Climate change may spell hotter summers for southern Europe

Climate researchers are warning that Europeans should prepare for the return of “Lucifer,” saying the hellishly named heat wave that hit parts of the continent this summer could become a regular occurrence due to man-made climate change.

Hotter-than-usual temperatures in the Mediterranean region resulted in higher hospital admissions, numerous forest fires and widespread economic losses between June and August. Peak heat struck Italy and the Balkans for three days in early August , when temperatures remained above 30 degrees Celsius (86 Fahrenheit) even at night.

“We found clear evidence of human influence on this summer’s record warmth — both in the overall summer temperatures and in the heat wave dubbed Lucifer,” said Geert Jan van Oldenborgh, a senior researcher at the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute.

Van Oldenborgh is part of the World Weather Attribution team that published a study Wednesday , concluding that greenhouse gas emissions linked to human activity have increased the chances of such heat waves four-to-tenfold compared to the early 1900s.

Gases such as carbon dioxide, which is released by burning fossil fuels, trap heat in the atmosphere and cause the planet to warm like the inside of a greenhouse.

“Climate change makes a heat wave like this at least ten times more likely, and if we continue to release greenhouse gases then an event like this will become a normal summer, Friederike Otto, deputy director of the Environmental Change Institute at Oxford University, said.

Extreme, short-term heat already is four times more likely than at the start of the last century, she said.

“Depending on when we stop and how much is emitted before we stop, that will determine where and if these heat waves become the norm,” said Otto, who was part of the research group.

The team’s use of actual temperature measurements and computer simulations is widely accepted among scientists as a means of determining whether climate change plays a role in extreme events.

“The analysis applies state of the art techniques that have withstood rigorous peer-review in many previous studies,” said Maarten van Aalst, director of the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Center.

The World Weather Attribution team said its study indicates that summers like the one that just ended could become the norm in the Euro-Mediterranean region by 2050 if emissions of so-called greenhouse gases continue to rise.

Van Aalst, whose center provides research to national Red Cross or Red Crescent agencies around the world, said the new study should be a wake-up call to policymakers in Europe about the need to prepare for hotter summers.

While the average person in developed countries might enjoy a few days of strong sunshine — especially if they can cool off at the beach — elderly people, infants and those who are chronically ill will suffer, he said.

“Climate change is already having a significant impact on the risks we face today, and we should do what we can to keep that risk from rising out of control.”

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