Temperature records were shattered across Southeast Asia this past weekend as tens of millions of people throughout the region continue to endure a weekslong heatwave intensified by the fossil fuel-driven climate emergency.
All-time highs were recorded Saturday in Vietnam and Laos. The mercury hit 44.2°C (111.6°F) in Vietnam's northern district of Tuong Duong, marking the country's hottest temperature on record, according to climatologist and weather historian Maximiliano Herrera.
"This is a worrying record in the context of climate change and global warming," environmental scientist Nguyen Ngoc Huy said from the Vietnamese capital of Hanoi. "I believe this record will be repeated many times. It confirms that extreme climate models are being proven to be true."
In neighboring Laos, the temperature reached 43.5°C (110.3°F) in the city of Luang Prabang, surpassing the national record of 42.7°C (108.9°F) set less than a month ago, Herrera noted. The Laotian capital of Vientiane broke its all-time high as well with a temperature of 42.5°C (108.5°F).
Thailand's capital of Bangkok, where Herrera is based, also saw its hottest temperature on record this weekend, hitting 41°C (105.8°F) on Sunday, one day after establishing a short-lived high of 40.5°C (104.9°F). Heat in the city has been exacerbated by smog from forest fires and crop burning.
"Seven weeks with records smashed... make this the most extreme... and longest tropical record heat event the world has experienced."
Much of Thailand has "suffered under temperatures in the upper 30s to low 40s Celsius since late March," CNN reported Monday. "In mid-April, the northwest city of Tak became the first place in the country to top 45°C (113°F)."
Thailand is not unique in this regard, as dangerously high temperatures have been witnessed throughout Asia this spring.
"April and May are typically the hottest months of the year for South and Southeast Asia as temperatures rise before annual monsoon rains bring some relief," CNN noted. "Temperatures across the region are expected to return closer to average in the coming days, but unprecedented heat events are becoming more common as the climate crisis intensifies."
Alluding to Asia's ongoing heatwave, Herrera tweeted Sunday that "seven weeks with records smashed nearly [on a] daily basis in hundreds of stations in an area of millions of square kilometers (initially from Eastern India to Japan, now in a smaller area) make this the most extreme... and longest tropical record heat event the world has experienced."
The duration and severity of the current heatwave lend further credence to climate scientists' warnings about how life-threatening extreme weather will worsen in the absence of sharp reductions in greenhouse gas pollution.
According to the World Meteorological Organization, mean global temperature has increased by roughly 1.2°C above preindustrial levels to date. The return of El Niño conditions in 2023 is expected to amplify global warming this year.
Last month, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres told officials from wealthy countries that existing policies "would make our world 2.8°C hotter by the end of the century."
"This is a death sentence," said Guterres.
"Heatwaves in the past few decades have already been extremely deadly and there is serious cause for concern in the future."
Echoing what he said in March when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published its latest comprehensive assessment, Guterres stressed that "it is still possible to limit global temperature rise to 1.5°C. But only if the world takes a quantum leap in climate action. And that depends on you."
"The science is clear: New fossil fuel projects are entirely incompatible with 1.5°C," the U.N. chief added. "Yet many countries are expanding capacity."
The IPCC has warned that heatwaves and other extreme weather disasters will become more common and severe with each additional fraction of a degree of global warming.
One 2022 study determined that "dangerous heatwaves, at temperatures of 39.4°C (103°F) and above, will occur between three and 10 times more often by the turn of the century," CNN reported Monday. "In the tropics, which encompasses much of Asia, the study found that days of 'extremely dangerous heat'—defined as 51°C (124°F)—could double, putting the population of impacted countries at risk."
“By definition, we don't know what could happen if large populations are exposed to unprecedented heat and humidity stress," the study's lead author, Lucas Vargas Zeppetello, told the outlet last month. "But heatwaves in the past few decades have already been extremely deadly and there is serious cause for concern in the future."
The U.N. warned last year that without transformative change, extreme heat is projected to kill as many people by the end of the century as all cancers and infectious diseases combined, with disproportionate impacts on people in impoverished nations. By midcentury, more than 2 billion children could be endangered by frequent heatwaves.