You’re not imagining it – there really were a lot of climate disasters this summer

Sometimes climate change seems far away, then we’re hit with heatwaves, droughts, floods and fires. 2022’s summer of disasters broke records worldwide.


Whether you cursed or loved the UK’s hot summer, there’s no shying away from the changes in our environment. Climate change and extreme weather affects us all and unfolds unequally across the world. Yet climate disasters are often reported in isolation. We hear about one after another in a parade of bad news. We hear about the lives lost, the places destroyed and the urgent appeals for aid. It seems like it’s getting worse. But rarely do news reports give us time to grasp the scale of what’s happening.

If this summer or its headlines left you reeling, this article might make you even angrier. We’re delving into the summer’s environmental events to look at how the climate crisis is unfolding in front of us. It’ll be bleak reading at times, but I want you to bear with me. Because here’s the thing: there is a short time to do something to stop the worst impacts. But we won’t want to take action if the climate crisis seems abstract, instead of something happening now. Welcome to 2022’s summer snapshot.

Children get pushed along water in a makeshift boat

A man and boy use a satellite dish to move children across a flooded area. Heavy monsoon rains pounded parts of Pakistan in August, and affected millions of people. © Fida Hussain / AFP / Getty

Floods in Pakistan destroyed millions of homes

After eight weeks of non-stop rain, severe flooding has devastated Pakistan. Over 1000 people are dead and millions have lost their homes. Flash flooding and destroyed river banks are two reasons for the high death toll. This monsoon has caused an enormous human disaster.

Pakistan is vulnerable to climate change. Its location means it can experience heatwaves and drought, and intense rains. Pakistan is also home to the most glaciers (huge ice sheets) in the world outside of the north and south pole, which can melt as the world gets hotter. Although Pakistan does get monsoon rains, the amount of rain this year was above average. Heavy rainfall and burst river banks made this year’s flooding extreme.

So is climate change to blame for this “monster monsoon”? Scientists say it’s likely. A rapid study suggests that rainfall may have been more intense due to global warming – a “monsoon on steroids”. This echoes analysis of Pakistan’s 2010 ‘superflood’ that “was made more likely by global heating, which drove fiercer rains.”

Burnt, skeleton houses destroyed by wildfire. The central house is fallen in and surrounded by dark, ashy ground.

Rubble and destruction of a UK housing estate after a large blaze. Fires broke out as the UK experienced a record-breaking heatwave. © Leon Neal / Getty

Record heat and more wildfires in the UK

The UK had two heatwaves this summer. It experienced its hottest temperature yet, hitting a new record-high of 40.3ºC. For some, it’ll have felt like a sunny holiday from the grey drizzle Britain is famed for. But for others, the sweltering levels of heat were difficult at best and life-threatening at worst.

As well as extreme heat, the UK has had 745 wildfires so far – more than the whole of 2021. UK wildfires may not be as extreme as places like Australia or North America, but they’re still tricky for firefighters to deal with.

How much of the UK’s heatwave was down to climate change? Well, recent analysis found climate change made the heatwave at least 10 times more likely and 4ºC hotter – and that’s a conservative estimate.

Extreme heat isn’t just happening in the UK. Earlier this year, India and Pakistan suffered intense and record-breaking temperatures. Scientists say these were 30 times more likely thanks to climate change. Their 2010 heatwave was made 100 times more likely by the climate crisis. Did you get that? 100 times! Likewise, scientists found the extreme heat in Canada and the US in 2021 was also “virtually impossible” without climate change.

Puddles of water on a dry, desolate river bed, with a city in the distance.

People walk on the exposed banks of China's main river, the Yangtze. China faces its most severe heatwave in six decades, causing low water levels and a drought that has impacted thousands of people. © Ren Yong / SOPA Images / Getty

Droughts causing food and water shortages worldwide

Europe is facing its worst drought for 500 years. A very dry winter and spring combined with record-shattering summer heat means there hasn’t been enough rain. With little rainfall, rivers are drying up and the soil is cracking, causing fish to die and crops to fail. And revealed by the drought, ‘hunger stones’ reading “If you see me then weep” chillingly warn of what may come.

It feels unsettling because it’s so close to home. But drought is affecting many countries beyond Europe too. Places like Somalia and Ethiopia are facing hunger and famine due to drought-caused food and water shortages. China saw the most severe heatwave ever recorded, causing parts of the country and its main river to dry up. It’s affecting water supplies, food and energy production, and may affect the rest of the world too. Parts of the US are also in a drought, as is Iraq. It’s happening all over the world, so how much is down to climate change?

Droughts don’t necessarily have one cause. They tend to build up over a period of time, rather than from a one-off weather event. But some scientific studies have found links between drought patterns and human-caused climate change. With human influence seen in how intense drought and extreme rain patterns are, and changes to tropical rain zones. More recent analysis also shows the link between climate change and extreme weather events, like droughts.

Two South Sudanese women stand in hip-high water next to their damaged home

South Sudanese refugees stand in flooded waters to repair their hut. Heavy rain submerged nearly 50 villages in South Sudan in 2021, displacing about 65,000 people. © Ashraf Shazly / AFP / Getty

People lose homes after flooding in Sudan and South Sudan

Sudan saw one of its worst rainy seasons ever this summer. People were forced to abandon their homes as the water flooded in and destroyed everything. By the end of August, about 258,000 people were affected and more than 100 people died in Sudan. It’s another human crisis, which Sudan and South Sudan have seen before.

Extreme weather is becoming a pattern in the region. 2021 brought heavy rain and floods to South Sudan, which killed more than 80 people and swamped thousands of homes. In 2020, Sudan was declared a natural disaster area as floods killed about 100 people and destroyed homes and farmland. In 2019, flooding affected millions in South Sudan and several thousands in Sudan. Year on year of severe flooding means people are displaced over and over, with little time to rebuild between.

Sudan and South Sudan are among the most vulnerable to climate change. As the planet warms, the region is expected to experience rain that’s unpredictable. Rain may also be heavier, which increases risk of floods and waterborne diseases. As well as irregular and heavy rains, hotter temperatures mean droughts may happen more often. This affects farming, as water sources dry up and the land turns to desert. It puts enormous pressure on the people who live there. And is especially unfair as places like Sudan and South Sudan contribute the least to climate change, yet suffer the most.

Flames and smoke blaze the sky orange. Trees silhouette the fiery skyline.

The Oak Fire incinerates a forest in California. The wildfire ripped through thousands of acres in July following sweltering summer temperatures. © David McNew / AFP / Getty

Wildfires that are too fast to escape in California

Behind names like Creek, Dixie and Monument are some of the many wildfires that California has faced in recent years. This summer is no different as several wildfires erupted across the region. McKinney is the largest; it burned about 60,000 acres of land, destroyed 87 homes and killed 4 people. Other fires have begun since then and reports say they’re becoming too fast to escape.

Of course, it’s not only the US that faces wildfires. Australia’s ‘Black Summer’ bushfires in 2019-20 were colossal. WWF declared them “one of the worst wildlife disasters in modern history”. And three years on, people who survived the fires are still waiting for homes. Fires also raze the Amazon, parts of Asia and even the Arctic. Though most wildfires happen in Africa.

As far as climate change goes, studies suggest that rising temperatures create perfect conditions for fire. California’s wildfires could turn into megafires, as hot, dry and windy days increase. Climate change is also making fire seasons last longer – Australia’s bushfire season is almost a month longer than 40 years ago. While climate change affects wildfire risk differently for each region, what we know is this: if the world keeps getting hotter, the risk of wildfires goes up and wildfire season gets longer.

Two men wade through rushing water on a flooded road. They are passing two stranded trucks, one of the has fallen to its side.

Floods are a regular menace to millions of people in low-lying Bangladesh, but experts say climate change is increasing how fierce and unpredictable they are. © Mamun Hossain / AFP / Getty

Worst flooding for a century hits Bangladesh

In June, the worst floods for a century hit north-east Bangladesh and parts of India. The flooding killed over 100 people and stranded more than 9.5 million people across both countries, with the most affected in Bangladesh. And it happened as people were still recovering from flooding in May this year.

Monsoon rains are part of the rainy season that rages across south Asia in summer. But this year, the rain acted differently: rains were heavier and began earlier than usual. People were unprepared for intense rainfall and the region became engulfed by severe flooding. How much was this change in rain behaviour down to climate change?

In general, it’s hard to fully predict how climate change will affect rainfall worldwide. But scientists agree that south Asia is likely to get wetter. Like its neighbours India and Pakistan, Bangladesh could experience both extreme heat and extreme rain. Some experts warn that as temperatures rise, the risk of flooding goes up in Bangladesh. Basically: dry days increase and rainy days may become unpredictable and more intense. So it’ll rain less often, but when it happens, it’ll pour hard.

Four campaigners in kayaks on a dry river bank. Their signs read "This used to be the Danube" and "Water is life"

Greenpeace Romania activists protest in the middle of the dried up Danube riverbed, halfway between Romania and Bulgaria. © Răzvan Dima / Greenpeace

Extreme weather may get worse – we need to act now

If 2022 shows us anything, it’s that extreme weather is here. Heatwaves, drought and floods are happening more often, and more intensely all across the world. Records are getting broken each year, for a grave human and environmental cost. We’re already feeling the impact. And extreme weather events are set to become worse and happen more as the climate crisis continues. So if you thought this year was bad for the climate, the years coming could be worse.

Instead of sitting to wait for catastrophe, we need to act. We need to pressure governments and corporations to act. We must wind down fossil fuel use and cut emissions to avoid making the climate crisis worse. Governments and corporations must do as much as possible, as quickly as possible, to make this happen.

But we must also face up to what’s happening already. Doing nothing makes it more expensive and harder to solve these problems in future. As well as reducing emissions, we need to ramp up efforts to adapt to hotter, drier, wetter, fierier and stormier conditions worldwide. For the UK that means the government should invest in things like: insulating our homes which should generally help keep them cool in summer, improving water storage capacity so we can withstand drought, and improving infrastructure like railways to cope with extreme weather.

This summer shows us we’re living with environmental extremes already. Bringing these stories together shows us the scale of what’s happening in the weather right now. So the question is, how will we act?

What's next?