Nov 2, 2022 - Energy & Environment

Europe is the world's fastest warming continent: UN

Forest fire burns in southwest France during September.

Wildfire in southwestern France on Sept. 13. Photo: Philippe Lopez/AFP via Getty Images.

Temperatures in Europe are increasing twice as fast as in any other continent on Earth, according to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), a UN agency.

Why it matters: Rapid warming is leading to devastating extreme weather events, including deadly heat waves and floods, as well as hotter, more severe droughts.

Driving the news: In a new report looking specifically at the climate of Europe during the past 30 years, the WMO and EU's Copernicus Climate Change Service, showed that during the 1991-2021 period, temperatures across Europe increased by about 0.5°C (0.9°F) per decade.

  • Only the Arctic region is warming faster, along with parts of Antarctica, climate data shows.
  • European warming is having sweeping changes on the environment, including melting mountain glaciers and more severe and persistent extreme weather events.
  • Many of these shifts were visible last summer, when temperatures set all-time records in France, Britain and other countries, alpine glaciers melted unusually early and extensively, and a marine heat wave enveloped the waters of the Mediterranean.
  • According to the WMO, mountain glaciers lost nearly 30 meters, or about 100 feet, in thickness from 1997 to 2021.

Between the lines: The report notes that Europe is one of the best-prepared regions for climate change and the supercharged extreme weather events that it brings.

  • About three quarters of Europe's population are covered by early warning systems for extreme weather conditions, for example, with many subject to heat wave action plans as well.
  • "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 Petteri Taalas, in a statement.

What's next: Europe can expect to see a continuation of its sped up-warming rate, relative to other continents, during the rest of the century. In addition, the frequency and intensity of heat extremes — which reached all-time record levels this past summer, are projected to keep increasing.

  • In addition, the Mediterranean region is forecast to continue to become hotter and more arid, while extreme precipitation events and inland flooding plague areas of central and northern Europe.
  • Heading into COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt next week, the EU has a greenhouse gas emissions reduction target of 55% emissions cut by 2030, and net zero emissions by 2050.
  • However, even if these goals are achieved, the global effects of emissions from countries with increasing emissions, would continue to affect Europe.

Context: The new report arrives in the midst of a fall heat wave in much of Europe, with national temperature records set in several countries so far in November, but also throughout October.

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