'Picture of warming world': Europe is fastest warming continent globally

'Picture of warming world': Europe is fastest warming continent globally
Kids playing in Brussels during one of our more frequent heatwaves. Credit: Belga / Nicolas Maeterlinck

Temperatures in Europe have increased over the past 30 years at a rate twice as fast as the global average – making it the fastest-warming continent on the planet, a recent report showed.

Over the 1991-2021 period, temperatures over Europe warmed at an average rate of about +0.5 °C per decade, according to the "State of the Climate in Europe" report from the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) and the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service.

“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 Professor Petteri Taalas.

"This year, as was the case in 2021, large parts of Europe have been affected by extensive heatwaves and drought, fuelling wildfires. In 2021, exceptional floods caused death and devastation."

Human and economic impact

Aside from leading to hundreds of fatalities on the bloc, the high-impact weather and climate events — of which about 84% were floods or storms — it is also affecting the livelihood of more than half a million people.

The increasing frequency of the deadliest extreme climate events in Europe, heatwaves, is seeing the number of zoonoses and food-, water- and vector-borne diseases and mental health issues rise. The report stressed that the combination of climate change, urbanisation and population ageing in the region creates will further exacerbate vulnerability to heat.

Heatwaves amplify the intensity and duration of forest fires and droughts. Credit: Feux de Fôret

These events also caused economic damages exceeding $50 billion (€50.55 billion) in 2021.

"As the warming trend continues, exceptional heat, wildfires, floods and other climate change impacts will affect society, economies and ecosystems," the report read.

Not all bad news

Despite this bleak forecast, the report recognised that Europe is also one of the most advanced regions in cross-border cooperation in climate change adaptation, adding that a number of countries on the continent have been very successful in cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

“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,” said Dr Carlo Buontempo, Director of Copernicus' Centre for Medium-range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF).

In particular, in the EU, greenhouse gas emissions decreased by 31% between 1990 and 2020. The report also recognised the fact that the European Union (EU) made climate neutrality, the goal of zero net emissions by 2050, legally binding in its climate law last year.

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But the challenges that the bloc faces remain formidable. Regardless of future levels of global warming, temperatures will rise in all European areas at a rate exceeding global mean temperature changes, the report found.

“On the mitigation side, the good pace in reducing greenhouse gas 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,” said Taalas.

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