France's record-breaking heatwave 'will become norm'

Scientists say climate change means heatwaves like the one Europe has just experienced will become routine - and could get worse

The record-breaking heatwave France has just experienced is set to become a routine event, a report published this week has warned.

Human-induced global warming made last month's heat wave - which affected countries across Europe - "at least five times more likely" than in the pre-industrial era (1850-1900), according to the report's co-author, Robert Vautard, climatologist with the Centre national de la recherche scientifique and the Laboratoire des Sciences du climat et de l'environnement.

Temperatures were at least 4C higher than they would have been without climate change, the report said.

"Since 2015, there has not been a year without a major heatwave," Dr Vautard told franceinfo. "Will it continue? Yes, probably. There may be another year or two without a heatwave like this. But we will have to get used to it."

The seasonal calendar will be noticeably different by the end of the century, he said. "It is to be expected that [heatwaves] will happen not only in June to September, but also in May and October in the coming decades."

The scientists behind the study took as their reference the three warmest consecutive days in June in France - 26, 27 and 28 June, when the average combined day-and-night temperature across the entire country was 27.5°C - and compared them to the other consecutive three-hottest-day periods in June since 1901.

Dr Vautard said he was "very surprised by the magnitude" of the late June heatwave in France.

"Normally, to get such high temperatures, it is often in mid-summer with, in addition, soils that have dried up considerably and that give rise to additional heat because they are dry," he said. "But that was not the case here."

But, he added: "These figures … are about the same as those found in all previous studies on heat waves in 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015 etc. In short, this study only confirms what climatologists have been saying for years: in the near future, the heat will arrive earlier, more frequently and [will be] more intense."

France’s new record modern-day temperature of 45.9C, registered in Gallargues-le-Montueux in June 2019, was nearly two degrees above the previous high of 44.1C recorded in August 2003.

The World Meteorological Organisation has said 2019 was on track to be one of the hottest years across the planet, and that 2015-2019 would then be the hottest five-year period on record.

It said the European heatwave was “absolutely consistent” with extremes linked to the impact of greenhouse gas emissions.

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