Europe faced a brutal year of environmental conditions as scorching temperatures, devastating drought and blazing wildfires swept through several countries. A new report from the United Nations World Meteorological Organization points to a major reason.
The continent is currently experiencing the worst warming of any other on the planet, according to new data.
The agency released the State of the Climate in Europe report which finds that temperatures in Europe have risen by more than double the global average over the past 30 years. From 1991 to 2021, the continent has seen an average increase of about 0.5 degrees Celsius each decade. Since 1981, the Earth has warmed by about 0.18 Celsius per decade.
And this warming has not been without consequence.
This year brought Europewith temperatures from June to August reaching 0.4 degrees Celsius above last year. The report says that due to warming in Europe, alpine glaciers have thinned by 30 meters (98.4 feet) from 1997 to 2021. The Greenland ice cap is also continuing to melt, and last year a study warned that the ice sheet and will eventually raise sea level by at least 10 inches.
Other “high impact” events last year claimed “hundreds of lives”, the report said, affecting more than 500,000 people and causing around $50 billion in economic damage. The majority of this toll came from floods or storms.
All of this has happened despite Europe being a leader in climate change mitigation efforts.
The European Union cut its greenhouse gas emissions – a major driver of climate change – by 31% between 1990 and 2020, with member countries aiming for a net reduction of 55% by 2030. According to the group d According to Carnegie Europe policy analysis, the EU “has taken more concrete steps than many other countries and regions towards a planned transition” of a new climate, although these steps are not without flaws.
“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 , Petteri Taalas, in a press release. “This year, as in 2021, large parts of Europe have been hit by widespread heat waves and drought, fueling wildfires. In 2021, exceptional flooding has caused death and devastation.”
The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has expressed “strong confidence” that weather-, climate- and water-related disasters will only get worse. And even if the world were to act quickly to combat global warming, temperatures will continue to rise “in all parts of Europe at a rate exceeding global average temperature changes”, making the situation even worse.
The impacts of climate change will impact people at the individual level, the report warns, as extreme events breed disease and mental health problems and exacerbate vulnerability to heat. Air pollution, which in the past was linked to the burning of fossil fuels, has contributed to an estimated half a million premature deaths in the region, many of which could be prevented by reducing carbon emissions, according to The report.
But Carlo Buontempo, director of Europe’s Copernicus climate change service, said the startling new data does not mean all hope is lost or that the world must stop its fight against global warming.
“European society is vulnerable to climate variability and change, but Europe is also at the forefront of the international effort to mitigate climate change and develop innovative solutions to adapt to the new climate. Europeans will have to live with,” Buontempo said. “As the risks and impact of climate change become increasingly apparent in daily life, the need and appetite for climate intelligence increases, and rightly so.”