Heatwave in Western Europe

On Sunday, it appeared that an ongoing four-day heatwave in western Europe, which had killed seven people, began to ease up. Temperatures are set to gradually decline while wildfires are being slowly controlled. In the Gard region of France, a national record temperature of 45.9 degrees Celsius was recorded during this heatwave. Meanwhile, in Spain a wildfire likely started by the self-ignition of a manure heap affected approximately 10,000 acres of forest and other vegetation.

Climate change has been significant in making such heatwaves more common and more severe. The World Meteorological Organization stated that 2019 was on pace to be one of the hottest years in the world has seen, and that the five-year period of 2015-2019 would be the hottest such period on record. Concerns have been raised about the preparedness of European countries and the vulnerability of many people in them, on the issue of climate-related emergencies.

Bob Ward, policy and communications director at the London School of Economics’ Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the environment, said, “Healthy people in general are okay in hot weather as long as they take some precautions, but when it starts getting to about 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) even healthy people are at risk.” It was found that dense urban cities had higher temperatures by several degrees compared to rural and suburban areas. This means that children and older adults in urban areas are at greater risk to heat related health problems. Another factor making heatwaves increasingly dangerous is the impact of changing human behaviour. Currently approximately 55 percent of the global population, according to the United Nations, lives in cities, but this number is expected to rise to 68 percent in 2050. This makes people increasingly vulnerable at a time period of increasing heatwaves.

The current infrastructure of European cities has been identified as an area of concern. Ward also said, “Places which experience cold winters tend to worry more about insulation … but of course some of the measures you design to keep heat in during the winter can prevent heat escaping in the summer, making it even more of a problem.”

Scientists, architects, and urban planners have proposed a variety of techniques to combat heatwaves and the buildup of heat in urban areas. It is evident that looking at new approaches is vitally important to combatting this issue, while critically evaluating existing ones. While air conditioning is a popular option for indoor relief from heat, it also emits hot air outside, along with contributing to climate change itself. Its greenhouse gas emissions could be significant enough to contribute to a 0.5 degrees Celsius increase in temperature by the end of this century.

The widespread heatwave in Europe is yet another example of the widespread impacts of climate change, which includes a very acute and long-term human impact. Changing patterns of human settlement and migration may further contribute to climate change and its impacts, making mitigatory efforts that target future movement more important and more effective than a simply contemporary approach. Developing and implementing effective ways to manage heat in the face of increasing average temperatures, without contributing further to climate change, is a significant challenge for which continuous research and knowledge sharing, along with policymaking, is vital. Climate change is challenging how humans live, all around the world, and the apparent vulnerability of many to its widespread impacts is an important motivator to developing widespread and detailed mechanisms to combat it.