This July has seen record-breaking temperatures worldwide. Heatwaves, attributed in part to the climate crisis and global warming, have resulted in health risks and soaring hospital cases. According to Japan’s “Reanalysis for three-quarters of a century” project (JRA-3Q), the first few weeks of July 2023 entailed some of the Earth’s hottest temperatures on record. The average global temperature on July 7 was 17.24°C: 0.3°C above the previous record of 16.9°C which was recorded on 16 August 2016. This information is still being verified by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) but is consistent with previous findings. This follows the warmest June on record, which also brought about record-high sea surface temperatures. Additionally, during the first three months of this year, 4% of the earth’s surface experienced record-high temperatures, with basically no location experiencing record-low temperatures.
The “Cerberus” and subsequent “Charon” heatwaves have seen temperatures rise to 10°C above the European average
1/3 of the USA’s population – roughly 113 million people – were placed under heat advisories that warned of a risk to life. In Phoenix, Arizona, temperatures above 43 °C were recorded for over 16 successive days, alongside reports of the homeless and vulnerable suffering third-degree burns. California’s Death Valley (the hottest location on Earth) saw temperatures of 54 °C – approaching its record high of 56.7 °C. North America has also seen several confirmed heat-related deaths, with over 200 confirmed cases in Mexico alone.
On the other side of the world, China has seen new temperature records being set – the Sanbao township in Xinjiang has recorded temperatures rising up to 52.2°C (the highest temperature yet recorded in China), while Beijing spent 27 days above 35°C.
Europe is also enduring heatwaves – the “Cerberus” and subsequent “Charon” heatwaves have seen temperatures rise to 10°C above the European average, hitting greater than 40°C in areas of Spain, Italy, France, and Bosnia. Rome in particular saw a new record of 41.8°C, and the Italian islands of Sardinia and Sicily have been forecast to reach potential highs of 49°C.
Not only is 2023 more likely than not to become the hottest year on record – but 2024 could be even hotter
Additionally, many forecasts have predicted the formation of strong El Niño conditions, which result in increased temperatures, by early summer. Carbon Brief predicts that, should these conditions continue developing, not only is 2023 more likely than not to become the hottest year on record – but 2024 could be even hotter.
Heatwaves are some of the most dangerous natural disasters. While the full impact of them is not often known until weeks or months afterwards, most locations lack good heat-related-death record keeping, leading to under-estimates.
World Weather Attribution (WWA), a multinational collaboration of scientists, has expressed that North American, European, and Chinese heatwaves have become substantially more likely due to climate change. Currently, heatwaves of this level in the US and Mexico can be expected once every 15 years, once every 10 years in Europe, and once every five years in China.
These frequencies are much higher than those that would be likely were manmade climate change not occurring. WWA states that heatwaves such as this would have been roughly “1 in 250 year” occurrences in China, and “virtually impossible” in the US and Southern Europe. Furthermore, they propose that if the world warms up any further, specifically to 2°C above pre-industrial levels, heatwaves of this scale could be expected every two to five years.
In light of increasing frequency and intensity of heatwaves, it is vital to address the “rising risks from heat”
Dr Frederieke Otto, a Senior Lecturer in Climate Science at Imperial College London’s Grantham Institute for Climate Change and the Environment, said that this rise in intensity and frequency of extreme heat events is “not a surprise” given that current events follow “exactly what has been projected in the past”. Otto also said that the vulnerability of the environment to said events is higher than previously thought.
Julie Arrighi from the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre states that, in light of the increasing frequency and intensity of heatwaves, it is vital to address the “rising risks from heat”. She notes that this could be achieved by introducing governmental heat action plans in the short term to help reduce hospital admissions and vulnerability to these events, and also by modifying “critical systems” like health, electricity and urban planning. Arrighi highlighted the Italian Government’s activation of a “heat code” to fast track patient access to emergency rooms in the midst of a spike in hospital admissions.