by Maria Spiliopoulou
ATHENS, July 24 (Xinhua) -- Greece has experienced intense heatwaves in recent years, which were far less common in preceding centuries, prompting scientists here to call for immediate and decisive action to tackle the unfolding climate crisis.
Greece experienced its first heatwave this summer as early as in June, and this previously rare phenomenon may become the new normal, experts warned.
Heatwaves in June have occurred more frequently since 2007 (in 2010, 2016 and 2017), according to recent research conducted by the Institute for Environmental Research and Sustainable Development (IERSD) of the National Observatory of Athens. In the 20th century, an early heatwave in June was recorded in 1916.
"Based on the measurements taken at the Thissio meteorological station, which is the oldest not only in Greece but also in the southeastern Mediterranean (active since 1846), we see that since the beginning of the 20th century we have an extension of the warm period with heatwaves by 3-5 days per decade," Nikos Michalopoulos, the IERSD's director and one of the study's authors, told Xinhua in a recent interview.
Heatwaves, which usually occur in July and August in Greece, now arrive earlier and leave later, around late September, increasing the risk of destructive wildfires and posing a threat to human health, the expert noted.
"Over the past 40-50 years, they have almost tripled compared to the beginning of the previous century," he said.
Scientists find it alarming that the average temperature is higher during the night, which means that people cannot shed the thermal stress accumulated during the day and rest, Michalopoulos explained.
Between 1975 and 2015, Athens registered 60 more hot nights, when the minimum temperature did not drop below 26 degrees Celsius, according to the study.
Greece, just like the Earth, is faced with a climate crisis, which requires immediate and effective action as the predictions for the future are dire, Michalopoulos said.
"(If) we continue with the so-called business as usual scenario (regarding the emissions of man-made greenhouse gases) ... by the end of the century the average temperature in Greece, in our region, may increase by more than 6 degrees Celsius. We are talking about a huge change. We have never had such a change since records began. It will essentially be a catastrophic scenario," he stressed.
The environmental, human and economic costs of such a climate crisis are already enormous. Michalopoulos pointed to the recent deadly extreme weather phenomena that have hit Europe. The World Meteorological Organization has found that the associated financial costs have been growing exponentially in the past few decades, he said.
A study conducted by the Central Bank of Greece estimated that climate change would cost the Greek economy around 700 billion euros (823.4 billion U.S. dollars) by 2100 if adequate policies are not implemented.
"We know what we need to do to avert a catastrophe," the expert noted. Mankind must meet the targets of the historic 2015 Paris Agreement and keep the average global temperature increase well below 2 degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels.
In the Mediterranean, the increase has already reached 1.5 degrees Celsius, he told Xinhua.
"We must reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to the new standards of this climate emergency by changing processes, practices and structures to minimize the potential damages," Michalopoulos said.
"We must manage this climate crisis, which is mainly due to human activities and intervention in the environment," commented Efthymios Lekkas, professor of dynamic tectonic applied geology and disaster management at the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens.
Lekkas, who is also the president of Greece's Earthquake Planning and Protection Organization (EPPO), called for global measures to minimize human impact on the environment.
Taking action "is feasible mainly through our own individual practice. We must reduce our footprint on the environment, refrain from using forms of energy that burden the environment, reduce energy use at every level, reduce waste, and reduce the use of plastics," the professor argued. (1 euro = 1.18 U.S. dollars)