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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Climate: Europe burns as the Earth heats up

by Lucas Martin

Climate: Europe burns as the Earth heats up

Forest fires burn from the northern to the southern extremes of the continent, due to high temperatures, which have exceeded 30°C inside the Arctic Circle.

Translated Saturday 6 October 2018, by Jane Swingler

Swedish Lapland, valued by tourists for its snowy landscapes, is on fire this summer. Although situated within the Arctic Circle, it has not been spared the heatwave and the large number of fires that are currently affecting Sweden. The fires have already ravaged 25,000 hectares in the kingdom and each day the situation worsens. Its Finnish, Russian and Latvian neighbours are equally beset by the flames, though to a lesser extent. Since May, Northern Europe has been sweltering, with temperatures exceeding 30°C inside the Arctic Circle. The southern regions of the Old Continent are faring no better; Greece is witnessing extremely ferocious fires, among the most deadly it has ever known. Latest figures set the death toll at 80. Even countries which are lucky enough to have avoided the fires still cannot escape the intense heat, as confirmed by the hot weekend weather in France.

2018 - the third hottest year in a row

“There is no doubt: in the future, heatwaves will be more frequent and intense”, states the climatologist Hervé Le Treut in a column in “Le Monde”, published this Thursday. That a scientist should use the words “no doubt” when alluding to concrete manifestations of global warming is all the more telling, since scientific consensus on the subject is increasingly divided. Jean Jouzel, former vice-president of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (GIEC), agrees wholeheartedly with this as an explanation for the huge number of fires across Europe. “We are indisputably in a situation of climatic warming,” he states, while not forgetting that it is necessary to take into account the individual circumstances in each country. Sweden is a victim of being taken by surprise and ill-prepared to fight such a wide breadth of fires. As for Greece, more and more voices are being raised against the budget cuts imposed by the tripartite European lending committee, which negatively influenced policies on environmental protection and the prevention of forest fires (see our edition from 26 July).

The authenticity of the analysis cannot be denied, according to Jean Jouzel. “If these events have anything in common,” he says, “it is very high temperatures. 2018 is the third year in a row to be the hottest on record. It is completely logical that, when the average temperature is raised, there will be regions where records are broken.” Previously, in 2010, Russia had experienced terrible fires. Last summer, fires in Portugal caused dozens of deaths. This trend, far from being reversed, looks set to develop further.

“According to projections up to 2050, areas which are not currently at risk from forest fires, such as west and central France, will become so,” warns the former vice-president of GIEC. “This is borne out by what is happening in Scandinavia.” There is nowhere safe, even in central Europe, where there is still a prevalent feeling of being unaffected by global warming. “From now on, this is what we have to expect, particularly in the Mediterranean region,” forecasts the climatologist.

An increase in natural disasters

What then can be done to limit risks? Adherence to the Paris Climate Agreement, which aims to keep global warming below 2°C, would be a good start. However, even the most optimistic projections estimate a 3°C, or even 3.5°C increase. This is an enormous difference on a planetary scale. The increase in natural disasters, such as the fires currently gripping Europe, should bring about some acknowledgement of the situation, according to Jean Jouzel. “This must surely focus governments’ attention on the need to act against global warming. If nothing is done, we will be living in a very different world by 2050.”

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