Climate Change

Climate impact: Europe is warming two times faster than rest of planet

Over 16,000 deaths in continent in 2022 due to meteorological, hydrological and climate-related hazards, found WMO & Copernicus report

By Akshit Sangomla
Published: Thursday 22 June 2023
France saw its driest January to September period last year. Photo: iStock

Europe is warming the fastest of all the regions under the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), according to the State of the Climate in Europe 2022 report released by the WMO and the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service on June 19, 2023.

The continent has warmed twice as much as the rest of the world since the 1980s, according to the report and is warmer by 2.3 degrees Celsius as compared to the preindustrial average (1850-1900).

The consequences of this warming can be seen in terms of long-term changes such as the melting of glaciers and short-term extreme weather events such as the extensive and intense heatwaves that Europe experienced in 2022. The heatwaves were followed by droughts and wildfires.

Also read: Climate change increases the risk of extreme wildfires around Cape Town — but it can be addressed

In 2022, Europe witnessed 16,365 deaths due to meteorological, hydrological and climate-related hazards, almost all of which were because of heat stress over the continent during the summer months.

“Unfortunately, this cannot be considered a one-off occurrence or an oddity of the climate,” said Carlo Buontempo, director, Copernicus Climate Change Service, in a WMO press release.

“Our current understanding of the climate system and its evolution informs us that these kinds of events are part of a pattern that will make heat stress extremes more frequent and more intense across the region,” he added.

The summer of 2022 was the warmest on record for the entire continent. The peak of the heatwaves was in July, when many countries, such as the United Kingdom (UK), broke their all-time temperature records. Scientists have already attributed the extraordinary heat in the UK to climate change.

There were record-breaking temperatures in much of western and south-western Europe until mid-August. This was also part of a period when there were record-breaking temperatures and heatwaves on five continents simultaneously across the planet.

The report also highlighted the extensive droughts due to excess heat, reduced rainfall and the drying up of major rivers such as the Rhine.

“France had its driest January to September and the United Kingdom and Uccle (Belgium) had their driest January to August since 1976, with far-reaching consequences for agriculture and energy production. Spain’s water reserve decreased to 41.9 per cent of its total capacity by July 26, with even lower capacity in some basins,” according to a press release issued by the WMO.

Glaciers in Europe have lost 880 cubic kilometres of ice between 1997 and 2022, with the Alps suffering the worst loss of ice thickness at 34 metres.

The year 2022 was the worst year for the Alps, when the glaciers in the mountains lost ice thickness of three metres. The ice on land in the form of glaciers and ice sheets is important for regulating local climates and is also responsible for increasing global sea levels.

Also read: In pictures: Wildfires blaze through Canada thanks to unusually hot, dry spring

Another major impact of the warming in the European region was in the form of ocean heat and marine heatwaves in the North Atlantic, which saw record temperatures in 2022.

Oceans gobble up 90 percent of the warming generated by human-induced greenhouse emissions and the record-breaking ocean heat content being observed around the world has a sure-shot imprint of human-induced climate change, according to the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Marine heatwaves are regions of abnormal sea surface temperatures (SST) that appear over seas and oceans. The ones in the North Atlantic in 2022 led to the migration of marine species and mass extinctions, the arrival of invasive species and a loss of biodiversity, according to the report.

The SSTs in the Mediterranean Sea, Black Sea, Baltic Sea and southern Arctic Ocean were also three to four times the global average, as per the report.

In fact, there is an unprecedented marine heatwave currently occurring in the North Atlantic Ocean just off the eastern coast of the United Kingdom, according to the European Space Agency.

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