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A firefighter works to limit a wildfire near the town of Igo in California on July 28. Photo: AP

Japan heatwave and California wildfires: will world leaders get the message on climate change?

If the repeated dire warnings from the world’s climate scientists have not been enough, then the recent tragic events in Japan, Europe and California must convince us to finally admit we have a problem (“ Greece and California wildfires, record heat in Japan. Is there a connection?” July 29).
This extreme weather is consistent with the predictions of climate change and we must come to terms with this to galvanise action. Communities are saying no to suffering, dirty fossil fuels and air pollution, and calling on political leaders to act as they seek climate justice.

Over the past 30 years, politicians have debated and disagreed over climate change as the fossil fuel industry profited and the reality of global warming inched closer.

That reality has arrived. Global average temperatures were 1.1 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial temperatures last year. We’re no longer on the edge of climate change, but are living with it.

California’s five years of extreme drought from 2012-2017 made the state’s vegetation “explosively dry”, allowing the Carr wildfire to explode across vast swathes of the state’s wilderness, showing the threat of climate change in real time.
A man wipes perspiration from his head in Tokyo, as Japan suffers an “unprecedented” heatwave, on July 24. The Japanese weather agency classified the record-breaking weather as a “natural disaster”, with 65 people dead within a week, shortly after devastating floods killed hundreds. Photo: AFP

‘Alarming’ milestones reported for storms, droughts, heatwaves and ice melt

Europe has also burned. Greece is in mourning from potentially deliberately lit fires, while massive blazes have ravaged the Great Northern Forest from Sweden in the west to the Russian Far East.

While heatwaves in the northern hemisphere’s summer are being attributed to the jet stream being further north than usual, it is undeniable that global carbon dioxide emissions are driving temperatures higher and raising the risk of extreme weather.

In Japan, more than 200 people were killed in historic flooding, followed by an extreme heatwave, and then a typhoon battered the country again – all of this in July alone.
It’s time for an honest conversation about the world we face because the brutal truth is that we’re far off track from achieving the Paris agreement’s goals, as we hurtle towards a 3-degree world instead, or worse.

Heatwaves could make China’s food basket deadliest place on Earth

In October, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change will release its special report examining how we can limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. It’s message? No level of warming is safe, but we can limit the risks.

While we must stop and honour those who are suffering, we must also act to protect others. We must once more tell the world’s political leaders that the time to act is now. This is the moment of truth.

Bunny McDiarmid, executive director, Greenpeace International