What do Europe’s June heatwaves tell us about climate change?

Jun 22, 2022 | written by:

Many across Western Europe have been relying on ice cream, cold showers and air-con to make it through a sweltering week.

This unusually early heatwave has seen record-breaking temperatures, with some parts of Spain and France experiencing temperatures a staggering 10°C higher than average for this time of year. Is this heatwave a sign of more to come? Unfortunately, the World Meteorological Organization says climate change means yes. 

"What we are witnessing today is a foretaste of the future,” says Clare Nullis, a WMO spokesperson.

Was this heatwave connected to climate change?

Scientists widely agree that heatwaves are becoming hotter, lasting longer and occurring more frequently because of global warming.

Ms Nullis says: “As a result of climate change, heatwaves are starting earlier and are becoming more frequent and more severe because of record concentrations of heat-trapping greenhouse gases.”

Which countries have been worst hit?

While numerous European countries reached temperatures well above average, a number of records were broken either for the warmest day on record or the warmest June day on record. 

France’s St-Jean de Minervois reached 40°C on 16 June – the highest temperature for mainland France so early in the year. Beznau, Switzerland, hit 36.9 °C on 19 June, which was a new national record for June, while the German weather station of Cottbus set a new station record of 39.2°C. 

Why is this cause for concern?

Extreme heatwaves impact people’s wellbeing on numerous levels – they put pressure on health and emergency services and threaten water, energy and food supplies. Livelihoods can be lost if farmers lose their crops or livestock due to extreme heat.

In the immediate term, very high temperatures can be dangerous to health, causing heat stroke or heat exhaustion even in healthy people, and putting those who are elderly, pregnant, or who have chronic medical conditions at extra risk.​​

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