Climate change: How heatwaves and droughts could hit southern France hard

Homes in southern France that so many fantasise about are going to become uncomfortably hot in coming decades, according to new climate change projections on Monday by the country's national weather service.

Climate change: How heatwaves and droughts could hit southern France hard
Wildfires are already a regular occurrence in southern France. Photo: AFP

Even if humanity manages to modestly reduce greenhouse gas emissions – which so far has only happened during a raging pandemic or a global recession – France as a whole is on track to heat up nearly three degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels by about 2070, Météo France said in a report.

And if carbon pollution continues unabated, average annual temperatures across the nation will, by century’s end, soar 4.5C beyond that benchmark.

That is verging on an unliveable world, a raft of climate studies have shown.

With just over 1C of warming so far, the planet has seen a sharp crescendo in deadly extreme weather, including heatwaves and megastorms made more destructive by rising seas.

The 2015 Paris climate treaty set a goal of capping global warming at below 2C, and 1.5C if possible.

Earlier climate models have predicted that France and the Mediterranean basin will be hit especially hard by heatwaves along with declining rainfall, and that reality has begun to bite. 

In the summer of 2019, temperatures in picturesque wine country north of the coastal city of Montpellier reached a sizzling 46C, a national record. 

Paris was only a few degrees cooler.

More heatwaves, less snow 

This and other heatwaves “were a direct consequence of climate change,” said Meteo France CEO Virginie Schwarz in a statement.

“All observations made across the planet confirm an unprecedented acceleration of climate change.”

The 100-page report looked at how three different carbon pollution scenarios could shape France’s climate future: a drastic reduction in carbon pollution coupled with the large-scale removal of CO2 from the air; a reckless ramping up of the fossil fuel use which caused the problem to begin with; and a path somewhere between these increasingly unlikely extremes.

Météo France climatologists, on the frontlines of global climate science, also zoomed in with an unprecedented resolution of 10 square kilometres, making it possible to distinguish climate micro regions.

Global projections, by contrast, divvy up the planet into pieces 10 to 15 times that size.

The middle-of-the-road greenhouse gas emissions scenario, known as RCP4.5, will see an additional 10 to 15 days of extreme heat per year towards the end of the century. Periods of drought will expand by about 30 percent.

In the worst-case scenario – which scientists cannot exclude – southern France could experience one or two months of continuous heatwaves by 2100.   

Eight consecutive days of above 40C weather in 2003 caused at least 15,000 heat-related deaths France, especially among the elderly. 

The new report said high mountain regions will see the most dramatic hike in temperatures, up to 6C or 7C above levels at the start of this century.

Even in the less dire RCP4.5 projections, the number of days with at least half-a-metre of fresh snow will drop by half in the Pyrenees and southern Alps, shortening ski seasons in both mountain ranges.

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Heatwave: 6 of the coolest places in France

From caves to catacombes, lakes to France's coldest village - if you're not a fan of the heat, here are 6 places you can go to stay cool this summer.

Heatwave: 6 of the coolest places in France

With another heatwave approaching, you might be wondering how you can still have fun while avoiding the heat. Here are some places to visit that promise not to be too sweltering:

Go to the beach in Brittany or Normandy

France’s west coast is notorious for getting lots of rain throughout the year, but it is also known for moderate summers that don’t get too hot.

If you are looking for windy shorelines and temperate climates, Brittany and Normandy have the best beaches for you. In Brittany, temperatures in the summer typically stay around 25C.

Go surfing off of Brittany’s largest island Belle-Île-en-Mer or sunbathe in Saint-Malo. For Normandy, consider Le Touquet in the Pas-de-Calais département – escape the heat by walking along the cliffs at the nearby Parc naturel régional des caps et marais d’Opale.

Go hiking in the Alps

The Alps are not just for winter sports.

Well-connected by train, you can easily take a trip to the mountains to enjoy the cooler temperatures, mountain breezes and lovely views filled with colourful wildflowers.

As well as hiking, you can also enjoy rafting or biking. If you’re not as sporty, you can still enjoy the mountaintop by taking the year-round ski lift up the mountain.

The pretty town of Chamonix is also well worth a visit.

Visit the prehistoric caves in Dordogne

Down in southern France temperatures do get hotter in the summer, but there are still plenty of cool options for the scorching days.

Dordogne is home to several prehistoric caves, which in summer are a great place to escape the heat. You can also see the reconstruction of the original Lascaux cave, known for its cave art and referred to as the ‘sistine chapel of prehistory’ with some of the earliest known artworks created by humanity. 

In the Vézére Valley several of the caves have made the UNESCO list of World Heritage sites. 

Caves in general are a good bet on a hot day – if you go to the Roquefort caves in Ariège it’s nice and cool and you can witness the famous Roquefort cheese maturing in the natural cave system. 

Visit France’s ‘coolest’ village

Famous for having the coldest recorded temperature in France, Mouthe is located in the Doubs département, which is in Eastern France along the Jura mountains.

The reason Mouthe stays so cold is because of its altitude – it is at 930m above sea level. That makes for some bracing winters, but it’s also a great place to visit during a heatwave.

Enjoy the village, go hiking in the surrounding countryside, or take a day trip into Switzerland which is just over the border.

READ MORE: Why is Mouthe the ‘coldest village in France’?

Float on the lake in Annecy

Known as the “Venice of the Alps,” Annecy is located in the mountains, so it also has a higher elevation, which helps keep it comparatively cooler in the summer months.

Annecy is mostly known for its sparkling blue lake that is clean enough to swim in – the water typically stays at around 22 to 24C – but it also has a highly picturesque town centre and the local vin jaune is worth sampling.

Visit the kingdom of the dead

If you’re in Paris and don’t have the time or the funds for a trip out of the city, there are still cooler places to go.

The city’s museums are often air conditioned while the churches offer cool indoor spaces, but for something a little different why not visit the Catacombes?

The temperature in the network of limestone passages underneath Paris stays at around 14C all year round – considerably cooler than the city in summer. There’s also the ‘chills’ imparted by the inhabitants of the Catacombes – thousands of skeletons dug up from the city’s cemeteries and arranged into interesting patterns.

The Catacombes also provide a fascinating snapshot of the history of Paris.

READ MORE: Are these the 10 best swimming pools in Paris?