What’s going on here?

Countries across the world have been sweltering under deadly heatwaves for most of July. These extreme weather events were once a rare occurrence. But we should now expect them to be hotter and more frequent due to the climate crisis, say scientists working with the World Weather Attribution initiative.

What does this mean?

It’s hard to attribute specific weather events to climate change. But scientists have shown that many of the recent heatwaves, including those in the US and southern Europe, would have been pretty much impossible without the impacts of burning fossil fuels.

They also found that climate change is making the heatwaves worse. In Europe, temperatures may be up to 2.5°C hotter than they would have been in a world without greenhouse gas emissions.

Why should we care?

Heatwaves are some of the deadliest extreme weather events. Thousands of people die from heat-related causes each year. But usually it takes time to gather and analyse the data, so we won’t know the full impacts on human life until long after the heat has subsided.

In Spain and China, temperature records have been broken and people have spent days living under red alerts for extreme heat. Wildfires have broken out across Greek islands, with thousands of people evacuated. 

If the world warms by 2°C (which is likely based on current trends) heat waves like the ones we’ve experienced this year could happen every two to five years – so they’re no longer a rarity.

But many countries are not prepared for what’s to come. The UK’s adaptation plan for dealing with the climate crisis was published last week to resounding disapproval. Experts deemed the plan for mitigating the impact of heatwaves “very weak”.

Be Curious!

Live in the UK? Get familiar with the National Adaptation Programme (NAP3)

Get advice on staying cool and safe in hot weather

Watch the BBC’s video with Drag Race star Cheryl Hole on why the weather is getting hotter

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