‘How many dead will we accept?’ European floods expose failure to heed climate warnings

Living in a heatwave: How cities are being futureproofed against climate change

Wildfires currently raging in the US and Canada, stoked by an unprecedented heatwave that began in June, offer a tangible reminder that the world is getting hotter.

“On clear, sunny days, asphalt and concrete heat up as the sun hits the surface, and they slowly release the heat after sunset. This is called the Urban Heat Island effect”

Ariane Middel, urban climate expert, Arizona State University

A new analysis of the record-breaking temperatures seen in North America found they were “virtually impossible without human-caused climate change”. “Adaptation and mitigation are urgently needed to prepare societies for a very different future,” researchers from Oxford University and the Netherlands’ KNMI said.

While the most important thing we can do to prevent this is to cut carbon emissions and attempt to limit global heating, cities around the world are already taking steps to tackle extreme heat.

Here are three of the ways cities are adjusting to dramatic changes in our climate and rising temperatures…

‘How many dead will we accept?’ European floods expose failure to heed climate warnings

That’s how long climate scientists like him have been warning that devastating floods — like the ones that have killed more than 100 people, with many still unaccounted for in Germany and Belgium — would hit Europe more often as the world warms.

A local resident walks in a flooded street in Angleur, near Liege. Belgium | John Thys/AFP via Getty Images

“It’s a strange feeling,” said Ozer, one of Belgium’s leading climatologists from the University of Liège. “You talk about it for, like, a quarter of a century. And people say yeah, yeah. But nothing really happens … We just wait.”

The floods ripped through this part of Belgium and large parts of western Germany, the Netherlands and Luxembourg on Thursday.

On Friday, Ozer was chain-smoking on a park bench in Angleur — a low-lying riverbank district in his home city of Liège. Just 24 hours earlier the bench had been deep underwater; a few meters away, a car sat suspended on a concrete pillar.

“How many people dying are we going to accept?” Ozer said. “Is a tipping point not reached already?”

Ozer calculated in his head how often such a flood might have happened before humans heated the climate by more than a degree. The River Meuse was flowing through Liège at the fastest rate ever recorded. Rainfall records have been smashed across the region. And the floods were occurring in summer, which is unusual because the rivers aren’t swelled by melting snow…

Climate scientists shocked by scale of floods in Germany

The intensity and scale of the floods in Germany this week have shocked climate scientists, who did not expect records to be broken this much, over such a wide area or this soon.

After the deadly heatwave in the US and Canada, where temperatures rose above 49.6C two weeks ago, the deluge in central Europe has raised fears that human-caused climate disruption is making extreme weather even worse than predicted.

Precipitation records were smashed across a wide area of the Rhine basin on Wednesday, with devastating consequences. At least 58 people have been killed, tens of thousands of homes flooded and power supplies disrupted.

Parts of Rhineland-Palatinate and North Rhine-Westphalia were inundated with 148 litres of rain per sq metre within 48 hours in a part of Germany that usually sees about 80 litres in the whole of July…

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