Temperatures in Europe have risen by more than double the global average over the past 30 years, according to a report by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).
The effects of this warming are already being felt, with droughts, wildfires and melting ice across the continent. The European report on the state of the climate, produced with the EU’s Copernicus service, warns that as the warming trend continues, exceptional heat, forest fires, floods and other consequences of climate degradation will affect society, economies and ecosystems.
From 1991 to 2021, temperatures in Europe have warmed at an average rate of around 0.5°C per decade. This had physical consequences: Alpine glaciers lost 30 meters of ice thickness between 1997 and 2021, while the Greenland ice sheet also melted, contributing to sea level rise. 2021, Greenland experienced its first recorded rainfall at its highest point, Summit Station.
Human lives have been lost due to extreme weather events. The report says that in 2021, high-impact weather and climate events – 84% of which were floods and storms – claimed hundreds of lives, directly affected more than 500,000 people and caused economic damage exceeding $50 billion. dollars.
“Europe presents a live picture of a warming world and reminds us that even well-prepared societies are not immune to the impacts of extreme weather events,” said WMO Secretary-General , Professor Petteri Taalas. “This year, as in 2021, large parts of Europe have been affected by widespread heat waves and drought, fueling wildfires. In 2021, exceptional flooding has caused death and devastation.
It also found that this trend was very likely to continue, with more weather disasters predicted in the future. It predicts that temperatures will rise in all European regions at a rate exceeding global average temperature changes, similar to past observations. As the climate warms to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, weather patterns will accelerate, with steadily declining summer rainfall likely to cause devastating droughts. Extreme rains and flooding are expected to follow over the past few months in all regions except the Mediterranean.
Although the report gives a grim reading, there is good news. He notes that many European countries have been very successful in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and that EU emissions have fallen by 31% between 1990 and 2020. Europe has also acted to protect people from the worst effects of the climate emergency, with extreme weather warning systems protecting around 75% of the population, while heat-health action plans have saved many lives.
“On the mitigation side, the good pace of reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the region should continue and ambition should be further increased. Europe can play a key role in achieving a carbon neutral society by mid-century to meet the Paris target [climate] okay,” Taalas said.
There are several reasons why Europe has warmed faster than other parts of the world. It has a high percentage of land mass, which is warming faster than the sea. The Arctic and generally the northern high latitudes are also the fastest warming regions globally and a relatively large part of the Europa is found in the northern latitudes.
Feedback systems could also contribute, such as desiccated soil moisture, which means temperatures are rising faster, which dries out the soil further. Another example of feedback loops is Europe’s vulnerability to double jet streams.
This “double” effect occurs when a jet stream temporarily splits in two, leaving an area of low winds and high pressure air between the two branches that causes extreme heat. These dual currents become more likely as the landmass warms in early summer.
A study in Nature Communications published earlier this year found Europe to be a ‘heatwave hotspot’, in part because double jet streams account for around 35% of temperature variability.
Other scientists welcomed the report, pointing out that European cities were “heat islands” and therefore felt the extreme temperatures more. Professor Daniela Schmidt, from the University of Bristol’s Cabot Institute and School of Earth Sciences, said: ‘When global warming is reported, the focus is always on the global average, currently 1.1C. But there are big differences, with much of the ocean warming less, landfalling more, and the farther from the poles we get. Moreover, our cities are heat islands, as many of us felt during this hot summer.
“In the UK, this summer’s heat wave resulted in almost 3,000 additional deaths among people over 65. These risks will only increase with each increase in warming and reduction of these risks harder the longer we wait. »