Climate change is causing extreme heat events to occur more frequently as the latest heatwave in Europe hits the region earlier than projected. 

An extreme heat event is scorching Spain and southern France, with temperatures soaring up to levels that are not usually expected until later in the summer in July or August. 

Early June temperatures are already the hottest on record in at least 20 years. In Madrid, the capital city of Spain, and Seville, temperatures have hit 40 degrees Celsius over the past few days, 42C in the Guadiana valley in Extremadura and 43C in other parts of southern Spain. This is also the second time in less than a month that temperatures have surpassed 40C in the country.. 

2021 was also Spain’s hottest and driest summer since records started, with temperatures reaching an all-time high of 47.4C in Córdoba province. As the planet continues to warm and amid changing climates from burning fossil fuels, Spanish summers are arriving around 20-40 days earlier than it did 50 years ago. 

Forecasts project that the heatwave will extend to other parts of Europe in the coming days as an area of high-pressure parks over the region known as a heat dome. The mercury has already gone past 35C close to the Mediterranean. 

In the neighbouring country of France, temperatures have jumped to more than 38C in May, which is about 17C hotter than the seasonal average, making it the hottest May on record. Under the heat dome, the nation is bracing for even hotter weather, with parts of the south-west and Rhone valley reaching 39C. An official from the French state forecaster remarked that such extreme heat events “very rarely” occurred in June, and even if they do, they occur only at the end of the month.

The heatwave in Europe will likely exacerbate drought conditions across the region. Portugal had been classified as being in “severe drought” since the end of May while many parts of France currently have water restrictions in place. This in turn could affect crop production and grain yields as the soft-wheat harvest season approaches, piling on more fears of food shortages and inflation amid the Ukraine war. 

With growing demand for electricity – to power air conditioners to cool down – energy prices are also expected to soar further in Europe. The EU is aiming to wean off Russian oil and gas as soon as possible, which caused a number of countries to ramp up coal production. 

Across the Atlantic, a similar heatwave stretching across southwestern and central United States has sent temperatures over 38C, another record-breaking number for the season. 

EO’s Position: Our planet has already warmed around 1.1C since pre-industrial times, and we are still on track to exceed 1.5C of warming within the next two decades. Unless the world at large drastically stops burning fossil fuels and adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, record-high heatwaves and other extreme weather conditions will become even more frequent, threatening millions more lives around the world.

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