Europe to see near-50C heatwaves every year by end of century without urgent emissions cuts

Britain to see more record-breaking heat over coming decade, leading scientist tells The Independent at Cop26

Daisy Dunne
Climate Correspondent
Wednesday 03 November 2021 00:08
Worldwide wild weather: Fires and flooding hit multiple continents

Europe could see near 50C heat every year by the end of the century if urgent action is not taken to slash greenhouse gas emissions, according to a Met Office analysis.

This summer’s deadly European heatwave – named Lucifer – which saw a new temperature record of 48.8C set in Sicily, would have been impossible without the climate crisis, the analysis found.

Such heat in Europe can now be expected once every three years as a result of the global warming that Earth has already endured, it added. Unless drastic action is taken, the risk of record-breaking heat will continue to climb in the coming decades.

“Dangerous climate change is already with us,” Prof Peter Stott, analysis author and a leading extreme weather scientist at the Met Office, told The Independent at the fringes of the Cop26 summit in Glasgow.

“If you look at 48.8C in Europe and 49.6C in Canada and what’s come with that – fires, the impacts on people’s health, agriculture – this is now at just over 1C of global warming. With further warming, it will only get worse.

“To avoid even more perilous climate change, we need to act now.”

He added that the UK, one of the countries included in the Europe-wide analysis, should expect to see more record-breaking heat over the coming decade.

“We didn’t put a figure on it with this analysis, but the chances of record-breaking UK summer temperatures have very significantly increased.

“We can expect over the coming years to see record-breaking temperatures again.”

The analysis comes as climate experts cautiously reported signs of optimism at the second day of the Cop26 talks. Tuesday saw deals reached on deforestation, a major driver of CO2, as well as planet-heating methane.

However, current pledges and promises put forward are still not enough to put the world on track to limiting global temperature rise to 1.5C by the end of the century, the aspiration of the landmark Paris Agreement made in 2015.

The analysis is the latest in “attribution science”, the study of how the climate crisis is influencing extreme weather events and extremes. Similar studies have found that this summer’s North American heatwave and European floods, which together killed hundreds of people, were made many times more likely by the climate crisis.

The scientists used a “medium” greenhouse gas emissions scenario, called “SSP4.5”, to examine how the risk of heatwaves on the same scale as Lucifer might change in the future.

The scenario would see temperatures rise by around 2.7C by 2081 to 2100, with a possible range of between 2.1C and 3.5C.

This level of warming is around the level expected if countries do not increase their current ambition on the climate crisis.

A UN review published ahead of Cop26 found that countries’ current climate plans would result in around 2.7C of heating by 2100.

“The big message for me is the urgency of the situation, which is being talked about a lot from right at the top [at Cop26],” Dr Stott said.

“The science is telling us that, in order to keep 1.5C alive as the conference is about, the emissions reductions now need to happen very, very urgently.

“If we don’t, in 10 years time we’ll be talking about 50C or more in Europe – just like we’re now talking about 50C or more in Canada.”

The analysis is not yet published in a scientific journal but uses established peer-reviewed methods.

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