Europe warming at double the rate of other continents

Europe is the fastest-warming continent in the world, according to a newly released report from the World Meteorological Organization.

The State of the Climate in Europe report cites the loss of more than 25 metres of ice loss in alpine glaciers, and 20 metres of loss in Greenland (a Danish territory), as particularly responsible for the rise in ocean levels.

Climate change events were also responsible for more than US$50 billion in damages.

In its statement releasing the report, the WMO described Europe as the “live picture” of a world burdened by warming climate. Since 1990, Europe’s temperatures have undergone an average rate of temperature increase of 0.5 degrees each decade.

That rate is twice as high as the next fastest warming continent.

The WMO points to high-impact weather and climate events – nearly 85% of which were floods and storms – as directly affecting around 510,000 people.

Extreme heat also took its toll, with provisional record temperatures experienced in southern Italy in August reaching 48.8°C. These temperatures influenced drought and low rainfall across the Mediterranean, leading to deadly wildfires that burned through three times the amount of land area than the region’s 15-year average up to 2020.

But are carbon emissions decreasing in Europe?

Fuel prices and the COVID-19 pandemic were major influences on the continent’s carbon emissions reduction, the WMO found.

A 31% decline in carbon emissions between 1990 and 2020 was recorded, although it’s expected to be far less in 2021 due to the relaxation of COVID-19 restrictions and altered fuel prices.

2021 also marked the introduction of EU legislation to make net zero by 2050 a legally-binding target for member nations.

Although temperature data provided by six datasets showed a decrease in 2021 from the preceding year, it still marked one of the 10 warmest years on record.

And observers will keenly await the release of next year’s 2022 appraisal, after record summer droughts and heatwaves heaped pressure on European nations.

Even now, regions across the continent are recording their hottest temperatures for November on record. 

“[Europe] reminds us that even well-prepared societies are not safe from impacts of extreme weather events,” says WMO secretary-general Professor Petteri Taalas.

“This year, like 2021, large parts of Europe have been affected by extensive heatwaves and drought, fuelling wildfires. In 2021, exceptional floods caused death and devastation.

“On the mitigation side, the good pace in reducing greenhouse gases emissions in the region should continue and ambition should be further increased. Europe can play a key role towards achieving a carbon neutral society by the middle of the century to meet the Paris Agreement.”

Read more: What Europe’s heatwaves mean for Australia

Future outlook

The release of the report comes ahead of the global climate change conference to be held in Egypt, where delegations from around the world convene to recalibrate efforts to address climate change.

Last year’s COP26 conference in Glasgow was criticised for scrubbing language to phase out coal from the final agreement. In its place came language to ‘phase down’ its use. Coal is the leading source of carbon emissions from energy use.

Similarly, several nations failed to renew important targets to reduce carbon emissions by the end of the decade, considered an important tipping point if net zero by 2050 is to be achieved.

The WMO echoed the most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change forecasts that weather, climate and water disasters will increase in the future, and that Europe will experience temperature rises at rates exceeding global average increases.

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