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Climate change (III/III): deadly heat waves devour the planet

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By Diego Balverde

· 4 min read


Spain is experiencing its most intense summer heat wave on record. In some areas, ground temperatures have reached a staggering 60°C, as shown by satellite recordings during this alarming European heatwave. Remarkably, some heat maps that used red to indicate high temperatures had to shift to black to represent these unprecedented levels.

Breaking records

Temperatures have shattered previous highs across the continent. France, Switzerland, Germany, and Italy have all recorded peaks of around 40°C. In Sicily and Sardinia, temperatures were predicted to soar up to 48°C. Numerous reports indicate that not only the elderly but also middle-aged workers have suffered from these extreme conditions. Some even lost consciousness due to the oppressive heat.

The heat wave's origins

This heatwave, ominously named "Cerberus" after the underworld beast from Dante's Inferno, is caused by an area of high pressure sweeping across the country. Satellite data reveals that in areas of Extremadura in Spain, ground temperatures have exceeded 60°C. Thirteen autonomous communities have received various risk alerts, from extreme to moderate, with some locales registering temperatures as high as 43°C. These land temperatures, captured by the Sea and Land Surface Temperature Radiometer (SLSTR) instrument on the Copernicus Sentinel-3 satellites, measure the ground's heat and should not be confused with air temperatures.

Copernicus, an Earth observation component of the European Union's space program, notes that the heat's intensity may soon decline in the Mediterranean, but such extreme temperatures could become a regular occurrence in upcoming seasons.

Facing the reality of climate change

Such intensifying heatwaves underscore the increasingly tangible impacts of global warming. Global warming is not a challenge we can afford to postpone in favor of other pressing issues. The severe heat waves, unexpected weather patterns in opposite seasons, and other catastrophic events remind us of the dire need to confront and address the issue. These climatic aberrations result in fatalities, natural disasters, drought-induced famines, and rapid depletion of already dwindling resources.

Three days before COP26, some startling data came to light, revealing statistics even more daunting than anticipated. The numbers were so unsettling that many were visibly shaken. The measures proposed by the IMF to stimulate the adoption of tools and ensure compliance with emission norms seemed apt. The urgency of the situation was further underscored by the UN's stark message: the catastrophic consequences of our inaction.

A turning point

Ahead of the G20 Rome 2021, I crafted an article for Kristalina Georgieva, which she subsequently used in her COP26 Glasgow speech. This piece was inspired by a friend's Halloween attire, leading me to coin the phrase "sweet and treat." The "treat" represents the responsibility that countries and organizations must embrace, while the "sweet" symbolizes the benefits and rewards that can be reaped from responsible actions. Investing in sustainable sectors can yield both economic and environmental benefits.

Kristalina's speech proved to be a catalyst. Its simplicity and realism spurred investors to take action and encouraged nations to seek solutions. The IMF, recognizing the dual challenges of climate change and post-COVID recovery, implemented the SDGs with a universally accepted stimulus package. This collective effort laid the foundation for countries to set and pursue environmental standards.

Challenges ahead

However, the absence of standardized criteria has led to laxity in the implementation of environmental standards. While some have genuinely tried to make a difference, others have indulged in greenwashing, launching questionable projects that primarily boost their financial gains. A unified, straightforward, and easily applicable charter is the need of the hour.

The repercussions of climate change extend beyond evident environmental shifts. Global warming triggers a cascade of disasters, from wildfires in Hawaii and heat-related deaths in Europe to droughts affecting the Panama Canal. Ocean temperatures are on the rise, causing aquatic life to dwindle. The planet is nearing its breaking point.

Climate change will soon lead to another crisis: forced migrations on a massive scale. As natural disasters intensify, many regions will become uninhabitable, leading to large-scale migrations. Governments will struggle to assist affected regions and accommodate refugees. Such migrations will strain budgets, slow economies, and trigger inflation. The only viable solution is proactive measures to combat climate change, emphasizing renewable energy and efficient resource management.

In conclusion

Dealing with these challenges requires a collaborative approach. Funds must be allocated to adapt and restructure cities to accommodate climate refugees. Moreover, efforts should be focused on providing these displaced individuals with dignified living conditions. Numerous organizations, like illuminem.com and eutec.org, have been at the forefront, raising awareness about climate change's repercussions and offering tangible solutions. The global community must tap into this vast reservoir of knowledge and work hand in hand to navigate these trying times.

illuminem Voices is a democratic space presenting the thoughts and opinions of leading Sustainability & Energy writers, their opinions do not necessarily represent those of illuminem.

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About the author

Dr. Diego Balverde is an Economist at the European Central Bank and has extensive experience in climate finance. He is currently also an Advisory Member of the Council of Foreign Trade at The World Bank. Diego is very active on the international sustainability stage having attended COP27 as a Circular economy for Climate Change specialist and will also be attending the G20 Conference in India as part of the Energy, Sustainability and Climate Task Force. Diego holds a PhD in Foreign trade from Chapman University and an MBA degree from Cambridge Judge Business School.

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