WMO: Global warming is progressing faster in Europe than in the rest of the world,

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the Copernicus climate change monitoring service have unveiled a new report which reveals that for 30 years, Europe has been experiencing warming more than twice the global average. The Old Continent thus appears to be the most affected by climate change.

The persistence of the phenomenon portends heat waves, forest fires, floods and other exceptional impacts that will affect societies, economies and ecosystems.

Temperatures in Europe have risen considerably over the period 1991-2021, with a warming of around +0.5°C per decade, observe WMO experts. As a result, alpine glaciers lost 30 meters in thickness between 1997 and 2021. For its part, the Greenland ice sheet is gradually melting, contributing to accelerating sea level rise. During the summer of 2021, Greenland experienced a melt episode and, for the first time, precipitation was recorded at its highest point, Summit station.

During the year 2021, on which the report focuses, high-impact weather and climate events, mainly floods and storms, caused hundreds of deaths, directly affected more than half a million people and caused economic damage exceeding $50 billion.

Disasters of meteorological, hydrological and climatic origin will increase

According to Petteri Taalas, WMO Secretary-General, “Europe offers a vivid image of a warming planet. It reminds us that even well-prepared societies are not immune to the consequences of extreme weather events. This year, as in 2021, large parts of the continent have experienced prolonged heat waves and droughts, fostering wildfires. In 2021, exceptional floods caused death and devastation”.

According to projections presented in the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), natural disasters of meteorological, hydrological and climatic origin are expected to increase in the future.

Whatever the progress of global warming, in all regions of Europe, it is already likely that the rise in temperatures will continue to exceed the global average.

The frequency and intensity of extreme heat events have increased over the last decades and, according to projections, the trend should continue regardless of the scenario envisaged for the evolution of greenhouse gas emissions. Critical thresholds established for ecosystems and for humans are even predicted to be exceeded in the event of global warming of 2°C or more.

Precipitation is projected to decrease in summer in the Mediterranean region and further north. If global warming exceeds 1.5°C, extreme rainfall and pluvial flooding are expected to increase in all regions except the Mediterranean.

Countless impacts on population health

The report stresses that climate change and the proliferation of extreme weather events, in particular heat waves, have innumerable impacts on the health of the European population, in particular because of the increase in zoonoses (pathologies ranging from animal to human), and diseases transmitted by food, water or various vectors, as well as mental health problems.

Heat waves remain the deadliest extreme weather events on this continent, particularly in Western and Southern Europe, and the combination of climate change, urbanization and aging populations will continue to increase vulnerability to heat.

Another problem: the impact of climate change on pollens and spores is causing an increase in allergies which affect more than 24% of adults in Europe, and also induces severe forms of asthma. Among children in the region, the proportion is 30 to 40% and continues to increase. Climate change is also affecting the distribution of vector-borne diseases, such as ticks that can spread Lyme disease and tick-borne encephalitis.

According to the WHO Regional Office for Europe, in 2019, around half a million premature deaths were also caused by ambient air pollution due to anthropogenic fine particles, a significant proportion of which came from burning fossil fuels. The report estimates that around 138,000 premature deaths could be avoided each year by reducing carbon emissions, which would save between $244 billion and $564 billion.

Children are more vulnerable to the effects of climate change than adults, both physically and psychologically. According to UNICEF’s Child Climate Risk Index (CCRI), almost 125 million European children live in countries at “medium to high” risk (the third level out of five of the classification adopted worldwide )

Infrastructures and populations still poorly adapted

Ecosystems are also being damaged by global warming. Most of the damage caused by forest fires is due to extreme events to which neither ecosystems nor populations are adapted.

Climate change and human behavior are creating conditions conducive to the multiplication, intensification and worsening of fires in Europe, with serious socio-economic and ecological consequences.

Finally, many transport infrastructures are also threatened because they were built to withstand the much less extreme weather conditions of the time.

Europe, according to the report, nevertheless has many assets in the face of these dangers. In the European Union, greenhouse gas emissions have already decreased by 31% between 1990 and 2020, thanks to the policies of several countries, while the objective is a net reduction of 55% by 2030.

Europe is also one of the most advanced regions in transboundary cooperation for adaptation to climate change, especially in transnational river basins. It is also illustrated by the effectiveness of its early warning systems: approximately 75% of its population is thus protected. Finally, despite the impact of heat waves, its action plans against heat waves have saved many lives.

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