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June Breaks Heat Records Across the World

While a heat dome phenomenon is to blame for recent record temperatures, the frequency of such events is likely to increase as global heating intensifies.

By , the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy.
People rest at the Oregon Convention Center cooling station in Portland as a heat wave moves over much of the United States.
People rest at the Oregon Convention Center cooling station in Portland on June 28, as a heat wave moves over much of the United States. Kathryn Elsesser/AFP

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Record global temperature highs mark the month of June, former South African President Jacob Zuma is sentenced to prison, and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front continues its resurgence. 

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Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Record global temperature highs mark the month of June, former South African President Jacob Zuma is sentenced to prison, and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front continues its resurgence. 

If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here.

Extreme Heat Bakes Northern Hemisphere

As June comes to a close, countries across the Northern Hemisphere have just experienced their hottest days ever recorded, and the historically hotter month of July is still to come.

For North America, it took until this week for the heat to take hold. In Seattle and Portland, usually temperate cities in America’s northwest, temperatures spiked to 108 and 116 degrees Fahrenheit, respectively, breaking records both cities had set in 2009.

Further north, the village of Lytton in British Columbia set a Canadian record—117 degrees Fahrenheit—as the highpoint increased over three consecutive days, matching an all-time high set in the desert city of Las Vegas roughly 1,300 miles to the south. In Vancouver, dozens of people are feared to have died from the extreme heat in recent days.

In Europe and the Middle East, June has also been a time of extreme heat. Sweihan, a town in the United Arab Emirates, posted a national June record of 125.2 degrees Fahrenheit as the region endured a historically intense heat wave, compared with normal June levels. Meanwhile, cities across Eastern Europe joined Moscow and St. Petersburg in setting record-high June temperatures.

Wildfire risks. The heat raises immediate worries in the United States of more wildfires this season—to add to the 48 already raging—and an even worse drought, already labeled “exceptional,” the highest designation, in much of the western United States. Wary of another devastating wildfire season, U.S. President Joe Biden convenes western state governors to discuss preparation and response at the White House Wednesday.

AC droughts. The record heat also highlights how ill-prepared some countries are to survive the extreme heat that climate change will bring in the years to come. Take air-conditioning units, an uncommon sight in many northern European countries as well as (traditionally) colder U.S. states. The International Energy Agency projects the amount of air-conditioning units to balloon in the next 30 years, going from 1.6 billion units today to 5.6 billion—posing problems for zero-carbon initiatives if new demand is not taken into account.

Hotter and hotter. While the unseasonably warm temperatures may be written off as a relatively rare “heat dome” phenomenon, the fact of a rapidly heating world is harder to wave away; 2020 was the world’s hottest year on record, just beating out a record set in 2016, according to NASA calculations, while the past seven years have been the hottest since record keeping began in the late 19th century.

Writing in the New York Times, Michael E. Mann and Susan Joy Hassol effectively tie the recent heat to human-induced climate change and the greater frequency of extreme weather events it has spawned. “It no longer makes sense to talk about a once-in-a-century or once-in-a-millennium event as if we’re just rolling an ordinary pair of dice, because we’ve loaded the dice through fossil fuel burning and other human activities that generate carbon pollution and warm the planet,” they write. “It’s as if snake eyes, which should occur randomly only once every 36 times you roll a pair of dice, were coming up once every four times.”

What We’re Following Today

Tigray rebels advance. The Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) continued its advance in the region following its seizure of Tigray’s capital of Mekele, entering the town of Shire near the Eritrean border on Tuesday. A TPLF spokesman told Reuters that troops would “continue until every square inch of territory is cleared from the enemy,” adding that TPLF forces would cross into Eritrean territory if necessary. The Ethiopian government has yet to speak publicly since it declared a unilateral cease-fire in Tigray shortly after TPLF troops took Mekele on Monday.

Zuma sentenced to prison. On Tuesday, former South African President Jacob Zuma was sentenced to 15 months in prison by the country’s highest court for contempt after he defied a court order in February by refusing to appear before a commission investigating allegations of corruption during his time in office from 2009 to 2018.

Zuma has denied those allegations, even as some former cabinet and government officials have testified against him. This marks the first time in the country’s history that a former president has been sentenced to prison.

“No person is above the law … whatever his rank or condition,” said Justice Sisi Khampepe in delivering his ruling. “An act of defiance in respect of a direct judicial order has the potential to precipitate a constitutional crisis.”

Kim Jong Un’s shake-up. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un accused officials of causing a “great crisis” in the country’s COVID-19 response that would lead to “grave consequences,” North Korean state media reported on Wednesday, a rare acknowledgement of the pandemic as North Korea officially claims to be free of the virus. State media said several party members had been replaced over the unspecified incident, including one of its powerful five-member politburo standing committee known as the Presidium. The publication of Kim’s remarks comes soon after the leader admitted to a “tense” food situation in the country.

Keep an Eye On

Indonesia’s epidemic. The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies chief representative in Indonesia has warned of an impending “COVID-19 catastrophe” as the country reported a record number of daily infections in recent days. The price of oxygen tanks in the capital, Jakarta, has nearly tripled, Reuters reports, as several hospitals in the city reach capacity limits. Roughly 13.3 million Indonesians have been fully vaccinated so far, and the government has targeted another 172.2 million for vaccination by January 2022.

Somalia’s election. Somalia will hold an indirect presidential election in October, as the country seeks to end a constitutional crisis sparked after Somalia’s states failed to agree on an election method before President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed’s term ended in February. If all goes according to schedule, the presidential election will follow the selection of upper house members on July 25 and a special selection of lower house members between Aug. 10 and Sept. 10. Members from both houses will then vote on a new president on Oct. 10.

Odds and Ends

Scientists in Germany have identified the earliest known plague victim—a 5,000-year-old hunter-gatherer—after analyzing the DNA of bone fragments. Screenings revealed that the man, whose remains were found on the banks of the Salaca River in Latvia, may have carried the disease for some time and may have been less infectious than those carrying strains that came in the centuries after his death. The discovery rekindles a debate over what caused a rapid decline in the population of Neolithic settlers in Western Europe, which allowed for an increased migration of humans from the east.

Colm Quinn is the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @colmfquinn

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