When the Alps broke into a cold sweat

The UK’s Met Office remarked that such extremes of temperature will now be a mainstay of life in the country, which was ill-prepared to mitigate such a phenomenon.
People cover themselves from the sun at Millennium Bridge during a heatwave in London
People cover themselves from the sun at Millennium Bridge during a heatwave in London Reuters

Last week, Europe had a rude awakening as unprecedented heatwaves swept through the continent, leaving a trail of death and destruction. Britain shattered a record in terms of the highest temperature ever registered, with a provincial reading of 40.3°C at Coningsby in eastern England. Prior to this, the highest temperature recorded in the nation was in 2019, at 38.7°C. The UK’s Met Office remarked that such extremes of temperature will now be a mainstay of life in the country, which was ill-prepared to mitigate such a phenomenon. Scientists added that such temperatures were unheard of, until human-driven climate change became the norm. In the absence of corrective measures on carbon emissions, such waves could be witnessed every three years.

Britain was the latest entrant in a list of European nations ravaged by unusually hot and dry weather, that has led to wildfires in Portugal and the Balkans as well as hundreds of heat-related deaths, in Portugal and Spain. Even Paris recorded a high of 40.5°C, crossing the 40°C mark for the third time. France registered its highest reading of 42.6°C in July 2019. A glacier in the Italian Dolomites also came crashing down, crushing 10 hikers under an avalanche. The country is now suffering through its worst drought in 70 years along the Po River.

While experts have forecast that up to half of the glaciers located in the Alps could disappear by 2050, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has even more bad news in store. It predicted that we are set to witness an irreversible loss of glaciers by the end of this century. The implication of such events is significant. As per data from the Global Carbon Project and Carbon Dioxide Analysis Centre, between the years 1750 and 2017, the US and China have led the charts in cumulative carbon dioxide emissions. The USA with 399 bn tonnes contributed to 25% of global emissions, while China with 200 bn tonnes, contributed to 12.7%. The European Union (including UK as per 2017) made up for 22% of global emissions, with 353 bn tonnes of CO2 emissions. India with 48 bn tonnes (3% of global emissions) is a comparatively smaller contributor.

Thankfully, the European Environment Agency reported last year that the EU surpassed its 2020 emissions reduction target of 20%. Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in EU Member States were 31% lower in 2020 as compared to 1990 figures, which exceeds the EU’s climate target by 11 percentage points. In April this year, as per a new law agreed by member states and the EU parliament, the bloc will reduce its carbon emissions by 55% compared to 1990 figures. The US is aiming for net zero emissions by 2050, while India has pushed its goals to 2070, at the COP26 Summit in Glasgow last year.

And India is fully justified in opting for an extended timeline to achieve its net zero targets. Despite being the world’s fourth largest CO2 emitter after China, the US and the EU, India’s massive population implies that its emissions per capita are lower than that of other major economies globally. In 2019, India’s emissions stood at 1.9 tonnes of CO2 per head of population, as compared to the US’s 15.5 tonnes and Russia’s 12.5 tonnes for the same year.

Nations in the global south were said to be the biggest casualties of climate change. But in Europe, citizens are bearing the brunt of extreme weather events mirroring those taking place in developing economies. Such adverse weather incidents are precursors to the catastrophic future that awaits us, if we continue pretending that we live rent-free, sans accountability on Earth.

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