The Malta Independent 21 September 2019, Saturday

Sizzling summers

Sunday, 18 August 2019, 12:03 Last update: about 2 months ago

Living on a Mediterranean island like ours makes it easy to forget that Europe is facing yet another scorching summer battling unprecedented heat-waves.  Unbearable record-high temperature levels have been registered in several European countries: Paris recorded a blistering 42.6ºC, breaking the previous record going back to 1947. Other countries in Western Europe, such as Belgium and The Netherlands, have also recorded temperatures never experienced before. 

For countries in the south of Europe, such as Malta, temperatures above 35ºC are not unusual and will never make the news. However, in recent years, our island has also experienced extreme weather conditions. Every year we witness more frequent and heavier storms and rainfall, and higher temperatures in the summer. The punishing storm that hit the island in February caused damage amounting to an estimated €9 million and when a heat-wave actually does hit Malta, it usually lasts longer and registers higher temperature levels than those to which we are accustomed.

The last decade has been the warmest ever recorded in Europe and this also has a human cost to it. Back in 2003, a European heat-wave caused the death of an estimated 35,000 people. Heat-waves multiply and exacerbate the existing threats to the health and livelihood of millions of people and animals all around the world and also lead to more frequent disruption of critical infrastructures and basic essential services, changing the way we work and live.

It is very likely that this pattern will only get worse as global temperatures continue to rise in the future. Even if we were able to stop greenhouse gas emissions today, the current changes in climate would continue. The damage to our planet is irreversible and will affect our lives, the lives of our children and probably the lives of their children as well for many decades to come. Each summer, weather conditions will be getting worse than the previous ones with new records in temperature and the resilience of storms, with higher devastation and magnitude.

Climate specialists claim that, as a result of global warming, there is a greater chance of hotter summers in Europe, with recent studies saying that heat-waves will become the new norm in the years to come. This should come as no surprise – scientists have warned us – the planet has spoken! Climate change and global warming have become Europe's most pressing problems. 

More than ever, Europe needs to continue being at the forefront of international efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and thus safeguard the planet’s climate. However, climate change is not just an environmental problem: it is an existential challenge that will not disappear any time soon and will affect every aspect of our lives. It is a challenge that has grown beyond its environmental remits.

More than ever, Europe needs to start looking at the secondary effects of climate change that have an impact on the performance of all industries and infrastructures, such as agriculture, energy, transport, tourism, access to healthcare, water and food, and including the security of our external borders. The last heat-wave in Western Europe is proof that countries will need to adapt better and prepare more for the new climate conditions in the years to come.

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