“Europe has warmed more than twice as much as the world average in the last thirty years and is the region that has done so the fastest of the six defined by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO),” says Petteri Taalas, secretary general of the agency. of the UN, in the report ‘State of the climate in Europe’. The study, which has just been made public, highlights that extreme weather phenomena on the continent are increasingly common and that last year they claimed 297 lives, directly affected 510,000 people and caused losses of 51,454 million dollars.
Between 1991 and 2021, temperatures rose in Europe at a rate of half a degree per decade, according to the authors of the study, prepared by the WMO and the Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S), the Earth observation program of the European Union. This increase in temperatures has meant that since 1997 the alpine glaciers have lost 30 meters of thickness and the Greenland ice sheet is melting, which in turn accelerates the rise in sea level. Among the extraordinary phenomena recorded in 2021, experts draw attention to the fact that between August 14 and 16 it rained for the first time on the highest peak in Greenland, at 3,216 meters high and one of the coldest places. of the world.
Heat waves and floods
The average extent of the European Arctic ice sheet was the lowest known in September last year, 37% lower than the average between 1981 and 2000. On August 11 the thermometers reached 48 near Syracuse (Sicily). .8º C, the record on the continent, during a summer in which heat waves occurred that, in combination with droughts, caused large fires in Turkey, Italy and Greece. The burned area last year tripled the average from 2006 to 2020 in Cyprus, France, Greece, Israel, Italy, Lebanon, Montenegro and Turkey. On the other hand, in April a cold wave caused great damage to agriculture. In France alone, losses exceeded $4.6 billion.
“The severe and exceptional floods that caused unprecedented death toll and damage in parts of western and central Europe in July and the destructive forest fires that devastated south-eastern Europe during the summer will remain in the memories of the affected nations and in the international climatological records. Europe is a living reflection of a warming world and reminds us that even well-prepared societies are not safe from the consequences of extreme weather events. This year, as in 2021, large areas of Europe have been affected by long heat waves and droughts, which have fueled forest fires,” recalls Finnish meteorologist Petteri Taalas.
Heat waves are the deadliest phenomenon, especially in the south and west of the continent, and their effects are aggravated by the aging of the population. Furthermore, the authors indicate, climate change multiplies the incidence of zoonoses – infectious diseases that pass from animals to humans –, diseases transmitted by food, water and insects, and allergies, due to alterations in the production and distribution of pollen. More than 24% of European adults suffer from some allergy, including asthma, and the percentage rises in children to between 30% and 40%.
According to the European office of the World Health Organization, air pollution, mainly derived from the burning of fossil fuels, killed nearly half a million people in Europe in 2019. In total, three years ago it killed more than 9 million people in the world, more than all the annual victims combined from wars, terrorism, AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria and drug and alcohol consumption. Scientists estimate that in Europe, reducing emissions could prevent 138,000 premature deaths per year and save between 244,000 and 564,000 million dollars.
At the forefront of the world
Despite this gloomy outlook, the authors of the ‘State of the Climate in Europe’ report believe there are reasons for hope. They highlight, for example, how the European Union cut greenhouse gas emissions by 31% between 1990 and 2020, and has committed to reducing them by 55% by 2030 compared to 1990. «In the field of mitigation, The good pace in reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the region must be maintained and more ambitious objectives must be set. “Europe can play a decisive role in achieving a carbon-neutral society by mid-century and thus comply with the provisions of the Paris Agreement,” says the WMO Secretary General. In addition, 75% of the continent’s population is within the scope of warning systems in case of disasters such as floods and fires.
“European society is vulnerable to climate change and climate variability, but Europe is also at the forefront of international initiatives to mitigate climate change and develop innovative solutions to adapt to the new climate that Europeans will have to live with,” says Carlo Buontempo, director of C3S. “With this report,” he adds, “we aim to bridge the gap between data and analysis to provide information based on scientific data, but at the same time comprehensible and enabling decision-making, in all sectors and work areas.”