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As temperatures soar in future, Europeans will struggle to keep coolImage: AP

European Cities Face Future Heatwaves

Johannes Beck (nda)
August 12, 2005

A new study by the WWF environmental organization shows that temperatures in European cities are on the rise with more extreme weather predicted in the increasingly sticky future.


Although many Europeans are wearing jumpers in August this year, the fact remains that temperatures across Central Europe are continuing to rise. According to a study by the environmental organization WWF, European cities are set to sizzle in the future.

In terms of summer temperature increases, Madrid is number one. No other city in Europe has seen such dramatic rises than the Spanish capital over the last 30 years. On average, Madrid has seen temperatures climb by 2.2 degrees Celsius (35.96 degrees Fahrenheit) in the last three decades. Trailing, and sweating, not so far behind come London, Lisbon, Luxembourg and Athens.

For Londoners, more used to the "pea soup" mists rolling down the Thames with a foggy chill, the rise in temperature may initially be gratefully received.

That is until global temperatures rise to such an extent that the polar ice caps melt; either causing sea levels to rise which in turn could lead to the Thames flooding or a dilution of the Gulf stream by fresh water which would eventually stop the warm flow to the British Isles leading to a possible ice age.

Spain and Portugal facing droughts, crop failures

While the long term effect on London could be potentially disastrous, both Madrid and Lisbon are experiencing problems, although less apocalyptic, right now. Summers in the Spanish and Portuguese cities have been getting hotter and hotter leading to droughts and water shortages.

Waldbrände in Portugal
Image: AP

The reservoirs are empty, many fields and crops have dried up and forest areas are tinder-box dry, leading to increasingly common seasonal infernos. Both countries have requested help from the EU as crop start to fail.

Climatologists have been warning for years that Europe must prepare for more and more extreme weather conditions and events such as drought, violent storms and floods.

Human industrialization to blame, says WWF

Martin Hiller, climate spokesperson for the WWF, dismisses claims by some that these conditions are caused by variations in natural habitats around the globe. "The majority of scientists agree that humans play the determining role," he said.

"In more than 200 years of industrialization, the CO2 level in the atmosphere has increased by a third of its original value. This is caused by humans, there is no natural process."

Eisbär in Alaska
Image: AP

While humans are reaping what they sow in terms of increased heat and its effects, fauna and flora are suffering too and in many cases are being hardest hit. The melting of the Arctic ice flows are reducing the natural habitat and hunting grounds of polar bears while soaring temperatures could demand too much of fragile ecological systems like coral reefs.

But the human population is also starting to see devastating effects. "For example, at the heat wave of 2003," Martin Hiller warned. "Altogether around 40,000 people died as a result."

The future's bright, the future's scorching

In the last century, the worldwide average temperature rose by about 0.6 degrees Celsius; in Europe by about 1 degree. Scientists believe that the human race has seen nothing yet and that the biggest hike in temperatures is yet to come.

Scientists at the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predict that we can expect a rise of between 1.4 to 5.8 degrees Celsius.

Flimmernde Hitze
Image: AP

This will lead to more intense summers for European cities and, according to the WWF, not only more dramatic environmental effects but also economic ones. As the heat rises, more people will turn to their fans and air-conditioning systems to cope.

It seems to be a vicious circle: more heat, more power consumption, more greenhouse gas and again more heat.

Alternative power to break the cycle

Offshore Windenergie Meer Blåvandshuk in Dänemark
Image: AP

The answer could lie with renewable energy sources like wind, water and biomass, something electricity companies must consider in the future, the WWF demands. While such alternatives are not entirely innocent in regards to climate change, they do, however, create less greenhouse gases than coal or oil.

Change can begin at home, Martin Hiller says, a fact that is often overlooked. One could simply save up to 30 percent more energy by using electrical devices more wisely. Also, modern devices such as computers and air-conditioning systems need much less energy than their older incarnations.

This, at least, would be the first step in breaking the vicious circle of climate change.

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