Woman in Brazil tries to cool off during heatwave

A woman cools off with a hose as fans of singer Taylor Swift queue outside the Nilton Santos Olympic Stadium before Taylor Swift's concert amid a heat wave in Rio de Janeiro on November 18, 2023.

(Photo by Tercio Teixeira/AFP via Getty Images)

Fires, Floods, and All-Time Record Heat Batter Brazil

The heat index—which combines air temperature and humidity—hit an astounding 58.5ºC (137ºF), the highest index ever recorded, in Rio de Janeiro on Tuesday.

Amid a stifling heatwave this week Brazil is experiencing its highest temperatures ever recorded—a milestone that comes alongside global trends and fresh scientific data showing the world is far from meeting stated ambitions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to curb the climate emergency.

According to the National Institute of Meteorology, temperatures in the southeastern city of Araçuaí hit 44.8ºC (112.6ºF) on Sunday, breaking the previous record set in 2005.

It was so hot over the weekend that international pop star Taylor Swift was forced to reschedule concerts nationwide.

Meanwhile, the heat index—which combines air temperature and humidity—hit an astounding 58.5ºC (137ºF), the highest index ever recorded, Tuesday morning in the country's second-most populous city of Rio de Janeiro.

The extreme heat is having a severe and negative impact on people's ability to work and live comfortably and putting a crush on the nation's power grid. As the Associated Pressreports:

Brazilians turned to fans, air conditioners and dehumidifiers to cool down, with utilities reporting record energy demand. Power outages were reported in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.

Amid the high heat, wildfires are burning widely in the Pantanal biome, the world’s biggest tropical wetlands spanning parts of Mato Grosso and Mato Grosso do Sul states. The fires have ravaged an area about the size of Cyprus, or more than 947,000 hectares (about 3,600 square miles), according to the Environmental Satellite Applications Laboratory of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro.

The wildfires are arriving earlier in some places and with much more intensity. With summer not even at its height, fears are growing of what's to come:

"The Pantanal is a region that's used to fires," biologist Gustavo Figueiroa, head of the environmental group SOS Pantanal, toldAl-Jazeera on Monday. "Normally, it regenerates naturally. But this many fires isn't normal."

Attributed in part to the El Niño effect, the historic temperatures in South America's largest country mirror the trend happening worldwide, with 2023 on track to be the hottest in 125,000 years, the result of burning fossil fuels and release of other heat-trapping gasses since the Industrial Revolution.

In addition to the heatwave and fires, heavy rains and damaging storms have brought severe flooding to other regions of the country, some resulting in the death of local residents and tens of thousands displaced.

Despite global efforts to reduce emissions and transition away from coal, oil, and gas, the latest figures from the United Nations in its 2023 Emissions Gap Report, released Monday, show that humanity is expanding its use of fossil fuels instead.

"The report shows that the emissions gap is more like an emissions canyon," U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres said in a statement. "A canyon littered with broken promises, broken lives, and broken records. All of this is a failure of leadership, a betrayal of the vulnerable, and a massive missed opportunity."

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