March 5, 2024
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Extreme heatwave live: Rome braced for record 43C heat; second day of US-China climate talks begins | Climate crisis

Rome braced for record 43C heat

Temperatures continued to reach extreme highs across many parts of the northern hemisphere on Monday, with the mercury in parts of Italy poised to hit 45C on Tuesday and wildfires raging in Greece and Spain signalling the latest fierce warning of the effects of the climate crisis.

In Italy, where temperatures later in the week could push close to the European record of 48.8C, set in the Sicilian town of Floridia in August 2021, Italians were warned to brace themselves for “the most intense heatwave of the summer and also one of the most intense of all time”.

The health ministry has sounded a red alert for 16 cities including Rome, Bologna and Florence.

Temperatures are expected to hit as high as 43C in Rome on Tuesday, smashing the record of 40.5C set in August 2007.

Key events

Sicily and Sardinia expected to see highest-ever temperature in Europe today

Europe, the world’s fastest-warming continent, is bracing for its hottest-ever temperature on Italy’s islands of Sicily and Sardinia, where a high of 48C (118F) has been forecast by the European Space Agency today.

Italians have been warned to prepare for “the most intense heatwave of the summer and also one of the most intense of all time” as temperatures hit a near-record 39C in Rome on Monday.

Heat stroke alerts in place for Tokyo

Heat stroke alerts are in place in Tokyo and five nearby areas, along with 16 other prefectures across the west and south of Japan, the Guardian’s Gavin Blair reports. Temperatures had reached 37.4C in central Tokyo and 38.4C in Kumagaya, north of Tokyo by lunchtime, and are expected to rise further in the afternoon.

With the mercury forecast to be pushing 40C today in Nagoya in central Japan, schools have cancelled sport and other outdoor activities.

High levels of humidity, which reduced the effectiveness of sweating to cool the body, mean the heat index – representing how hot it feels — is well into the 40s across much of the country.

A man is sprayed with cooling mist spray in Tokyo, Japan.
A man is sprayed with cooling mist spray in Tokyo, Japan. Photograph: Tomohiro Ohsumi/Getty Images

Meanwhile, the Japan Meteorological Agency has issued an emergency warning for landslides and floods for Iwate prefecture in Japan’s north following days of torrential rain, plus a warning (one rank lower on the advisory scale) for neighbouring Akita prefecture.

Temperature records continue to be broken in Japan this year, following the warmest average spring since records began, along with cherry trees blooming earlier than ever previously recorded.

Nearly 4,000 people were taken to hospital suffering from heatstroke in the first week of July.

Phoenix expected to break record for length of heatwave

Phoenix’s relentless streak of dangerously hot days is expected to break a record for major US cities on Tuesday, with the desert city experiencing its 19th straight day of temperatures of 110F (43.3C) or more, AP reports.

Phoenix’s low of 95F (35C) on Monday was its highest overnight low ever, toppling the previous record of 93F (33.8C) set in 2009. It was the eighth straight day of temperatures not falling below 90F (32.2C), another record.

The length of Phoenix’s heatwave is notable even during a summer in which much of the southern United States and the world as a whole has been cooking in record temperatures, something scientists say is stoked by climate change.

People seeking shelter from the heat rest at the First Congregational United Church of Christ cooling centre in Phoenix, Arizona.
People seeking shelter from the heat rest at the First Congregational United Church of Christ cooling centre in Phoenix, Arizona. Photograph: Brandon Bell/Getty Images

What’s going on in a metropolitan area known as the Valley of the Sun is far worse than a short spike in the thermometer, experts said, and it poses a health danger to many.

“Long-term exposure to heat is more difficult to withstand than single hot days, especially if it is not cooling off at night enough to sleep well,” said Katharine Jacobs, director of the Center for Climate Adaptation Science and Solutions at the University of Arizona.

“This will likely be one of the most notable periods in our health record in terms of deaths and illness,” said David Hondula, chief heat officer for the City of Phoenix. “Our goal is for that not to be the case.”

Almost 230,000 people evacuated from Guangdong ahead of typhoon Talim

Nearly 230,000 people in Guangdong were evacuated on Monday before typhoon Talim struck, the state-run Xinhua news agency reports.

Local authorities in Guangdong had also ordered the closure of 68 coastal tourist destinations, called back 2,702 fishing vessels and ordered 8,262 fish-farming workers to be evacuated ashore, Xinhua said.

In Guangxi’s Nanning city, state media reported 35 passenger train services have been disrupted and 26 flights cancelled since Monday. In Hainan, an island province to the south of Guangdong, railway services were gradually being restored on Tuesday morning after being suspended the previous day.

The effects of the typhoon were felt more then 1,000 km to the northeast in Fuzhou city in Fujian province.

Wildfires outside Athens forced thousands to flee seaside resorts, closed highways and gutted vacation homes Monday, AP reports, as high winds pushed flames through hillside scrub and pine forests parched by days of extreme heat.

AP: Authorities issued evacuation orders for at least six seaside communities as two major wildfires edged closer to summer resort towns and gusts of wind hit 70 kph (45 mph).

The army, police special forces and volunteer rescuers freed retirees from their homes, rescued horses from a stable, and helped monks flee a monastery threatened by the flames.

Fire approaches houses in Kalamaki near Agioi Theodori about 60 Kilometres west of Athens , on Monday, 17 July 2023.
Fire approaches houses in Kalamaki near Agioi Theodori about 60 Kilometres west of Athens , on Monday, 17 July 2023. Photograph: Petros Giannakouris/AP

Fire Service spokesman Yiannis Artopios said the strong and changeable winds and mountainous terrain in which both fires broke out were slowing the firefighting effort.

“The conditions are changing constantly and this has to be matched by our response. We have ordered multiple evacuations,” he said. The evacuees gathered along the coastline or were put up in schools and hotels, while coast guard vessels were dispatched to smoke-heavy beachfronts to assist if needed.

On a visit to Brusssels, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis described the risk posed by wildfires this month as “extremely difficult” to deal with.

“We have always had wildfires and we always will have them. But with the effects of the climate crisis, we are experiencing fires with increasing intensity,” Mitsotakis said

Josh Nicholas

Josh Nicholas

The extent of ice in Antarctica has also been setting records this year – for how little there is.

Satellite data from the National Snow and Ice Data Center shows that not only is 2023 a significant outlier. 2022 ended with some of the lowest sea ice extents on record. But the gap to the long-run average for this time of year appears to be getting larger.

Sea surface temperatures are also higher than in recent decades, according to the NOAA models. Monthly data shows that the temperature anomaly – the difference between the current temperatures and the long run average – has been positive and on an upward trend for decades.

Graph showing monthly sea surface temperature anomaly

Josh Nicholas

Josh Nicholas

Satellite observations and climate models are showing how extreme the weather is around the world. Recent average global air temperatures are significantly higher than in decades, as are global sea surface temperatures. Meanwhile the level of sea ice in Antarctica continues to set records for how little there is.

For the past two weeks the average air temperature around the globe has been higher than any other time in the past 44 years, according to a model of average air temperatures created the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The data shows the average temperature at 2 meters above the surface (land and sea).

This data is created by a model – not actual recorded observations – and so isn’t sufficient to set a climate record. But scientists agree that the climate crisis is reaching uncharted territory.

Rescue workers have recovered the last body and ended search operations at a flooded underpass in South Korea where more than a dozen people died in an incident that is now the subject of multiple official probes.

Search and rescue operations at the 430-metre (1,410-foot) tunnel in Cheongju, North Chungcheong province, ended late Monday after rescuers recovered the last body, the interior ministry said according to AFP.

The tunnel was inundated on Saturday morning after floodwaters swept in too quickly for the vehicles inside to escape.

Rescue workers search for missing people along an underground tunnel in Cheongju.
Rescue workers search for missing people along an underground tunnel in Cheongju. Photograph: YONHAP/AFP/Getty Images

A total of 17 vehicles, including a bus, were trapped and 14 people were killed, the interior ministry said.

The tunnel will remain closed for additional inspections as part of the probe into the cause of the deadly incident, it added.

The Korea Meteorological Administration has forecast more heavy rain through Wednesday, and urged the public to “refrain from going outside”.

The UN announced Monday that the 48.8C recorded on the Italian island of Sicily in 2021 had been verified as the European high temperature record, against which the current heatwave will be measured.

AFP reports: The United Nations’ World Meteorological Organization (WMO) keeps the World Weather and Climate Extremes Archive and painstakingly verifies any claimed records including for temperature, rainfall, aridity, wind speeds and lightning.

“WMO has accepted a new temperature record for continental Europe of 48.8C (119.8F) measured in Sicily on 11 August 2021,” the organisation said.

“A committee of experts has verified the accuracy of the temperature reading, but has not yet published the full report.

“It is possible that this record may be broken in the coming days as the heatwave intensifies.”

The previous verified record for the highest temperature recorded in continental Europe was 48C (118.4F), set in Athens on 10 July 1977.

A wildfire in Sicily in August 2021.
A wildfire in Sicily in August 2021. Photograph: Salvatore Cavalli/AP

Texas power demand hits record high

Demand for power in Texas hit a record high on Monday as homes and businesses kept air conditioners cranked up to escape a heatwave.

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), which operates the grid for more than 26 million customers representing about 90% of the state’s power load, has said it has enough resources available to meet soaring demand.

After setting 11 demand records last summer, ERCOT said usage hit a preliminary 81,911 megawatts (MW) on Monday, which would top the current all-time high of 81,406 MW set on 13 July.

An AC technician repairs an air conditioning unit on in Austin, Texas.
An AC technician repairs an air conditioning unit on in Austin, Texas. Photograph: Brandon Bell/Getty Images

That is the fourth record high this summer and will likely be broken again on Tuesday with demand expected to reach 86,575 MW.

One megawatt can power around 1,000 U.S. homes on a typical day, but only about 200 homes on a hot summer day in Texas.

Meteorologists at AccuWeather forecast high temperatures in Houston, the biggest city in Texas, would hit at least 100F (37.8C) every day from 17-21 July. That compares with a normal high of 94F (34.4C) for this time of year.

Back to Beijing now, where US climate envoy John Kerry has told Chinese officials global warming represents a “threat to all of humankind” and requires “global leadership”.

“Climate, as you know, is a global issue, not a bilateral issue. It’s a threat to all of humankind,” Kerry told China’s top diplomat Wang Yi, stressing it was “a matter of global leadership”.

“We’re very hopeful that this can be the beginning not just of a conversation between you and me and us on the climate track, but that we can begin to change the broader relationship, the world really hopes for that and needs it,” he added.

Forty or more people have died in less than a week of heavy rains in South Korea – including 14 who died when floodwaters trapped them in an underpass in the city of Cheongju – casting doubt on the country’s efforts to prepare for localised and intense downpours, Reuters reports.

Experts say the pledge for better preparation has not been followed by setting aside the monies needed, while spending remains too focused on recovery and not enough on prevention.

South Korean emergency workers conduct a search operation at the site of a landslide caused by heavy rains in Yecheon-gun, Gyeongsangbuk-do province, South Korea, 18 July 2023.
South Korean emergency workers conduct a search operation at the site of a landslide caused by heavy rains in Yecheon-gun, Gyeongsangbuk-do province, South Korea, 18 July 2023. Photograph: Jeon Heon-Kyun/EPA

Jeong Chang-sam, an engineering professor at Induk University in Seoul specialising in water resources, told Reuters prevention is crucial to minimising damage and the loss of lives, but it is often neglected because the benefits are not immediately obvious to politicians and those in government.

“People like to use expressions such as rapid response, emergency recovery … but climate disasters are already underway,” Jeong said.

“If you put money into prevention projects, you can do it at half the cost of recovery projects,” he said.

A 2020 study by the Korea Meteorological Administration found that property damage costs and casualties from extreme weather have tripled compared to the yearly average of the previous decade.

Here is a summary of the remarks ahead of US climate envoy John Kerry’s meeting with China’s top diplomat, Wang Yi, today in Beijing – via AFP:

Kerry met Wang in Beijing on Tuesday, as the two countries revive stalled diplomacy on reducing planet-warming emissions.

Kerry was greeted by Wang at Beijing’s Great Hall of the People on the third day of a visit to China that ends on Wednesday.

The two shook hands and exchanged opening remarks before beginning a meeting.

“Cooperation on climate change is advancing under the overall climate of China and the United States, so we need the joint support of the people of China and the United States,” Wang told Kerry, who he described as an “old friend”.

“There is a need for a healthy, stable, and sustainable Sino-US relationship,” he added.

US climate envoy John Kerry is greeted by top Chinese diplomat Wang Yi before a meeting in the Great Hall of the People on 18 July 2023 in Beijing, China.
US climate envoy John Kerry is greeted by top Chinese diplomat Wang Yi before a meeting in the Great Hall of the People on 18 July 2023 in Beijing, China. Photograph: Getty Images

Climate talks between the two biggest greenhouse gas emitters came to a halt last year after Nancy Pelosi, then speaker of the US House of Representatives, enraged Beijing by visiting self-ruled Taiwan, which China considers to be part of its territory.

Here are pictures showing the impacts of the extreme weather being felt in the northern hemisphere:

Kerry: We can begin to change the broader relationship through climate talks

Speaking in Beijing before a meeting with China’s top diplomat, Wang Yi, US climate envoy John Kerry has said that the two countries “can begin to change the broader relationship [between them] through climate talks”.

Among the things climate experts hope will emerge from the meeting and the relationship between China and the US going forward is progress made on tackling methane and coal production.

Methane is a greenhouse gas – a gas that traps heat in the atmosphere, warming the planet – responsible for roughly 30% of global heating.

China has pledged to start reducing coal consumption, but not until 2026, and new coal power project approvals have accelerated since last year.

China continues to justify its use of coal as an economic security issue. Meanwhile, the US is the top oil and gas producer in the world and its fossil fuel exports have boomed,

As Reuters explains, China’s rapid growth and increasing emissions have led many – including the European Union – to argue that China should also be contributing aid, Reuters reports. Earlier this month, US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said contributions from Beijing could boost UN climate funds.

Beijing has rejected these calls, and refers to its classification as a “developing country” under the 1992 deal. It has resisted suggestions that those classifications be revisited, accusing the West of attempting to skirt its historical responsibility for climate change.

It has, however, signalled a willingness to offer climate finance to developing countries through different instruments, like a South-South Climate Cooperation fund it launched in 2015. That fund, however, has only delivered 10% of the $3.1bn pledged, according to think tank E3G.

John Kerry, speaking in Beijing before a meeting with China’s top diplomat, Wang Yi, says, “Biden looks forward to being able to move forward and change the dynamics,” Reuters reports.

Earlier this month, meanwhile, the US and China began to discuss the issue of climate finance, which wealthier countries provide to poorer nations for the clean energy transition and climate adaptation, as an area of potential cooperation.

This arrangement, first agreed at UN climate talks in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, is based on the idea that rich countries have a greater responsibility to tackle climate change because they contributed the bulk of climate-warming emissions to the atmosphere since the industrial revolution.

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