As the climate crisis accelerates, Europe is warming faster than any other region, according to a new State of the Climate in Europe report from the World Meteorological Organization.
The WMO report comes ahead of the UN’s international climate summit in Egypt, and is one in a series of reports over the past several weeks that show how the world is off-track on its climate goals. Not only are countries missing the mark on their efforts to reduce planet-warming fossil fuel emissions, but measurements show temperatures are already skyrocketing.
Global temperature has already risen around 1.2 degrees since the industrial revolution, and scientists have warned that this temperature should be limited to just 1.5 degrees to avoid the most severe impacts of the climate crisis.
Some continents are feeling that rise more than others. Wednesday’s report shows temperatures in Europe have increased at more than twice the global average over the past 30 years – at a rate of about 0.5 degrees Celsius per decade.
‘A live picture of a warming world’
Recent reports show how the region’s temperature rise is fueling extreme weather.
Year-to-date through July, the number of wildfires the EU was quadruple the 15-year average. A deadly, record-breaking heatwave in the UK strained public health and buckled infrastructure. Exceptional drought plagued the continent this summer, drying up some of the world’s most economically important rivers. And that drought that came on the heels of some of the most destructive floods Europe has ever seen.
In 2021, the last full year covered in Wednesday’s analysis, more than half a million people were directly affected by climate change-fueled weather events. Extreme weather caused economic damages exceeding $50 billion. And the accelerated warming has caused Alpine glaciers to lose 30 meters in ice thickness from 1997 to 2021, the report notes.
“Europe presents a live picture of a warming world and reminds us that even well-prepared societies are not safe from impacts of extreme weather events,” said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas in a forward on the report. “This year, like 2021, large parts of Europe have been affected by extensive heatwaves and drought, fueling wildfires. In 2021, exceptional floods caused death and devastation.”
Accelerated warming has caused Alpine glaciers to lose 30 meters in ice thickness from 1997 to 2021, the report notes. And in Greenland, which is covered by the WMO regional analysis, rain fell for the first time ever in 2021 at the summit station high atop the ice sheet – part of a melting trend that has accelerated sea level rise.
“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 to develop innovative solutions to adapt to the new climate Europeans will have to live with,” Carlo Buontempo, director of the Copernicus Climate Change Service, said in a statement.
Taalas said in his forward that although Europe’s pace on cutting planet-warming emissions has been “good,” their ambition on this front “should be further increased.”
The report notes that greenhouse gas emissions decreased 31% between 1990 and 2020. The bloc is aiming to slash greenhouse gas emissions by 55% from 1990 levels by 2030.
“As the risks and impact of climate change become increasingly apparent in day-to-day life, the need and the appetite grow for climate intelligence, and rightly so. With this report we aim to bridge the gap between the data and the analysis to provide science-based but accessible information that is ‘decision-ready’, across sectors, across professions,” Buontempo said.