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Saturday, September 23, 2023

‘Why, how July is hottest month ever’ – divergent views greet analysis

According to an analysis that was published on Thursday, July 27, 2023, the month of July was declared as the hottest month ever recorded and may have been the hottest month in 120,000 years.

Heatwave Japan
Heatwave in Japan

It reportedly displayed an average temperature about 1.5°C hotter than the planet was before it was warmed by burning coal, oil and gas, and other human activities.

And there are fears that temperatures will continue to increase, and extreme weather will worsen until the world drastically cuts fossil fuel use and reaches net-zero emissions.

The development has elicited reactions from a rage of experts, who have been debating the attributes of the phenomenon.

Dr Zachary M. Labe, climate scientist at Princeton University, said: “July is likely the hottest month in our historical records. This is no surprise. We are very much experiencing the reality of decades of predictions from scientists warning that temperatures are rapidly rising due to human-caused climate change. The impacts and consequences are being felt by communities and ecosystems around the world, especially for the most vulnerable. Without a reduction in the emission of greenhouse gases, the heat and subsequent risks will unfortunately continue to amplify.”

Dr Zeke Hausfather, Research Scientist at Berkeley Earth: “Global surface temperatures have been exceptionally warm for the first three weeks of July, hovering around 1.5C above pre-industrial levels. This is driven by a combination of rapid global warming due to human emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases, and by a strong El Nino event developing in the tropical Pacific. Years with El Nino events tend to be warmer than other years, but the inexorable march of temperatures upwards due to climate change is adding a permanent El Nino worth of heat to the Earth’s atmosphere every five to 10 years. July – like June before it – will almost certainly blow away the prior record for the month by a huge margin.

“The exceptionally warm temperatures we’ve seen so far in July make it increasingly likely that 2023 will be the warmest year since records began in the mid-1800s. Our past emissions of CO2 have accumulated in the atmosphere, and even without any additional warming this century will be warmer than any similar period in the past 120,000 years. The effects of the El Nino event developing this year will be felt even more strongly on global surface temperatures in 2024, so if the world sets a new record in 2023 it’s likely it will be quickly surpassed. The only way to stop the Earth from continuing to warm and extreme events associated with climate change from becoming more severe is to get global emissions of CO2 down to net-zero.”

Christiana Figueres, UN climate chief 2010-2016: “The much-used term ‘unprecedented’ no longer describes the horrific temperatures we are experiencing. G20 nations are confronted with a dangerous reality they must decisively address with policies to accelerate the deployment of renewables and prudent phaseout of fossil fuels. One third of global electricity can be produced by solar and wind alone, but targeted national policies have to enable that transformation. Or we all scorch and fry.”

Sherry Rehman, Federal minister for climate change, Pakistan: “What went on in Pakistan in 2022 did not stay in Pakistan as our COP27 slogan predicted. Today the planet sizzles in the world’s hottest July. Floods forced New Delhi to shut schools, offices. Spain saw cars pulled backwards by floodwater in traffic at high speeds. In Vermont, US, main streets became canal towns. New York saw skies turn orange from fires in Canada. Off coastal Florida the water was as warm as a hot tub in marine heat waves that go up from 10 to 50 %. While global warming prompts daily warnings from the UN, inaction from global leaders brings little respite.”

Dan Jørgensen, Danish Minister for Development Cooperation and Global Climate Policy: “The soaring temperatures this July clearly demonstrate what we already know. The devastating effects of global warming are a reality. And they will get worse with every fraction of a degree. It is a threat to all life on this planet. As a global community we must take decisive action now to save lives and livelihoods. We are not on the right track but the G20 countries hold the power to change the course. I strongly urge them to use that power.”

John Silk, Republic of the Marshall Islands Foreign Minister: “The G20 has the power and the responsibility to address this crisis. This is why I, along with 13 other ministers from the High Ambition Coalition, wrote to the G20 to urge them to phase out fossil fuels. Green, sustainable energy is the future – for every economy.  Climate action is the only sustainable development pathway there is.”

Dr Joyce Kimutai, Climate Scientist at the Grantham Institute and Alternate IPCC Focal Point for Kenya: “As the world witnesses one of the hottest months ever, extreme events like heatwaves, floods, and droughts are increasing in intensity and magnitude, causing havoc across the globe. This should serve as a compelling wake-up call for all of us. We need to shift the conversation to what needs to happen urgently this year. As we approach COP28, it is crucial that we prioritise addressing loss and damage caused by climate change and take decisive actions to drastically cut emissions. In East Africa, a region where heatwaves occur but are hardly documented, communities are bearing the brunt of these human-induced changes in the climate system. Continuous flooding and droughts have become an ever-present reality, inflicting severe hardships on vulnerable populations.

“The immense losses and damages experienced by these regions demand immediate attention and support. Countries in East Africa and other low-emitting nations invest substantial portions of their GDP to prepare, respond, rebuild, and rehabilitate their societies after such devastating events. In order to create a safer and more equitable world, it is not only ethical but imperative that high-emitting countries lend their support to vulnerable nations’ efforts while increasing their own mitigation ambitions.”

Dr Robert J. Brulle, Visiting Professor of Environment and Society Institute at Brown for Environment and Society: “Starting in the 1950s, corporations from many sectors of the American economy, including gas and oil companies, electrical utilities, automobile manufacturers, coal companies, and railroads were all fully aware of the dangers of carbon emissions and the creation of dangerous climate change. Rather than publicly state their knowledge and seek to address this problem, these corporations implemented a program of scientific misinformation to mislead the public, lobbied to prevent actions to mitigate climate change, and invested vast sums in public relations campaigns to convince the public and the government that there was no need to act to stop climate change, all in attempts to maintain their business as usual and maintain their profits. These campaigns continue to this day. It is time to revoke the social license of these companies to continue to operate while they are destroying the integrity of the planet.”

Professor Piers Forster, Director Priestley Centre for Climate Futures, University of Leeds and Interim Chair UK Climate Change Committee: “Due to our emissions of greenhouse gases, the temperatures of heat extremes over land are rising twice as fast as the global average temperature. What was once a one in 10-year heatwave is now happening every two to three years and they are on average around two degrees Celsius hotter when they happen.

“Thinking of devastating heatwaves and associated wildfires as the new normal is the wrong approach, rather, we need to be proactive. We need to urgently adapt our cities, communities and farming practices to make heatwaves survivable. Secondly, we can halve the rate of increase in heatwaves by strong reductions in emissions of CO2 and methane. These can make a material difference to heatwave survivability over the next decade, but we need to act now.”

Nicolò Wojewoda, Europe Regional Director, 350.org: “Crops are dying in the fields as deadly heat waves sweep across southern Europe, making it impossible for many people to maintain a healthy body temperature at home – especially since many cannot afford air conditioning due to rising energy prices.

“You would think that those most responsible for the hottest month in recorded human history are being held accountable. Think again – fossil fuel companies, instead of facing consequences, continue being rewarded with record-breaking annual profits, having cashed in more than $200 billion in 2022 alone. Fossil fuel industry profits are soaring alongside the rise in global temperatures they’re responsible for.

“This must end now. There is no other responsible course of action than holding them accountable for the damage they’ve inflicted, making them pay for it, and phasing their dangerous influence out of existence. The money we need for our communities to transition to an alternative energy system powered by renewables – that centers people rather than corporate profits – is in the coffers of these exploitative companies. It is ours to seize and use, to power up the solutions we know are needed and are within reach.”

Dr George Adamson, Reader in Climate and Society, King’s College London, author of ‘El Niño in World History’ (2018): “El Niño can cause major changes to weather patterns around the world. Although this can be highly disruptive, El Niño cannot be blamed for the current global temperatures. During El Niño events, more energy is released from the oceans to the atmosphere, which means that overall global surface temperatures will increase. During non-El Niño years the energy is still there, but more of it is transferred to the tropical oceans. So, whilst you will see fluctuations in surface temperature that are related to El Niño, the underlying cause of observed global temperatures over decadal timescales is carbon dioxide released by anthropogenic activities.”

Paulina Seguí, Zurciendo el Planeta, Mexico City: “The heatwaves we’ve had this year have meant that children are spending much more time indoors. It’s only bearable outside if we’re in the middle of a forest or a park, walking in the streets is increasingly unbearable, the air seems thicker, which means people use more cars which contributes to more pollution.

“The heat has meant that children stop playing with other children at the park, the climbing frames are too hot to touch, the fountains are closed because of the water shortage. They laugh less and spend all day sheltering under a roof, with air conditioning on, which contributes to more global warming.

“The heat makes you want to stay still and not have other people close: it isolates you from family and friends.”

Dr Marina Romanello, Executive Director, Lancet Countdown on Climate Change and Health: “Since the inception of the Lancet Countdown 8 years ago, we have consistently seen an increase in the health impacts of climate change through our heat-related indicators: heat-related deaths among the elderly are rising, productivity is decreasing globally because of the heat, affecting people’s livelihoods and wellbeing. Our data unequivocally shows that this is largely because of human induced climate change. This is the human cost of a profound lack of commitment to tackle the climate crisis and an early sign of what will be a much more catastrophic future unless we take urgent action to change course.

“In 2015, we collectively agreed to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius through the Paris Agreement, yet our leaders are failing to demonstrate the ambition and action needed to deliver on this commitment. Despite the wealth of research and data showing the number of lives that could be saved through climate action, our leaders continue to prioritise investments in fossil fuels above clean energy sources. Oil and gas companies continue to churn out plans that are incompatible with the Paris Agreement scenario, and driven by windfall profits last year, we are seeing many backtrack further on their commitments.

“This inaction is an unforgivable act of negligence, which millions globally are already paying with their lives. We have an enormous opportunity today to avoid a future of increased suffering, and secure a healthy, liveable world for us and our children.”

Dr Tess Winkel, Climate and Human Health Fellow at the Centre for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: “As an emergency physician, I am regularly treating the devastating impacts of extreme heat on my patients, from heat exhaustion and stroke to dehydration that leads to organ failure. extreme heat impacts everyone, but it disproportionately affects communities most at-risk, including people experiencing homelessness, outdoor workers, and people living with chronic medical conditions.

“The extreme heat and related temperatures we are seeing this summer is because of human induced climate change. We can stop this global phenomenon by ending our reliance on fossil fuels that make extreme heat more common, and teaching people how to stay safe by avoiding the outdoors during the hottest hours, finding cool indoor spaces such as cooling shelters, and checking on our neighbors, families, and friends who are most at risk.”

Dr Laurence Wainwright, Departmental Lecturer and Course Director, Oxford University Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment: “It is clear that the prevalence and severity of heat waves we have seen in recent years are unusual. With a high degree of confidence, the science tells us that the frequency, intensity and timing of heat waves we are experiencing now are a direct result of human-induced climate change. The burning of fossil fuels in the past and present have interrupted and altered the nuanced feedback loops in planetary systems that maintain our climate. We need to not just rapidly adapt our infrastructure, cities, homes and health systems to deal with heat waves being the new norm in many regions of the world, but above all else, we need to work quickly to mitigate carbon emissions. We are, quite literally, playing with fire, and it is time to stop.

“The human health impacts are well-documented. Heat waves cause a raft of heat-related illnesses, exacerbate many symptoms in many physical and mental health conditions, worsen side effects of some medications, increase rates of hospital presentation and admission, and lead to a rise in suicide rates. Heat waves are the leading cause of death of all extreme weather events. In Italy this week, a quarter of all hospital visits have been attributed to the effects of extreme heat.

“One of the oft-forgotten vulnerable groups during heatwaves is those with mental health conditions. Extended periods of hot weather can pose a range of challenges for those with conditions like depressive, bipolar and anxiety disorders, including acting as a trigger into certain phases of a condition, exacerbation of side effects of medications, and poor quality of sleep leading to a worsening of symptoms. Dehydration is another problem, and in some instances a lack of fluids leading to heat-related illness can have an impact on the way some medications work. During heatwaves we see a statistically significant increase in rates of hospitalisations, overall mortality and suicide in those with underlying psychiatric disorders.

“The reasons are complex and seem to be an interplay between socio-economic factors, psychological state, the nature of the mental health condition itself, any underlying physical health conditions, and medications taken. For the general population, heatwaves can also have an impact on mental health. While most of us love the sunshine and warmth, too much of a good thing can be problematic. Feeling hot and bothered, anxious, tossing and turning at night, brain fog and poor-quality decision-making are all well-documented impacts of being overheated.”

Professor Michael Mann, Presidential Distinguished Professor in the Department of Earth and Environmental Science at the University of Pennsylvania: “The unprecedented warmth we’re seeing is a consequence of both the steady warming of the planet from fossil fuel burning and carbon pollution combined with a natural transition of the climate from a La Nina to El Nino state. The latter adds as much as 0.3C or so extra warming and we can think of it as a bit of natural “fuel” that is being added to the human-caused fire. When it comes to extreme weather events, we of course expect more frequent and intense heat waves on a warmer planet, and that extra warmth tends to dry out the ground in many regions producing drought, and heat and drought that provide a potent mix that drives the sorts of catastrophic wildfires we’re seeing more and more of.

“Warmer ocean waters mean more moisture in the atmosphere that is available to produce flooding rains. But when it comes to the sorts of persistent summer weather extremes we’re seeing, there’s something else likely going on, although the science behind it is less developed. Human-caused climate change appears to be altering the behavior of the jet stream, and some of our work suggests that it is leading to a wavier, slower jet stream associated with stalled weather systems that remain stuck in place for days or even weeks on end – that’s when you see the worst heat domes, wildfires, and flooding events.”

Dr Roxy Mathew Koll, Climate Scientist at the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology and Lead IPCC Author: “Monsoon rainfall patterns over India have seen a climatic shift in recent decades. The most significant change is that instead of having moderate rains spread out through the monsoon season, we have long dry periods intermittent with short spells of heavy rains. Hence this causes floods and droughts in the same season and occasionally in the same region or different parts of India. We saw this pattern manifesting during the current year also. Even though the all-India average rainfall is close to normal, the regional rainfall during the season so far came with deficits and floods. These erratic patterns in the monsoon have a huge impact on the agriculture in the country which is still largely rain-fed.

“The pace of global warming is now accelerated, and we need urgent action – as these extreme conditions will intensify in the near future. Climate action and adaptation at local (panchayat) levels should go parallel with mitigation at global and national levels. I am concerned that there is less focus on local adaptation. Instead of waiting for weather forecasts every year, we need to disaster-proof locally, based on sub-district wise assessment.”

Mahesh Palawat, Vice President- Meteorology and Climate Change, Skymet Weather: “Climate change continues to increase Monsoon variability to another level with each passing year. There has been a steep rise in extremely heavy rain events, while the number of rainy days has reduced, and dry-day periods have increased. Monsoon had made delayed onset, and progress was also sluggish, but that could not stop the extreme rain events in Assam, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Delhi, and now Gujarat. Thus, the connection between climate change and extreme weather events has become stronger. Warming of oceans, especially the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal has led to increased incursion of moisture in the atmosphere over India, especially over Indo-Gangetic Plains. This has increased the capacity of air to hold more moisture, leading to extremely heavy rainfall. In the warming world, these extreme rain events will become more often, especially during the Monsoon.”

Prof Mark Howden, Director, Institute for Climate, Energy & Disaster Solutions (ICEDS), Australian National University: “Historically methane has contributed about half the warming that CO2 has generated. Hence, methane is a major contributor to the current high temperatures and will similarly be important in the future. Reducing CO2 emissions to net zero over the next few decades will not limit temperature increases to 1.5 degrees C above pre-industrial unless there are also substantial reductions in methane emissions (around 60% by 2050) and other greenhouse gases. Not reducing methane emissions will shift the burden of emission-reduction onto other gases and doing this is unlikely to result in the most cost-effective pathway to achieving the Paris Agreement temperature goals. For some sectors such as oil and gas, there are well-known technical fixes in many situations but for agriculture (the largest methane emitting sector) there are fewer cost-effective options and there is a need for a global research effort to provide these.”

Dr Paul Behrens, Associate Professor of Environmental Change, Leiden University: “Methane emissions drive up temperatures very quickly over the short term. To have any chance of meeting 1.5C, we have to drastically reduce them, as quickly as possible. The biggest opportunities are in reducing fossil gas use and scaling down industrial animal agriculture. Fossil gas is itself methane, and only 2 to 3% has to leak to make it worse than coal in the short term, so electrifying heating and moving to renewables is essential. Equally important is animal agriculture, and especially reducing the consumption of beef and dairy. This will also have benefits for biodiversity, cleaner water and air, lowering the risk of pandemics, and much more.”

Giacomo Zattini, Spokesperson, Fridays for Future Italy: “People across Italy have had to pause their lives during the heatwave. Many people have suffered and died as a result of the extreme temperatures. And still our politicians, in Italy and around the world, delay real action to get rid of fossil fuels and bring down emissions.”

Catarina, Cláudia, Martim, Mariana, Sofia, André – Plaintiffs of the Duarte Agostinho and Others v. Portugal and Others climate case: “It is terrifying to see the world igniting around us. Temperatures are soaring across Europe, and we know that this will happen more frequently and more severely in Portugal, where we live. The scorching heat of 2023 underlines why we are suing 32 governments. Despite what is happening, governments are still not doing enough to cut emissions. Our case in the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg is the biggest climate case ever taken and if we win, 32 governments will be required to ramp up their climate action. We live in hope that governments will listen to the calls of those demanding urgent action and that the judges in Strasbourg will order the governments to do what is needed to protect us.”

Prof Timmons Roberts, Ittleson Professor of Environmental Studies and Sociology at Brown University, Executive Director of the Climate Social Science Network: “Fossil fuel companies have backed themselves into a corner. They have known for decades that their products would push our planet over the tipping point, and people are experiencing that directly, especially this record-breaking summer. From town halls and campuses to boardrooms and courtrooms around the world, people know that renewable energy is the only way, and are fed up with the trickery and political interference from these companies.”

Polly Hemings, Director, Climate and Energy Programme, The Australia Institute: “It might not be Australia in the firing line of the climate crisis this week but the emissions from our ever-increasing exports of coal and gas create these deadly impacts around the world. The Australian Government can’t continue to pretend it is acting on the climate crisis while continuing to approve fossil fuel projects that run into the middle of this century. In the same week the world was experiencing the highest global temperature ever recorded, our government approved a thermal coal mining project to run until 2045. The emissions from this single project will be the equivalent to running a coal fired power station for 15 years. Australia could be an exporter of wind and solar, instead it is an exporter of destruction.”

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