’t been able to reduce our emissions globally. I hope that this will be a wake-up call for governments and that it will have an impact on voting behaviors in democratic countries.”
According to IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), temperatures will rise more quickly in European areas than elsewhere. In the Mediterranean, a combination of climatic impact-driver changes (warming; temperature extremes; increase in droughts and aridity; precipitation decrease; wildfire increase; mean and extreme sea levels; snow cover decrease; and wind speed decrease) is expected by mid-century if global warming exceeds 2°C.
The IPCC Special Report on Extremes also shows that heatwaves will be more frequent, longer and more intense in the 21st century. Early warning systems and reinforced health systems will be needed.
“Stable, stagnant atmosphere traps atmospheric pollutants, including particulate matter, resulting in a degradation of air quality,” said Stefanski. “Sun rays lead to ozone formation. Both impact health, particularly among vulnerable people, and also impact vegetal life.”