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Europe Confronts Rising Threat of Deadly Heat Waves Driven by Climate Change

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A new report from the European Union’s Copernicus climate monitoring service and the World Meteorological Organization reveals Europe is increasingly being battered by bouts of extreme heat waves.

Their report touched on the devastating July 2023 heatwave that inflicted “strong,” “very strong” or “extreme” heat stress on a staggering 41% of southern Europe – the largest area ever recorded experiencing such potentially fatal conditions.

Heat stress combines factors like temperature, humidity, and physical exertion to calculate a “feels like” temperature at which the body can no longer cool itself properly.

Parts of Spain, France, Italy, and Greece endured up to 10 consecutive days when that dangerous threshold exceeded 46°C (115°F), requiring immediate intervention to avoid heat stroke and severe illness. The heat wave was linked to a 7% spike in deaths across Italy.

“Some of the events of 2023 took the scientific community by surprise because of their intensity, speed of onset, extent and duration,” stated Carlo Buontempo of Copernicus.

As the world’s fastest-warming continent, Europe is on the frontlines of a worsening heat crisis largely driven by unabated greenhouse gas emissions. Deaths related to extreme heat have surged 30% over the past two decades, prompting calls for governments to bolster healthcare systems and implement new worker protections.

The ferocious heat waves also act as a catalyst for cascading environmental disasters – fueling devastating wildfires like the record-setting 960 square km inferno in Greece, as well as intense flooding from moisture-laden air unleashing cataclysmic downpours. Alpine glaciers alone lost 10% of their remaining ice over 2022-2023.

While the findings paint a dire picture, there are glimmers of hope. Europe’s accelerating transition to renewable energy sources like solar and wind helped it generate more electricity from clean sources than fossil fuels for the second straight year in 2023 – a crucial step in reducing carbon emissions driving global heating.

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