“This heatwave is the new normal”, WMO Secretary-General says

Photo-illustration: Pixabay

“We have broken an all-time high in the UK”, said Petteri Taalas, WMO Secretary-General. “Heatwaves will happen more frequently because of climate change. The connection has been clearly demonstrated by IPCC”.

Stable high pressures, and hence the heatwave, are here to last for several days. This Tuesday was 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 in 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 WMO.

The new normal

“In the future, this kind of heatwaves are going to be normal. We will see stronger extremes. We have pumped so much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere that the negative trend will continue for decades. We haven’t been able to reduce our emissions globally” SG Taalas lamented. “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”, he said.

“I hope that this event will be a wake-up call for governments and that it will have an impact on voting behaviors in democratic countries”

According to IPCC, temperatures will rise more quickly in European areas than elsewhere. In the Mediterranean, a worrisome combination of climatic impact-driver changes (warming; temperature extremes; increase in droughts and aridity; precipitation decrease; wildifire 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.

Pollution & health

“Stable, stagnant atmosphere traps atmospheric pollutants, including particulate matter, resulting in a degradation of air quality. Sun rays lead to ozone formation. Both impact health, particularly among vulnerable people, and also impact vegetal life“, said Bob Stefanski

Health systems are challenged by heatwaves. “When a heatwave goes along with high levels of pollution it exacerbates respiratory, cardiovascular diseases and conditions especially in large urban spaces that are not adapted to cope with these high temperatures,” said Maria Neira, Director of Environment and Health at WHO. “We have been alerting for a long time that climate change is severely affecting human health and therefore taking measures to reach the zero carbon and accelerating the transition to clean renewable sources of energy will be extremely important.”

Source: WMO