Climate change: Europe grapples with heatwaves and fires, record temperatures scorch China

Rome/Beijing: Italy has put 23 cities on red alert as temperatures soared to 46 Celsius (114 Fahrenheit) on Wednesday, one of the global hotspots hit by extreme heat, wildfires and flooding havoc from the United States to China. Heatwaves have broken records in southern Europe during the peak summer tourist season, hitting records in Rome and prompting warnings about an increased risk of deaths.

The Lazio region centered on Rome said it had seen a 20% increase in medical emergencies compared to the same time last year due to the heat.

Wildfires burned west of the Greek capital Athens for a third day and firefighters worked through the night to keep the flames away from coastal refineries.

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Fanned by erratic winds, the blaze burned dozens of homes, forced hundreds of people to flee, and enveloped the area in thick smoke. Forecasters said temperatures could reach 43C on Thursday.

In China, which is hosting US climate envoy John Kerry for talks, tourists defied the heat and visited a giant thermometer showing a surface temperature of 80C.

In Beijing, which set a new record for a 28th consecutive day with temperatures above 35C, Kerry expressed hope that cooperation to combat global warming could redefine the troubled relationship between the two superpowers.

The global pattern of heatwaves that have scorched parts of Europe, Asia and the United States this week has turned that challenge into sharp relief.

Temperatures remained high across much of Italy on Wednesday, with temperatures of 45-46C expected on the Mediterranean island of Sardinia.

The health ministry said it would activate an information hotline and teams of mobile health workers visited the elderly in Rome.

“These people are afraid they won’t make it, they’re afraid they can’t go out,” said Claudio Consoli, a doctor and director of a health unit.

Car maker Stellantis (STLAM.MI) said it was monitoring the situation at its Pomigliano plant near Naples on Wednesday, a day before work on a production line was temporarily halted when temperatures peaked.

Workers at battery maker Magneti Marelli threatened an 8-hour strike at its central Italian plant in Sulmona. A joint statement by the unions said the “suffocating heat is putting the lives of workers at risk”.

While the heat appears to be winding down in Spain, residents of Greece have been left surveying the wreckage of their homes in the aftermath of wildfires.

Abram Paroutsidis, 65, said, “Everything was burned, everything. I’d throw everything away.”

Not everyone went voluntarily. Greek police footage shows officers pleading with a reluctant group of nuns to vacate a convent.

Scientists have long warned that climate change, caused primarily by greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels, will make heatwaves more frequent, severe and deadly.

In Germany, the heatwave has sparked an unexpected discussion about whether workplaces should introduce rest breaks for workers.

El Corte Inglés, one of Spain’s biggest department store chains, said sales of air-conditioning units have boomed, as has interest in cooling pads for pets.

“The current extreme heat is mainly due to a slow-moving anticyclone, a high-pressure system, that dominates the upper atmosphere over southern Europe,” explained Florian Pappenberger, director of forecasting at the ECMWF.

“Although the current heatwave is expected to last until approximately July 26, another period of extreme temperatures could occur if the heat dome continues.”

Heat and floods in Asia

In South Korea, it has been raining heavily in the central and southern regions since last week. Fourteen deaths occurred at an underpass in the city of Cheongju, where more than a dozen vehicles were trapped when a river embankment collapsed on Saturday. Twenty-two people died in the southeastern province of North Gyeongsang, many of them killed by landslides and heavy rains.

Flash floods, landslides and heavy rain-related accidents have killed over 100 people since the start of the monsoon season on June 1 in northern India, where rainfall is 41% above average.

For the first time in 45 years, the Yamuna river reached the compound walls of the Taj Mahal in Agra, submerging several other historical monuments and flooding parts of the Indian capital.

The Brahmaputra River flowing through India’s Assam state burst its banks this month, leaving nearly half of Kaziranga National Park – home to the rare one-horned rhinoceros – in waist-deep water.

At least 11 construction workers were killed when a wall collapsed due to monsoon rains in neighboring Pakistan.

In China’s western Xinjiang province, tourists with wide-brimmed hats and umbrellas took selfies by a giant thermometer that displayed a surface temperature of 80C (176 Fahrenheit) in real time.

Every summer, people flock to the Fiery Mountains on the northern edge of Xinjiang’s Tarpan Depression to view the corrugated slopes of brownish-red sandstone and to take in the super-charged heat radiating from the ground.

In recent days, temperatures have broken records in Xinjiang and other parts of Asia, as well as in Europe and the United States.

On Sunday, a remote township in the Turpan Depression recorded a maximum air temperature of 52.2C, breaking China’s national record of 50.3C in 2015, also in the basin.

Iraq’s southern Basra governorate, home to about four million people, said government work would be suspended on Thursday as temperatures reached 50C. Farmers in Iraq’s northern city of Mosul said crops were failing due to heat and drought.

The return of an El Niño weather pattern to the tropical Pacific for the first time in seven years is expected to trigger extreme heatwaves in parts of the world, which is expected to raise temperatures.

The unprecedented temperatures have raised new urgency for countries around the world to tackle climate change. Amid differences between the world’s two biggest economies on issues ranging from trade to Taiwan, Kerry told Chinese Vice President Han Zheng on Wednesday that wider diplomatic problems ranging from climate change should be dealt with separately.

“This is a universal threat to everyone on the planet and the world’s biggest countries, the world’s biggest economies, the world’s biggest emitters need to come together to act not only for themselves, but for everyone. Mankind,” Kerry said to Han.

Reporting by Crispian Balmer, Giselda Vagnoni, Renée Maltezou, Emma Pinedo, Inti Landauro, Corina Ponce, Ryan Wu, Valerie Vucovici, Sakshi Dayal, Hyeonhee Shin, Sarah Marsh, Gavin Jones, Timor Azhari, Khaled El-Mousili, Kate Abnett; Written by John Geddie and Mathias Williams; Editing by Stephen Coates and Janet Lawrence

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