Fires broke out across Greece last week during the country’s worst heat wave in three decades, affecting the island east of the capital, Athens, which was also struck. The devastation comes as neighboring Turkey suffers its worst ever wildfire season, with its latest reported death toll from the blazes at eight.
In Italy, firefighters battled wildfires in many regions, including Abruzzo, Sardinia and Sicily. On Monday, officials warned of increased risks of wildfires across the country due to a predicted heat wave this week. Massive fires have also been burning in Siberia, in Russia, for weeks.
In the U.S., the ongoing Dixie Fire has become California’s second-largest wildfire in history. More than 1,000 structures have been destroyed in the blaze, which continues to threaten homes and businesses as it rages.
There are 108 large fires burning across the U.S., according to the National Interagency Fire Center, and together they have burned more than 2.4 million acres in 15 states. Twelve of them are located in California, where residents are now on the way to seeing the worst fire season in the state’s history.
Many of the fires have been fueled by bone-dry gusty weather, which could become more extreme in years to come due to global warming, scientists say.
The widespread devastation comes as a damning report was released by the U.N. on Monday. The landmark study by climate researchers warned of the “unprecedented” ways human activity is changing the Earth’s climate.
The report, the sixth from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change since 1988, took eight years to conduct and publish. It represents the fullest knowledge of how the Earth’s climate has changed and how that change will continue.
One of the lead authors of the report, Richard Allan, a professor of climate science at the University of Reading, told Yahoo News that wildfires and other extreme weather events could become more intense if global warming is not tackled effectively.
“These events are caused by the weather. The weather generates heat waves, heavy rain and associated flooding or wildfire weather conditions,” Allan explained. “But when these ingredients come together in a warmer world, they will be more intense or more severe than they would otherwise be.”
“It’s not really a matter of there’ll be more [extreme weather] events,” he said. “It's just the events that we do see will be more severe.”
“The most extreme events we see today will be kind of elevated to unprecedented events in the future,” Allan added.
Climate experts say that if the Earth continues to heat up at the current rate, life could be devastating for many communities.
The U.N. report assesses different pathways and scenarios for the future. If the world follows the scenario of very low greenhouse gas emissions, it’s plausible that warming of greater than 1.5 or 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial temperatures can be avoided, according to the assessment.
But if that scenario — which involves very drastic, rapid and sustained cuts in carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, enforced by governments and businesses — is not followed, the world could be heading toward being 3 degrees Celsius warmer by 2100, the report argues.
In all cases, extreme events that cause flooding, wildfires and droughts are likely to become more intense.
“We’re able to live with the current warming, but as is evident by extremes all over the world ... recent wildfires in the USA, in Southern Europe, the extreme rainfall and flooding we've seen across parts of Europe and China ... we’re living with this already, and it’s killing people, it’s causing damage,” Allan explained.
“It’s obviously not ideal that we have to adapt to these changes in a 1.5 degrees C warmer or 2 degrees C warmer world,” Allan said, “[but] inevitably there’ll be aspects that we’ll have to adapt to change the way we live so that we become less vulnerable.”
The report was described as “a code red for humanity” by U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres. Allan said that he wouldn’t use those specific words to describe the paper, but that it does show a “stark warning” for humans.
“Without rapid, strong and sustained cuts in carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, we’re heading into a world where it will be not pleasant for many, particularly the vulnerable, to live. ... So in that sense it is a stark warning; it is a dire prediction,” Allan said.
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