In recent weeks a record-breaking heatwave has seen the green lands of Britain scorched, wildfires are tearing through the forests of Sweden and outskirts of Athens (which is experiencing its hottest year on record), deadly heat in Japan has hospitalised 22,000 with heat stroke, and intense monsoon rains contributed to the devastating collapse of a dam in Laos.
This is not just bad luck. We’ve ‘loaded the weather dice’: we’re writing our own meteorological destiny and the consequences are becoming increasingly apparent.
We’re now living in a world where weather records are falling frequently, and millions are being pushed into increasingly inhospitable climates. By dumping hundreds of billions of tons of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, we’re creating a world of extremes.
In just 15 years, the extreme heatwave which led to as many as 70,000 deaths in Europe in 2003 has become ten times more likely to occur in a given summer. By the 2040s, a summer this hot may be the norm.
As far as this heatwave is concerned, climate change has unquestionably played a role. Science can now quantify the extent to which climate change has changed the likelihood of a given event occurring. According to a study of this summer’s heatwave (so far) published today, climate change has made northern Europe’s heatwave at least twice as likely to happen. The fingerprints of human intervention are all over our weather.
Yet the UK remains dangerously unprepared. Although the government’s independent advisors have been pushing for strong action to be taken for several years, the House of Commons’ Environmental Audit Committee report on heatwaves, published yesterday, found that ‘essential heatwave adaptation measures are not being delivered’ at local or national government levels.
This summer is a warning of what’s to come – and it’s a warning we must heed.
We must design resilient buildings and infrastructure, and if we do so, for mild parts of the world like the UK, the right policies will allow us to adapt to some of the impacts of climate change experienced thus far. Indeed, for many of us, this summer has meant endless barbecues and beach trips.
But for the young and elderly, the world’s poor and those living in already-hot regions, adaptation is increasingly impossible. We must address the source of the problem – and that means keeping future warming to an absolute minimum.
If we are to do this, we must bolster our commitment to tackling climate change, from individual actions through to government policy.
The UK Government has been warned it is falling well behind its greenhouse gas emission reduction targets, but responded by approving a third runway at Heathrow. As temperatures rose earlier this week, the energy minister announced the approval of Lancashire’s first fracking well for shale gas extraction – even though we had already built enough energy infrastructure by 2017 to raise global temperatures to 2 °C above pre-industrial levels.
The impacts of climate change are quickly growing – but we do have just enough time to minimise its damages and hold warming to 1.5 °C. This heatwave is a powerful warning of what’s to come – unless we act now.
Drop us a tweet @ukycc to let us know what changes you’ll be making to help tackle climate change!