United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Thursday pleaded for immediate radical action on climate change, saying that record-shattering July temperatures show Earth has passed from a warming phase into an “era of global boiling”.
A blistering heatwave is sweeping the northern hemisphere, including parts of Europe and the Americas, with record-high temperatures triggering devastating wildfires in countries such as Greece, Italy and Algeria along the Mediterranean.
“For the entire planet, it is a disaster,” he said, noting that “short of a mini-Ice Age over the next days, July 2023 will shatter records across the board.”
“Climate change is here. It is terrifying. And it is just the beginning. The era of global warming has ended; the era of global boiling has arrived.”
According to ERA5 data from the European Union-funded Copernicus Climate Change Service, the first three weeks of July have been the warmest three-week period on record and the month is on track to be the hottest July and the hottest month on record.
Complete ERA5 data for July will be available and published on August 8.
The previous hottest month on record was July 2019.
With large swathes of the United States facing a record-breaking heatwave, President Joe Biden on Thursday called the soaring temperatures from climate change an “existential threat”.
“I don’t think anybody can deny the impact of climate change anymore,” he said at the White House.
Biden, who said heat was the “number one weather-related killer” in the US, causing 600 deaths every year, announced moves to bolster heat-related safety rules for workers, especially those labouring outdoors.
The extreme impacts of climate change have been in line with scientists’ “predictions and repeated warnings”, Guterres said, adding that the “only surprise is the speed of the change”.
In the face of “tragic” consequences, he repeated his call for swift and far-reaching action, taking aim once again at the fossil fuel sector.
“The air is unbreathable. The heat is unbearable. And the level of fossil fuel profits and climate inaction is unacceptable,” said Guterres, Portugal’s former prime minister.
“Leaders must lead,” he said. “No more hesitancy. No more excuses. No more waiting for others to move first.”
Ahead of the Climate Ambition Summit he is set to host in September, Guterres called on developed countries to commit to achieving carbon neutrality as close to 2040 as possible, and for emerging economies as close as possible to 2050.
The “destruction” unleashed by humanity “must not inspire despair, but action”, he said, warning that to prevent the worst outcomes humanity “must turn a year of burning heat into a year of burning ambition”.
Extreme weather throughout July has caused havoc across the world, with temperatures breaking records in China, the United States and Southern Europe, sparking forest fires, water shortages and a rise in heat-related illnesses and hospitalisations.
On the Italian island of Sicily, two people were found dead on Tuesday in a home burned by a wildfire that temporarily shut down Palermo’s international airport, according to Italian news reports.
At least 34 people died in Algeria and thousands were evacuated in parts of Europe due to the intense heatwave that has spread through large areas of the Mediterranean and other regions.
In Greece, the fires burning on the island of Rhodes for the past week have forced authorities to carry out the largest evacuation ever undertaken in the country, with more than 20,000 people forced to leave homes and hotels.
Speaking in New York, Guterres described the intense heat across the northern hemisphere as a “cruel summer”.