A scorching heatwave that struck Saudi Arabia during this year’s Haj pilgrimage, claiming over 1,300 lives, was significantly worsened by climate change, according to a team of European scientists.

Temperatures along the pilgrimage route soared to a scorching 47°C (117°F), with Mecca’s Grand Mosque experiencing even higher peaks exceeding 51.8°C (125°F).

ClimaMeter, a group specializing in rapidly assessing climate change’s impact on extreme weather events, conducted the analysis. Their findings suggest that without human-caused climate change, temperatures during the Hajj would have been approximately 2.5°C (4.5°F) cooler.

The scientists compared satellite data from the past four decades, contrasting weather patterns between 1979-2001 and 2001-2023. While the desert region is known for its high temperatures, they concluded that natural weather variations couldn’t explain the severity of this year’s heatwave. Climate change intensified its impact, according to them.

“The deadly heat during this Haj is directly linked to our dependence on fossil fuels,” said Davide Faranda, a scientist with France’s National Centre for Scientific Research who participated in the ClimaMeter analysis. “These extreme temperatures have disproportionately impacted the most vulnerable pilgrims undertaking this sacred journey.”

Climate change is causing heatwaves to become hotter, more frequent, and longer lasting. Previous studies by the World Weather Attribution group indicate that, globally, heatwaves are now on average 1.2°C (2.2°F) hotter than during pre-industrial times.

While medical authorities typically attribute deaths during heatwaves to related heart or cardiovascular illnesses, experts believe the extreme temperatures likely played a significant role in the 1,300 fatalities reported this year.

Saudi Arabia is the world’s second-largest oil producer after the United States. The state oil company of Saudi Arabia, Saudi Aramco, is the world’s biggest corporate emitter of greenhouse gases, contributing to over 4% of historical global emissions according to a database tracking emissions from major carbon polluters.

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