THIS month has already borne witness to the hottest global temperature ever recorded.

In fact, we witnessed it twice. On July 3 the average global temperature reached 17.01 degrees Celsius – beating the previous record of 16.92 Celsius set in August 2016.

On July 4, it reached 17.17. Two records in two days.

Most people reading this can probably remember a time when climate change was warned of a distant threat – something fast-approaching but whose danger was softened by its remove from immediacy.

Now, it appears that is no longer the case. We are living through the reality scientists urged us to avoid.

What’s actually happening – and is it all down to climate change?

“This [July 4] was recorded as the hottest day measured to date for the entire earth’s surface on average,” said Professor Gabi Hegerl, personal chair of climate systems science at the University of Edinburgh.

“This is probably due to a combination of global warming which just keeps driving temperatures up, and of the evolving El Nino phenomenon which is building in the Pacific Ocean near the South American coast, and which brings warmer ocean waters to the surface (or rather, prevents the surfacing of cool waters from below).

“As the El Nino evolves, we will see globally averaged hot days and probably some local records will fall as well in the next few months. El Nino also causes risk of extreme events, but more in the tropics and the US.”

But Hegerl told The Sunday National that while the most extreme hot weather events are not going to occur in countries like Scotland, we are far from insulated from the effects of global temperature increases.

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“The hottest day so far in Scotland was recorded last year in the Borders when it reached around 34 degrees.

“As global warming evolves, we see record temperatures broken and sometimes shattered by a long shot (such as in the case of the 2021 heatwave in the Northwestern US).

“So, we better brace ourselves for some hot weather when the conditions are right – what we expect is that when conditions for a spell of warm weather set in, that same spell is hotter than it used to be.

“The risk of record breaking heat is particularly strong while CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere are rising and that is still happening.

“The more we reduce emissions from burning of oil and coal but also, to a lesser extent, from human land use change, the less the risk of surprisingly hot weather.”

The Climate Emergency 

Of course, the need for governments to act in order to prevent the worst impacts of climate change is, by and large, a reality accepted by politicians of all stripes.

In 2019, Nicola Sturgeon was one of the first world leaders to declare a climate emergency.

The Scottish Government then proceeded to set some of the world’s most ambitious climate targets – including a goal to cut emissions by 75% by 2030.

The latest figures show that the country is already more than halfway to net-zero, with emissions down by 58.7% compared to the 1990 baseline (although these figures do cover the period of the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown).

It’s undeniably good progress.

Yet, even in the wake of global temperature records, extreme floods in Europe, and the oncoming Cerberus heatwave, one could be forgiven for thinking that the climate emergency doesn’t feel as urgent in our media or politics as it once did.

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It begs the question as to whether declaring climate change as an “emergency” really served to increase the sense of urgency with which it is treated.

“Empirical work on this question tends to show that these declarations are often more than purely rhetorical,” said Dr Michael Albert, a lecturer in global environmental politics at the University of Edinburgh.

“However, it also shows that they often achieve far less than galvanising radical policy shifts. It’s really somewhere in the middle.”

The nature of the issue also make it more challenging to treat as a crisis. Climate change is a long-term, slow-burning problem which also had individually rapid and devastating consequences.

“But these acute risks and dangers occur in isolated geographic spaces,” said Albert.

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“It’s a storm here, a wildfire there. As such, it tends not to result in the kind of rapid, national-scale action that we saw with something like the Covid-19 pandemic.”

The nature of our politics, too, pose a problem. Short-term political realities like economic turmoil or concerns about the next election cycle can easily result in climate change taking a back seat.

“Our market structures our based upon the short-term. Whether it’s about quarterly profits, the fear of oncoming job losses or other economic hits, it can serve to contradict the kind of long-term imperatives needed to deal with climate change effectively.”

The quiet nature of change – both political and environmental – can be difficult to observe and comprehend.

Because while climate change is demonstrably central to our politics and daily lives, the long-term nature of the problem means it doesn’t always feel that way.