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Dublin: 7 °C Tuesday 18 February, 2020

Climate change likely a major contributor to France's extreme heatwave

Temperatures went above 45 degrees in France last week, with experts saying that climate change was a major contributor.

Children cool off at the Trocadero public fountain in Paris during the heatwave.
Children cool off at the Trocadero public fountain in Paris during the heatwave.
Image: Francisco Seco/AP/PA Images

CLIMATE CHANGE MADE the record-setting heatwave in France – which saw temperatures rise above 45 degrees last week  – at least five times more likely. 

This is according to an international team of scientists, who said today that climate change alone had heavily contributed to the French heatwave. 

Compared to June weather stretching back more than a century, the peak from 26 to 28 June was four degrees warmer than an equally rare heatwave would have been in 1900, the World Weather Attribution team said in a press conference today.

The role of global warming in the extreme weather, which also affected neighbouring European countries for nearly a week, is probably much greater, said Friederike Otto, acting director of the Environmental Change Institute at the University of Oxford.

“Models are very good at representing large-scale seasonal changes in temperatures,” she explained.

“On localised scales, climate models tend to underestimate the increase in temperature.”

The findings, which are set to be published in an academic journal, focused on metropolitan France and the southern city of Toulouse, where climate statisticians were coincidentally meeting during the heatwave. 

Based purely on temperature records, extreme scorchers like the one last week are now 100 times more likely than in 1900, said Geert Jan van Oldenborgh, a senior researcher at the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute and co-author of the new report.

“But we are unable to say that this is just because of climate change,” he said.

Air pollution, the “urban heat island” effect, soil moisture, cloud cover and a host of other factors can also affect the intensity of heatwaves.

And models designed to work on a different scale are consistently “biased” such that they underestimate temperature peaks.

France, Italy, Spain and some central European nations all posted all-time temperatures peaks, with dozens of deaths attributed to the week-long heatwave.

The final death toll is likely to be far higher, but will only show up months from now in statistical records as “excess deaths”.

A 2003 heatwave in France claimed at least 15,000 lives, according to government figures. 

Ireland escaped the worst of the extremely high temperatures, with the country experiencing temperatures in the low to mid-twenty degrees for the last few days. 

© – AFP 2019

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