Op-ed: A hell of a summer or hell in a summer?

October 4, 2022
1-2 minutes

Probably just a glimpse of our future.

Climate change so far seemed a long-term potential threat with no concrete consequences on our current daily life.

Summer 2022 altered that. Climate change is already putting people and assets at risk. It is transforming the way we live, work and eat.

The 2015 Paris Agreement targeted to limit global warming to a maximum of 2°C (preferably 1.5) compared to pre-industrial levels. Just a few years later we reached a level of 1.2°C.33 – 206,000 – 5 – 9.7 – 750,000 are the figures that keep me awake at night.

  • 33 like the number of heat-wave days in France this summer
  • 206,000 like the number of lightning strikes
  • 5 like the average temperature increase of the Mediterranean sea during the same period
  • 7 like the cumulated rainfall in mm in France in July (down 85% vs average)
  • 750,000 like the number of hectares in Europe consumed by wildfires this year (as of September 3rd)

Climate change is not about 1.5°C on top of every day’s temperature. Unconsciously, the figure (1.5) seems ridiculous, weak, anecdotal, and negligible. Yet it is what separates our current (or past) climate, suitable for our prosperity, from a state that is much more hostile to our comfort or even survival.

This figure constitutes an average of many days of scorching heat between a few “normal” days, with larger numbers of storms and their destructive wind gusts and falling hail. This alone should scare all of us.

These weather changes bring dangerous consequences which can seem diametrically opposed: not enough or too much water.

The first is drought. River and groundwater levels were at their lowest. You could sometimes walk across river beds, fishes were dying. Restrictions were imposed.

When the storm hit, heavy rains finally dropped, sometimes totalling 30 to 50 mm in an hour. Near Montpellier in early September, a storm brings 84 mm of rain within an hour, that’s around 15% of the precipitation in a given year. All in an hour. Flooding followed closely behind.

In turn, these two initial consequences lead to repercussions of their own such as people evacuations, properties destroyed or damaged, limited water supply, wildfires, lower agricultural yields… Lives are lost, assets are lost, and billions of euros are lost.

As meteorologists, we can measure, can predict weather long-term or short-term, can warn populations of upcoming severe events. But we can’t act alone on mitigating climate change. We need all to act with us.

A lot of governments and companies made pledges to become net zero by 2050. Looking back at the weather conditions this summer, what will it be like in 28-year time with 4 or 5°C more? What will be left? How much irreversible damage will have been caused?

Pledging is nice but acting NOW is crucial.

Sources: Meteo France, Copernicus, EFFIS