Harsh summer, record high temperatures

Copernicus, the European Union’s (EU) Earth Observation Programme, said that as of March 2024, the world had experienced the 10th consecutive month with record high temperatures, with both air and ocean temperatures reported at an all-time high. 
People cool off by a water fountain during a record heatwave, at Trafalgar Square in London (Photo: REUTERS)
People cool off by a water fountain during a record heatwave, at Trafalgar Square in London (Photo: REUTERS)

Many areas have seen the worst “wildfire season” in the past century and continue facing intense summer heat. The United Nations warns that the clock is counting down, and the world cannot delay any longer, with only two years left to take action to save the blue planet.

Record heat

Temperatures across the globe broke records as heat waves hit oceans and glaciers melted, making 2023 the hottest year ever. According to Copernicus, the average global temperature was 14.14C in March this year, 1.68C warmer than the average monthly temperature during the 1850-1900 pre-Industrial Revolution period. Since June 2023, Earth’s temperature has continuously set new records, with heat waves across oceans around the globe.

India is one of many Asian countries affected and vulnerable to heat waves. This situation is becoming increasingly worse, with the frequency and duration of heat waves continuously rising and lasting longer. The number of hot days and nights has soared significantly and is predicted to surge two to four times by 2050. Heat waves are also predicted to come earlier, last longer and become more frequent.

Every year, extreme heat takes the lives of hundreds, even thousands of Indians. Official figures showed that heat waves from 1992 to 2015 caused more than 22,000 deaths.

It is warned that Southeast Asia may be more severely affected by heat than other regions, as Thailand may face extreme heat up to 220 days per year in the next 20 years if drastic action is not taken to prevent climate change.

Forests burned down

Climate change also increases the frequency, scale, and severity of forest fires. According to the report on forest fires in Europe, the Middle East and North Africa, conducted by the Joint Research Centre - European Commission, the 2023 forest fire season in Europe is one of the worst bushfires this century. In 2023, fires burned more than 504,000 ha of forest - an area twice the size of Luxembourg. 2023 was one of the worst wildfire years of the century.

Wildfires increased in the summer of 2023, mainly affecting the Mediterranean region, with Greece (the area near Alexandroupoli) suffering the largest fire in Europe since the 1980s. The wildfires have produced about 20 megatons of CO2 emissions - nearly a third of the total emissions from international aviation in the European Union over a year.

In the Americas, the Canadian federal government said the country is facing the risk of another catastrophic wildfire season as spring and summer temperatures in most areas across the country are predicted to be higher than normal due to the influence of El Nino. Last year, Canada experienced its worst wildfire season on record, with more than 6,600 fires burning 15 million ha of forest, nearly seven times higher than the average annual area of forest burned.

Damages due to extreme weather events, including heat waves causing forest fires, are estimated at more than 3.1 billion CAD.

Urgent action needed

With atmospheric CO2 levels reaching a new high of 425 ppm last year, the world saw its ten warmest years on record between 2014 and 2023. According to scientist Jennifer Francis of the Woodwell Climate Research Centre, the combination of the El Nino phenomenon and unusual ocean heat waves has driven temperature records.

Scientists also say that the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2030 is extremely important to limit the increase in average global temperature to 1.5C - a limit that helps avoid the most dangerous impacts of climate change. However, CO2 emissions in the world’s energy sector soared to a record high in 2023. Climate action commitments made to date are almost impossible to meet the target of reducing global emissions by 2030.

Faced with the above situation, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Simon Stiell warned that the next two years will be decisive in efforts to save the Earth from threats of climate change. Countries still have the opportunity to reduce greenhouse gas emissions with new national plans, but they need to be implemented immediately and more vigorously. Stiell called on countries belonging to the group of leading developed and emerging economies in the world (G20), which account for 80% of total global emissions, to take more urgent and drastic actions. The UN official also emphasised the need to mobilise more financial resources to cope with climate change, through debt exemption mechanisms and low-interest loans for poor countries, as well as other new international financial sources, such as emission taxes for the shipping industry.

The majority of the cause of current record-high temperatures is climate change, which is mainly caused by human activities, such as CO2 and methane emissions from the use of coal, oil and natural gas. This vicious cycle will not change until atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations stop increasing.

Time is running out to turn commitments into action, and the main task of the climate negotiations at COP29 in Azerbaijan in late 2024 will be the opportunity to push countries to agree on a new target for climate finance, to support developing countries in investing in energy transition and combating climate change.