The joy of July's record-breaking heatwave is tempered by worry
PUBLISHED: 21:45 11 August 2019 | UPDATED: 22:10 11 August 2019
Catherine Rowett, Green Party MEP for the Eastern Region, says July's record-breaking temperatures are a big cause for concern
Earlier this month a landmark study stated that, within three decades, London will have a climate such as Barcelona now has and Manchester will resemble Lyon, as the UK's climate effectively moves 900 miles south. Perhaps the prospect of a Mediterranean-type climate sounds attractive? However, the reality is that vast swathes of the globe will by then have become uninhabitable. Current trends suggest there will be mass movements of displaced people before we reach 2050, leading to pressure on resources in Europe and potential conflicts at borders. Heatwaves will have become frequent, triggering droughts and crop failures of the kind that we had last summer. We can expect major difficulties for the agricultural sector in this region which is already the driest area of the country.
The warning signs this year could not be starker. In late June I visited Italy for a conference. On my way back, I stopped overnight in Genoa before catching a train to Strasbourg for the opening of the European Parliament — a beautiful trip apart from the tremendous heat. In Genoa the chemist shops have green lit-up crosses outside, which display, among other things, the current temperature. At 6pm one evening it showed the temperature as 41ºC (105.8F). An hour later, the temperature had not fallen but risen to 42ºC (107.6F). Of course, we expect Italy to be warm in June, but that was unnaturally hot, in what should have been the cool of the evening.
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Scientists agree that average global temperatures are rising primarily due to the burning of fossil fuels. It's not an accident that Europe's five hottest summers since 1500 have all been in the last 19 years. Parts of the world are becoming too hot for human life (and for most other animals too). We are no longer dealing with early warning signs but the real thing. We knew that time was running out 40 years ago, but instead of changing our behaviour to cut our greenhouse gas emissions then, across the world we have continued to increase our emissions. For too long, we've said: "we'll do something about it tomorrow". Now, instead, we must say "We're doing something drastic, and we're doing it now". The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned us last year that there are fewer than 4000 days left for Britain and others nations to become carbon neutral if we are to avoid climate chaos.
This is not simply scientific hyperbole. Here and elsewhere, we need to make radical changes to the way we organise our lives: how we heat our homes, conduct our business, invest our money and move around. The transformation that is needed is so huge that it is impossible for us to achieve as individuals alone. It needs to be led by governments, working together. They urgently need to act with unprecedented investment, with imagination, with compassion, looking out above all for those who will suffer most. We must not let them perpetuate the political system that has initiated this unparalleled period of destruction. Let us not leave our children with a disaster zone that can never be repaired. The time to act is now, and the action must be universal and profound.
So while we, here in the east, might find it a new and partially welcome experience to have to use a sun umbrella or even to seek out a bit of shade behind a wind break on our region's many beautiful beaches, instead of seeking shelter from a chilly breeze, let us also remember this recent weather heralds something more profound and disturbingly sinister.
Urgent action is needed globally to ensure that our children and grandchildren can enjoy this planet too.