July was hottest month ever recorded on Earth, preliminary data shows

The period between 2015 and 2019 is on track to be the hottest ever five years

Alessio Perrone
Friday 02 August 2019 18:52 BST
A fish bone lies on a dry part of the Loire river bed due to the drought amid a record European heatwave in July 2019
A fish bone lies on a dry part of the Loire river bed due to the drought amid a record European heatwave in July 2019

July is likely to have been the hottest month ever recorded on Earth, experts say – sparking warnings about the fight to tackle climate change.

Heatwaves that swept around the world mean last month was either on par with the hottest ever month – July 2016 – or even hotter.

This July’s scorching temperatures caused environmental damage across the globe, said World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) secretary-general Petteri Taalas.

“The extraordinary heat was accompanied by dramatic ice melt in Greenland, in the Arctic and on European glaciers,” he said.

“Unprecedented wildfires raged in the Arctic for the second consecutive month, devastating once pristine forests.

“This is not science fiction. It is the reality of climate change. It is happening now and it will worsen in the future without urgent climate action.”

WMO data shows that global temperatures in July were about 1.2C above pre-industrial levels.

Last month's heatwave set the new highest UK temperature of 38.7C, recorded at Cambridge Botanic Garden. The previous record was 38.5C, in Faversham, Kent, in August 2003.

If the July 2016 record is only equalled, this would still be significant, experts say.

That’s because the rise in global temperatures in 2016 was partly due to an exceptionally strong El Niño phenomenon – which was less potent this year. El Niño causes water temperature to rise along the Pacific equator and has an important effect on global weather systems.

“We are on track for the period from 2015 to 2019 to be the five hottest years on record,” said the UN secretary-general, Antonio Guterres, calling the battle against climate change the “race of our lives, and for our lives”.

He said: “This year alone, we have seen temperature records shattered from New Delhi to Anchorage, from Paris to Santiago, from Adelaide and to the Arctic Circle.

“If we do not take action on climate change now, these extreme weather events are just the tip of the iceberg.”

This year also brought the hottest June. All of the months of 2019 so far rank among the four warmest.

But July in particular made climate history around the world.

France saw its previous record highs smashed, when temperatures reached 42.6C in Paris – a temperature of a typical July day in Baghdad.

The northern city of Lille saw 41.6C, which broke its previous record by 4C, while the rest of northern France also experienced devastating wildfires – normally a rarity in the region.

Temperatures broke a 75-year-old record in the Netherlands (Gilze Rijen, 40.7C) while Germany (Lingen, 42.6C) and Belgium (41.8C) also set new national records. Even in Helsinki, Finland, the mercury rose to a record 33.2C, while parts of the US also suffered record-breaking hot conditions.

The high temperatures stimulated ice melting in Greenland, which had already seen an extraordinary melting event between 11 and 20 July this year. Polar scientists believe that 2019 could set new records for ice loss in Greenland.

In the Arctic and Greenland, the heat sparked massive wildfires, producing CO2 emissions equal to those of all of Colombia in 2017.

Hundreds of wildfires, some of which could be clearly seen from space, ravaged Siberia, affecting over three million hectares of land.

Experts say the heatwaves are linked to human activity, which has more than doubled their probability in some locations.

“Such intense and widespread heatwaves carry the signature of man-made climate change,” said Johannes Cullmann, director of the WMO’s Climate and Water Department.

Professor Dann Mitchell, associate professor of atmosphere science at the University of Bristol, said: “The warming trend is clear and the scientific evidence robustly points to this being caused by human-induced climate change.”

And a report published today by the World Weather Attribution said that hot spells such as the ones that hit the UK and Germany this year would only occur every 50 to 100 years if humans had not had an impact on the climate.

The report also found that the record-breaking July heatwave would have been up to 3C cooler if the climate was not changing.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said that global warming of 1.5C could pose climate-related risks to health, livelihoods, food security, water supply, human security, and economic growth.

Tens of thousands of people can die prematurely in heatwaves and such incidents were projected to get significantly worse in the future, so “fundamental infrastructure changes” are needed to adapt to climate change, it said.

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The figures on July temperatures were fed to the WMO by the Copernicus Climate Change Programme, run by the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts. The WMO will publish the final calculations for July on Monday 5 August.

In June, Theresa May introduced a legally binding target forcing the UK to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

Rebecca Long-Bailey, the Labour shadow energy secretary, welcomed the commitment but warned it came from a Conservative government that “has no plans for legislation or investment needed to cut emissions, and that has dismantled the UK renewable energy sector while pushing fracking”.

The Committee on Climate Change (CCC), which advises the government on how to build a low-carbon economy and prepare for climate change, said the UK would need to plant some 1.5 billion trees by 2050 to meet the target.

In September, the WMO will submit a report about the state of the climate between 2015 and 2019 to the UN Climate Action Summit.

Additional reporting by PA

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