38°C Siberian Heatwave - Why We Need to Reduce Our Carbon Emissions

Temperatures in Siberia have been well above average since the start of the year. A new record temperature for the Arctic, 38°C, was recorded in the Russian town of Verkhoyansk on 20 June, while Siberia’s overall temperatures were more than 5°C above average from January to June, reports the Met Office

To measure the effect of climate change on these high temperatures, scientists used computer simulations to compare the climate as it is today, with about 1°C of global warming, with the climate as it would have been without human influence. 

They found that prolonged heat like Siberia experienced from January to June this year would only happen less than once in every 80,000 years without human help.  Greenhouse gas emissions have been shown to be responsible for the huge temperature increase. 

The scientists warn that greenhouse gas emissions must be drastically cut. The UK has a programme to reduce that.

The heat in Siberia has triggered widespread fires, 1.15 million hectares was burning in late June.  56 million tonnes of carbon dioxide was released into the atmosphere. That is more than the annual emissions of some industrialised countries such as Switzerland and Norway. The permafrost melted faster. An oil tank built on the frozen soil collapsed in May, leading to one of the worst oil spills ever in the region. 

The white cap on the arctic oceans normally reflects the sun's heat. But as this melts, the seas go darker and more solar heat is absorbed. It also allows warmer water deeper down to come to the surface and so the planet warms even more.  

As the UK is almost in the Arctic Circle we need to be very keenly interested in the problems that more heat is bringing and will continue to bring.

Dr. Friederike Otto, acting director of Oxford’s Environmental Change Institute, and co-lead of the World Weather Attribution initiative: “As emissions continue to rise we need to think about building resilience to extreme heat all over the world, even in Arctic communities – which would have seemed nonsensical not very long ago.” 

Prof. Sonia Seneviratne from the Department of Environmental Systems Science at ETH Zurich (D-USYS), a lead author on several IPCC reports: “These results show that we are starting to experience extreme events which would have almost no chance of happening without a human footprint on the climate system. We have little time left to stabilize global warming at levels at which climate change would remain within the bounds of the Paris Agreement. For a stabilization at 1.5°C of global warming, which would still imply more risks of such extreme heat events, we need to reduce our CO2 emissions by at least half until 2030.” 

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