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People enjoy the sun and the fountains of the Trocadero gardens in Paris, July 25, 2019, as a new all-time high temperature of 42.6 degrees Celsius (108.7 F) hit the French capital.
Rafael Yaghobzadeh/AP
Environment

Record-Setting Heat Wave in Europe Bears 'Signature of Climate Change'

Why Global Citizens Should Care
As climate change continues to increase global temperatures, heat waves have become a growing public health threat. Unless action is taken to curb greenhouse gas emissions, heat waves will keep getting more extreme, endangering millions of people globally. You can join us in taking action on related issues here.  

Authorities in France have advised people to stay indoors, opened state buildings to provide shaded spaces, slowed down train lines, banned river cruises, and passed out water bottles to homeless people as a brutal heat wave passes over the country, according to the Guardian.

The heat wave stretches in a bell-like shape across large parts of Europe, with countries such as Belgium, France, Germany, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom experiencing record-breaking temperatures. This is the second devastating heat wave that has hit the region in a matter of weeks, and it wouldn’t have been possible without climate change, according to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).

Record-Temperatures-Europe-Heat-Wave-July-2019.jpgA girl cools off by standing in a park fountain in Antwerp, Belgium, July 25, 2019. Belgium braced itself for code red, extreme heat warning, on Thursday as temperatures soared during the second heat wave of the summer.
Image: Virginia Mayo/AP

“Such intense and widespread heat waves carry the signature of man-made climate change,” said Johannes Cullman, director of WMO’s Climate and Water Department, said in a statement. “This is consistent with the scientific finding showing evidence of more frequent, drawn-out, and intense heat events as greenhouse gas concentrations lead to a rise in global temperatures.

“WMO expects that 2019 will be in the five top warmest years on record, and that 2015-2019 is to be the warmest of any equivalent five-year period on record,” he said.

In Paris, temperatures are expected to reach 40.6 degrees Celsius (105 degrees Fahrenheit) on Thursday, breaking a record that has stood for 70 years. Scores of other towns and cities throughout France and in the affected region are reaching similar all-time highs. 

As a result, areas have enacted “code red” public service announcements to encourage people to stay indoors and to take precautions when traveling outside, the Guardian reports. France, in particular, is haunted by the lethal potential of powerful heat waves. In 2003, 15,000 premature deaths were attributed to a heat wave. 

Exposure to heat waves can quickly cause health complications, including cramps, dehydration, and heat stroke. The very young, the very old, people working outside, and people without access to cooling devices are especially vulnerable to the effects of heat waves. During severe heat waves, people in urban areas, where crowded spaces and dark surfaces can make temperatures even hotter, can rapidly die. 

Read More: A 'Climate Apartheid' Is Right Around the Corner, UN Warns

As climate change intensifies around the world, heat waves are becoming more common, more intense, and longer-lasting, exposing more people to dangerous health conditions, according to the WMO. An estimated 125 million additional people were exposed to heat waves during the period between 2000 and 2016 than were exposed between the period of 1986 to 2008, according to the World Health Organization.  

In the decades ahead, heat waves of catastrophic strength and duration are expected to become more common and average daily summer temperatures could be up to 4.5 degrees Celsius higher in parts of Europe

Read More: Major Health Groups Call Climate Change a 'True Public Health Emergency'

By 2050, devastating heat waves are expected to occur at least every other year in parts of Europe, creating what is essentially a new normal, the WMO notes.

Dramatically curbing heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions is the only way to prevent these heat waves from getting even worse. Barring that, beach trips in the summer could become a thing of the past.