Editor’s Note: This is the web version of our subscriber-only weekly newsletter, Europe Decoder, which includes a look at the week’s top stories and best reads from and about Europe. Subscribe to receive it by email every Thursday. If you’re already a subscriber, adjust your newsletter settings to receive it directly to your email inbox. PALERMO, Italy—The temperature reached a record-high 48 degrees C, or 116 degrees F, yesterday in Sicily, where the sunny skies have at times been obscured by haze from nearby wildfires from which hundreds of people have been rescued in the past two weeks. This week, another African anticyclone has arrived, trapping hot air in a bubble around Sicily and the Tunisian coast. It’s the fourth intense heat wave Italy has experienced this summer, with this latest one occurring close to the Ferragosto holiday held every Aug. 15, when many Italians head to the southern beaches. It comes on the heels of this summer’s torrential rain, unseasonable cold and once-in-a-century floods in northwest Europe.
These extreme conditions may just be the new global reality we have to get used to as we face the already visible consequences of climate change. That’s the takeaway of this week’s updated report from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC, on the state of climate science, which concludes that human activity is causing the earth’s climate to change at an “unprecedented” pace and scale. Some of these changes, such as continued sea-level rise, are already irreversible. Global surface temperature is already about 1.1 degree C higher on average today than it was during the 50-year period of 1850-1900. “Unless there are immediate, rapid and large-scale reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, limiting warming to close to 1.5°C or even 2°C will be beyond reach,” said the IPCC.
The report makes for depressing reading, but climate campaigners remain undeterred, hoping that it will serve as a wake-up call to citizens and politicians that the time to avert catastrophic changes to the earth’s climate is now or never. Europe’s politicians, perhaps because of the recent extreme weather events here, have reacted with a greater sense of urgency than in other parts of the world, like the United States, where parts of Southern California are also experiencing wildfires and the Pacific Northwest recently experienced a historic heat wave.