Red Cross/ Red Crescent Climate Centre

Human-induced climate change made last week’s dangerous heatwave in France at least five times more likely, say scientists

03/07/2019 - by the French Red Cross

(This story is an English translation of the press release from the French Red Cross issued earlier today; the WWA study itself was released yesterday Tuesday.)

The risk of a heatwave episode like last week’s in France is five times greater than before because of global warming, say researchers from the World Weather Attribution (WWA) collaboration which includes the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre.

Nearly a third of the world’s population now faces peaks of heat for at least 20 days a year, and this could rise to 70 per cent if nothing is done to limit global warming – a core theme discussed at the French Red Cross World Conference on Health and Climate Change in Cannes in April.

An exceptional and particularly intense heatwave for June affected parts of Europe last week, especially France, where in Gallargues-le-Monteux, in Gard department, an absolute temperature record since the start of measurement of 45.9°C was set on Friday.

“Every heatwave that currently occurs in Europe is made more likely and more intense by man-made climate change,” a new WWA study says.

Climate Centre Director Maarten van Aalst adds: “A temperature of 40 degrees Celsius anywhere in France – especially in June – is a shock, and what this study points out is that we must not lower our guard against this climate impact.”

‘Social links’

The health consequences of heatwaves are numerous and affect the most vulnerable first. In general they weaken people and cause or aggravate conditions such as sunstroke and dehydration, cardio-vascular and kidney disease.

Citydwellers are particularly vulnerable because of the “urban heat-island effect”, leading to higher temperatures than in the countryside.

The risks are greater for older people, children, the chronically ill, people who work outside or who live in poor housing or lack access to infrastructure and services.

Each additional degree increases the number of deaths by up to five per cent.

Jean-Christophe Combe, Director General of the French Red Cross, said: “We must adapt our health systems and strengthen social links to face the consequences of climate change,” another theme high on the agenda at the Cannes conference.

That event gathered representatives from at least 70 countries to work on concrete solutions to help people cope, adapt and increase resilience.

Prevention

Proposals put forward during a workshop on adaptation to heatwaves in urban areas included:

*Early-warning systems to help people prepare for future heatwaves
*Intensified prevention and awareness-raising for the public, particularly vulnerable elderly people and young children, and enlisting families, health workers, communities and associations to work alongside local and national government
*Re-greening of cities to help the fight against peaks of heat
*Cooling systems for city populations such as sprinklers beside roads and cooled tents.

France is beginning to implement measures like these, but they are far from being the norm in the majority of the countries of the world whose people are particularly exposed to extreme heat.

International Red Cross Red Crescent actors are working in 191 countries around the world to help people cope with the effects of climate change on health. Its 13 million volunteers are at the forefront of building the resilience of people by empowering them to adapt to face the greatest public health challenge of the 21st century.

French Red Cross volunteers last week preparing stocks of emergency drinking water for people at risk from an early summer heatwave. (Photo: Pascal Bachelet/CRF