On Friday, thousands of people were evacuated from their homes in Portugal, Spain and France as firefighters battle heatwave-induced wildfires.
At the moment, heatwaves are ripping through parts of Europe and Africa, temperatures eclipsing 45 degrees Celsius (113 degrees Fahrenheit). Already this week, the UK government issued the first-ever national emergency red alert for extreme heat expected Monday and Tuesday.
As Europe faces extreme wildfires and scorching heat, the cause of the extreme weather is clear — climate change.
Wildfires sweep through Europe
Intense wildfires have led to the evacuation of thousands of residents in France, Spain and Portugal on Friday.
Since Tuesday, more than 1,000 firefighters have battled to control two wildfires in southwestern France which has been provoked by extreme heat and strong winds.
Authorities in the Gironde Department — an area where one of the two wildfires is still ablaze — mentioned the Gironde fire was around the town of Landiras and has already burned 4,200 hectares (10378.426 acres). Already, 1,000 residents have been evacuated from areas around and in Landiras.
The second fire, along the Atlantic Coast close to “Dune Pu Pilat”, has so far burned 3,100 hectares (7660.367 acres) and led to the evacuation of 6,000 people on Wednesday and 4,000 people the following day.
In Spain, the Environmental Ministry announced it was currently tackling 17 wildfires across the country.
The wildfire in Extremadura — one of the areas facing severe wildfires — has already scorched 4,000 hectares of land (9884.215 acres).
In Portugal, by Thursday 28 wildfires were registered on the ground and 2,000 active firefighters — the most out of all of Europe.
— Warren Williams (@WarrenGWilliams) July 13, 2022
Already, one person has died in Portugal and at least 135 people have suffered from minor injuries caused by the wildfires. Since Sunday, a “state of contingency” has been in effect and about 800 people were evacuated from their homes.
Yet this isn’t the first time Portugal has experienced life-threatening wildfires. Five years ago, a devastating wildlife swept through the central municipality of Pedrógão Grande killing 66 people, leaving hundreds injured and burning 30,000 hectares of forest (74131.614 acres).
Despite the latest wildfires threatening Portugal, President of Portugal Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa has claimed significant fire improvements have been made in the past five years.
Heatwaves plague large swathes of Europe
Alongside wildfires, Europe faces another pressing issue at the moment — extreme heat waves.
As of Friday, the UK government issued their first ever national emergency red alert for extreme temperatures predicted to hit Monday and Tuesday.
The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) increased the “heat health warning” to level 4 for next week — the highest possible warning declaring the heat as a “national emergency”.
Temperatures are supposed to hit 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) on Monday and 38 degrees Celsius on Tuesday (102 degrees Fahrenheit).
Meanwhile, in Italy heat waves and drought have led to Italy’s longest river, the Po, to dry up significantly — a river which provides for about a third of the country’s agricultural production.
Italy is currently facing its hottest July since the 1800s. In June, 125 towns in the Po valley had to ration water, an unheard-of event, the result of the most severe drought in 70 years. In describing the current heat wave, Italian meteorologists are talking of the “fourth heat wave” of the summer.
The river Po in Italyhttps://t.co/Wi1qvo8kej
— The Eco Eye Team (@EcoEye) July 12, 2022
Extreme heat is also spurring wildfires across the continent.
In Extremadura, Spain temperatures reached 45 degrees Celsius (113 degrees Fahrenheit) on Thursday alongside a wildfire which consumed 4,000 hectares of land (9884.215 acres).
For the past several years, Spain has been frequently hit with extreme heat waves. Back in 2016, Spain saw four heatwaves, a trend which has continued for the past six years: five in 2017, one in 2018, three in both 2019 and 2020 and two in 2021. Now, what is considered Spain’s second heatwave of the summer, meteorologists predict the current heatwave may not be the last one of the year.
Extreme heat in Portugal has also led to temperatures in 13 regions reaching high heat — temperatures in the town of Pinhao Thursday hitting 47 degrees Celsius (116.6 degrees Fahrenheit).
High temperatures are threatening food production
Since June, heat waves have threatened crop growth in several European countries particularly France, Spain and Italy.
In June, temperatures in France had already risen to 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit). Due to an exceptionally early heatwave, the combination of extreme heat and unpredictable rainfall further stressed wheat crop production after a dry spring — France being Europe’s biggest grain producer.
France’s predicted soft wheat crop yield is projected to drop 7% to 32.9 million tons this year, coming below the five-year average. Italy is expected to lose 13% of its wheat while Britain is supposed to be down by 12%.
The EU’s wheat exports were expected to surge this year as buyers seek alternatives to Ukrainian wheat, yet an early spring heatwave and now a mid-summer heatwave will significantly affect wheat exports.
Maize is also expected to take a hit from the sweltering heat, particularly in Portugal, Spain, France and Italy.
The Italian agricultural producers association Coldiretti estimated maize production in Italy will fall by 30% this year. In Spain, maize production could fall by 16%.
The impact of a maize shortfall will significantly impact livestock — maize mainly used to feed livestock — if the dry spell seen across the continent continues to be severe.
A report from the Worldwatch Institute in Washington, in cooperation with the UN Environment Programme, found intense weather in the past several years has had devastating effects on global agriculture. According to the report, last year was the third time in four years global wheat, rice and maize failed to meet demand.
Italy, in particular, is on the brink of a food crisis, especially as the country’s worst drought in 70 years plagues on and the Po river — Italy’s water resource for agricultural means — continues to dry up. The lethal combination is causing a major setback in crop production.
Market research firm Mintec estimated that production of olive oil in Italy could be down 20% to 30% from last year.
Spain is also seeing a similar oil pitfall to Italy, which could have a major impact on the global food market, sending prices for olive oil soaring — alongside the already looming food crisis caused by the Ukraine-Russia War.
According to Mintec, prices for extra virgin olive oil in Italy have already risen 30% higher than they were two years ago. Prices for high-quality tomatoes and rice could also increase 50% due to the lack of water.
Heatwaves have led to health concerns
The heatwave crisis is not only an environmental and economic concern but a health hazard.
On Thursday, Portuguese Health Minister Marta Temido announced the health system faced a “particularly worrying” week because of the heatwaves which has led to hospitals being overwhelmed with patients.
Between July 7 to July 13, Portugal had 238 deaths related to heatwaves. According to the National Epidemiology Centre’s database, Spain also experienced 84 deaths from extreme heat in the first three days of the heatwave.
In the UK, similar health concerns are being seen. Their latest red alert declared for the beginning of next week warns that level 4 is “reached when a heatwave is so severe and/or prolonged that its effects extend outside the health and social care system. At this level, illness and death may occur among the fit and healthy, and not just in high-risk groups.”
The damage done from the string of heatwaves and wildfires across Europe is still uncertain as the continent continues to face the extreme outcomes of such events. Yet what is becoming ever so certain is countries who have typically not felt the onslaught of climate change weather can no longer hide anymore.
Countries across Europe every year are increasingly experiencing hotter temperatures and more dangerous wildfires — weather unseen a decade ago.
Climate scientists mention the latest temperatures of 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) and hotter were predicted in the UK’s latest climate change modeling — something which will put pressure on the next Prime Minister to cut carbon emissions and focus on climate policies.
Yet pressure is something that Europe is not all that foreign to at the moment as countries in the European Union have been eager to make the switch to cleaner energy as Russia’s invasion into Ukraine has led to cuts of Russian natural gas and oil exports.
The extreme heat and catastrophic wildfires are just another reason Europe needs to focus on accomplishing one of their most important climate agendas — cutting emissions and switching to cleaner energy.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed here by Impakter.com columnists are their own, not those of Impakter.com. — In the Featured Photo: A wildfire in Portugal on September 3, 2012. Source: Brian Johnson and Dane Kantner, Flickr.