‘Unprecedented’ and ‘extreme’ are two words used by meteorologists to describe the current winter heatwave in Europe.
Many countries – including Poland, Denmark, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, Belarus, Lithuania and Latvia – have just experienced their warmest New Year’s Day on record, while Germany, France and Spain have also experienced record-breaking warm temperatures for January.
Described by climatologist Maximiliano Herrera as ‘the most extreme event in European history’, this winter heatwave serves as a reminder that human-induced global warming is accelerating rapidly and supercharging these unusual weather conditions.
‘A warm winter might not cause as much immediate, visible destruction as the extreme heat and floods that we saw across the world in 2022, but it is the latest alarm bell warning us that we can’t keep burning fossil fuels.’
350.org Europe’s regional director
This event follows the EU’s hottest summer on record in mid-2022, when a heatwave swept through the continent and resulted in thousands of deaths.
It also comes as the United States and Canada have been hit by severe snowstorms that claimed 60 lives and left millions of people without power.
Buffalo, New York was inundated with 120cm of snowfall in a 72-hour period as Arctic winds swept through the continent.
The Arctic is one of the fastest-warming regions in the world, and scientists say anthropogenic climate change is resulting in a destabilisation of the polar weather system, driving polar air south as warm air is pushed north.
‘In the United States, not only are northern states facing deadly blizzards, but winter storms knocked out the power grid in southern states for days. This is now causing avoidable deaths annually. Our energy infrastructure is outdated and cannot keep up with extreme weather — we need infrastructure upgrades and a transition to renewable energy now.’
350.org’s US communications and digital director
Climate impacts disproportionately affect communities in the Global South who are the least responsible for fossil-fuel induced climate change.
In March last year, India experienced the highest temperatures ever recorded and from June to October and Pakistan experienced unprecedented flooding that affected millions of people.
A World Bank report released last month suggests that heatwaves in India could soon ‘break the human survivability limit’.
Fossil-fuel induced global warming will only increase the frequency and severity of heatwaves unless we make a swift, just transition to a renewable energy charged global economy.
Accelerated investment in renewable energy and mechanisms to boost climate resilience, adaptation and mitigation are critical for alleviating the worst impacts of climate change. This transition needs to happen now.