GENEVA: Over the past three decades, Europe’s temperatures have risen more than twice as rapidly as the global average, making it the continent with the most rapid temperature increase.
In a joint analysis, the UN’s World Meteorological Organization and the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service showed that since 1991, the European region has experienced an average temperature increase of 0.5 degrees Celsius every decade.
In consequence, Alpine glaciers lost 30 meters (just under 100 feet) of ice thickness between 1997 and 2021, while the Greenland ice sheet is rapidly melting and contributing to the acceleration of sea level rise.
Last year, Greenland’s highest point saw melting and the first rainfall ever recorded there. The analysis cautioned that regardless of future levels of global warming, temperatures in Europe will likely continue to climb at a rate faster than the worldwide mean temperature change.
Petteri Taalas, the head of the World Meteorological Organization, said in a statement, “Europe is a living example of a warming planet and a reminder that even well-prepared nations are not immune to the effects of catastrophic weather events.”
The WMO divides the world into six areas, with the European zone encompassing 50 nations and comprising half of the rapidly warming Arctic, which is not a continent in and of itself.
Only the West Antarctic Peninsula region is experiencing fast warming within Antarctica, which is a continent but not one of the six WMO-defined regions.
The new assessment, produced in advance of the UN’s 27th climate summit, which will begin in Egypt on Sunday, analyzed the situation in Europe until 2021.
It was determined that high-impact weather and climate events, mostly floods and storms, caused hundreds of lives, directly affected more than half a million people, and caused economic damages in excess of $50 billion across Europe in 2012.
At the same time, the research acknowledged several positives, notably the performance of many European countries in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
These emissions reduced by over a third throughout the EU between 1990 and 2020, and the bloc has set a net 55% reduction goal for 2030.
Europe is also among the most advanced areas in terms of cross-border collaboration for climate change adaptation, according to the research.
In addition, it praised Europe’s world-leading deployment of early warning systems, which provide protection for around 75% of the population, and stated that its heat-health action plans have saved many lives.
“European society is exposed to climatic unpredictability and change,” said Carlo Buontempo, director of the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts under the Copernicus program (ECMWF).
However, Europe is also at the forefront of worldwide efforts to prevent climate change and create novel adaptation strategies for the new environment that Europeans will be forced to live in.
Yet, the continent faces significant obstacles.
“This year, as in 2021, considerable portions of Europe have been afflicted by widespread heatwaves and dryness, fueling flames,” said Taalas, who also lamented the “death and damage” caused by the “extraordinary floods” of the previous year.
In the future, regardless of the scenario of greenhouse gas emissions, the paper warns that “the frequency and severity of heat extremes… are anticipated to increase.”
This is alarming, the paper said, because the deadliest severe climatic events in Europe are heatwaves, particularly in the west and south of the continent.
“The combination of climate change, urbanization, and population aging in the region causes and will worsen heat sensitivity,” the paper states.
Other health risks are also prompted by climate change.
It has already begun to change the production and dispersion of pollens and spores, which appears to be causing an increase in the incidence of different allergies.
While more than 24% of adults in the European area suffer from such allergies, including severe asthma, the number of children affected is 30-40% and growing, according to the report.
The rising temperature is also generating an increase in vector-borne illnesses, with ticks spreading Lyme disease and tick-borne encephalitis to new regions.
According to a survey, the danger of Zika, dengue, and chikungunya is increasing as Asian tiger mosquitoes move further north.