MADRID – Spain is experiencing the earliest period of extreme heat in its history. Therefore, that means air conditioners are already working overtime. The need to activate cooling in homes and buildings to combat heat has increased by 84% since 1979.
The intense heat associated with the climate crisis is making it increasingly difficult to combat it. According to Eurostat data, the need to cool buildings in Spain to reduce high temperatures is almost twice as high as in 1979.
The daily reality is in line with European statistics.
Much of the Spanish population has been experiencing an “important warm episode” in the last few days, as Aemet puts it. It is a very unusually early and intense peak. It is much hotter than usual in the month of May when looking at historical data.
In homes or offices, temperatures should be kept between 10 and 15 degrees above average. “Extraordinarily high,” declares the Agency. What the Eurostat data show is that maintaining a “comfortable” temperature in buildings increasingly requires cooling, thus “air conditioning”, as Eurostat describes.
Cooling degree days
The criterion used is the so-called cooling degree days (cdd in English). The indicator shows how many days and degrees the average outside air temperature has been above a base temperature that is considered comfortable. That comfort is maximum warmth before the air conditioning has to be activated. Eurostat uses 21ºC as a reference.
So, because summers have become warmer due to climate change, that comfort threshold is exceeded more days per year and by more margin. This translates into an increase in cooling degree days. This results in a greater need for air conditioning (and the energy to keep it running).
In Spain, the above measure has risen from 130 cdd in 1979 to 239 in 2021. That is an increase of 84%. That increase coincides with the Aemet records, which warn that summers are longer, about five weeks longer than in 1980, and more intense. “The data is consistent with the perception that every summer is hotter,” explains the weather bureau.
Trend visible worldwide
This consolidated trend over the past four decades does not stand alone but is visible worldwide. In the European Union, the ‘heat rigor indicator’ has almost tripled: from 36 to 100 in the same 40 years.
Fewer heating degree days
On the other hand, the warming world means that heating is needed on fewer and fewer days to maintain a comfortable temperature. Therefore, there are fewer heating degree days. The winters are warmer. Is that good news? In the Arctic, the ice sheet is spreading less and melting more, changing the entire climate in the Northern Hemisphere, including Spain. The record for heat in the Arctic was broken last March.
Spain in the warning zone
Eurostat also calculates in which regions of the European Union this increase in excess heat has increased on average. The Mediterranean countries are in the warning zone and Spain is one of them.
Extremadura, Murcia, Balearic Islands and Andalucia
Among the 15 regions with the greatest increase in cooling degree days are many Spanish regions: Cyprus, Malta, Attica and the Aegean Islands – Crete (Greece), Extremadura, the Region of Murcia, the Balearic Islands, and Andalucia.
This list confirms the warnings from the Climate Panel (IPCC) report. The Mediterranean is warming 20% faster than the global average. More than 1ºC has been added in the past 35 years. This while the safety limit set in the Paris climate agreement by the end of the 21st century is “well below 2ºC” and ideally 1.5ºC.
In short, these data indicate how the population should cope with more extreme heat, either because it is more intense (with higher temperatures) or longer-lasting (several days of extreme heat behind).
Excess mortality attributed to heat
Severe heat has consequences for public health. In Spain, excess mortality attributed to higher temperatures between 2016 and 2020 averages 1,790 deaths per year, according to data from the Carlos III Institute of Health in Madrid.
Huge forest fires
In addition, other disastrous effects of global warming associated with extremely high temperatures became apparent around the Mediterranean last year. The heatwaves there from the east to the west resulted in numerous wildfires: in Turkey, Greece, Italy, and Spain large wildfires had devastating effects. In Spain, the great fire in Sierra Bermeja on the Costa del Sol was one sad example.