Greece on Sunday battled four major wildfires that forced hundreds of people to evacuate as soaring temperatures there and in Spain raised fears of more fires.
Meanwhile, the United States was sweltering in a scorching heat wave that topped already-record temperatures, exacerbating an uncontrollable wildfire in central California.
Scientists say human-induced climate change is exacerbating extreme weather events, including heatwaves, droughts and floods, seen in several parts of the planet in recent weeks, and say these events will become more frequent and intense.
The international community has agreed that climate change is an existential threat to human systems and the natural world.
Earth’s average temperature has risen by just over 1.1 degrees Celsius since the start of the industrial age, and the United Nations says it could currently rise by about 2.7 degrees Celsius this century.
Greece is in the grip of a heat wave that started on Saturday and is expected to last 10 days. In some regions, temperatures are expected to rise to 42 degrees Celsius.
Fires raged in the north, east and south of the country, including on the tourist island of Lesbos, where about 200 people were ordered to leave the village of Vryssa on Sunday to escape the flames.
Danger to people and wildlife
Elderly women left the village carrying some belongings in plastic bags as thick smoke enveloped the first houses.
On Saturday, residents and tourists were ordered to leave the coastal village of Vatera.
In the northeastern region of Evros, hundreds of firefighters battled a wildfire that has been raging for four days in the Dadia National Park, famous for its black vulture colony.
Eros Governor Dimitris Petrovic told the Athens news agency that the authorities are doing everything they can to protect local residents and help injured wildlife.
To the south, a fire in the Peloponnese caused the evacuation of three villages and a children’s summer camp, and on the island of Crete, a fire raged inside a ravine.
In Spain, a two-week heat wave was expected to bring a record high temperature of 45°C to the southern region of Córdoba.
This part of Andalusia recorded the highest temperature in Spain last year alone, at 47.7°C.
The National Weather Bureau said the unrelenting heat wave since July 9 and the lack of rain since the start of the year in the Iberian Peninsula mean there is an “extreme” fire risk.
Overall, fires in France, Spain and Portugal have already burned more land this year than was destroyed by flames in all of 2021. The area – about 517,881 hectares – is equivalent to the size of Trinidad and Tobago.
The World Health Organization said on Friday that the heat wave in Europe has led to “more than 1,700 unnecessary deaths … in Spain and Portugal alone.”
Wasting energy is “absurd”
In the United States, where President Joe Biden warned this week that climate change is a “clear and imminent danger”, on Friday, powder keg conditions in California set off a fire near Yosemite National Park and its giant sequoia trees.
The fire, which officials described as “explosive,” spread from 250 to 4,800 hectares within 24 hours and consumed more than 5,750 hectares by early Sunday, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said.
Evidence of global warming could be seen in other parts of the country, where 85 million people in more than a dozen states received weekend heat advisories.
A heat emergency was in effect in cities along and across the northeast coast, from Boston to Philadelphia to Washington.
In France, the government announced on Sunday that it is introducing regulations to curb energy waste that unnecessarily increase greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change.
Stores will be ordered to keep their doors closed when their air conditioners or heating are turned on or risk being fined, Energy Transition Minister Agnes Pannier-Runacher told RMC radio.
Leaving the doors open with the A/C on would result in “20% more consumption and… that’s absurd,” she said.