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Europe temperatures have increased more than twice the global average, report says: "A live picture of a warming world"

Europe faces wildfires, drought, record heat
Europe faces wildfires and extreme drought amid record heat wave 02:23

Europe faced a brutal year of environmental conditions as scorching temperatures, devasting drought and blazing wildfires swept across multiple countries. A new report from the United Nations' World Meteorological Organization points to a major reason why. 

The continent is now experiencing the worst warming out of any other on the planet, new data shows.

The agency issued the State of the Climate in Europe report finding that temperatures in Europe have increased more than double the global average over the past 30 years. From 1991 to 2021, the continent saw an average increase of about 0.5 degree Celsius every decade. Since 1981, Earth has warmed about 0.18 Celsius per decade

And that warming was not without consequence. 

This year brought Europe's hottest summer ever recorded with temperatures from June through August hitting 0.4 degrees Celsius above last year. The report said that as a result of warming in Europe, Alpine glaciers were thinned out by 30 meters (98.4 feet) from 1997 to 2021. Greenland's ice sheet also continues to melt, and last year, one study warned that the sheet's "zombie ice" is melting and will eventually raise sea levels by at least 10 inches. 

Other "high impact" events last year led to "hundreds of fatalities," the report said, affecting more than 500,000 people and causing about $50 billion in economic damages. The majority of that toll was from floods or storms. 

All of this occurred despite Europe being a leader in climate change mitigation efforts. 

The European Union has decreased greenhouse gas emissions – a primary driver of climate change – by 31% between 1990 and 2020, with member nations aiming for a net 55% reduction by 2030. According to policy analysis group Carnegie Europe, the EU "has taken more concrete steps than many other countries and regions toward a planned transition" of a new climate, although those steps are not without faults.

"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," WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas said in a press release. "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."

The U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has expressed "high confidence" that weather, climate and water-related disasters will only get worse. And even if the world were to act quickly to address global warming, temperatures will continue to rise "in all European areas at a rate exceeding global mean temperature changes," further worsening the situation. 

The impacts of the changing climate will impact people on an individual level, the report warns, as extreme events spawn diseases and mental health issues and exacerbate heat vulnerability. Air pollution, which in the past has been linked to fossil fuel burning, has contributed to about half a million premature deaths in the region, many of which could be prevented with reduced carbon emissions, the report said. 

But Carlo Buontempo, director of the EU's Copernicus Climate Change Service, said that the startling new data does not mean all hope is lost, or that the world should cease 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 to 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 day-to-day life, the need and the appetite grow for climate intelligence, and rightly so."

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