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Europe warming at twice the global average over last 30 years

Although some European nations are among the world's leaders in proactive climate policy, the U.N. reports the region is roughly 1.5 degrees Celsius warmer than it was three decades ago.

(CN) — Temperatures in Europe are increasing at a faster pace than any other continent, a rate more than twice the global average over the past 30 years, according to a report released Wednesday by the United Nations' World Meteorological Organization.

The WMO report, made in cooperation with the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service, suggests the higher temperatures — increasing about half a degree Celsius on average each decade since 1991 — have enabled “exceptional” heat waves, more wildfires and more intense flooding, conditions exacerbated by rains that have become less predictable and glaciers that are retreating faster than ever recorded.

The warmer weather was blamed as the culprit for hundreds of deaths in 2021 alone, when higher temperatures “directly affected more than half a million people and caused economic damages exceeding $50 billion.”

Among the specific effects attributed to higher temperatures in Europe last year include the lowest average sea-ice extent ever recorded in the Arctic, more wildfires in Turkey, Greece, Italy, France, Cyprus, Israel, and Lebanon, and a record high temperature of 48.8 degrees Celsius (119.8 degrees Fahrenheit) recorded in Sicily, Italy, “a provisional record for continental Europe.” 

The maximum extent of ice in the Baltic Sea fell from more than 400,000 square kilometers in the late 1980s to less than 100,000 square kilometers in 2021, although it has fluctuated widely over that time. More concerning is the melting of the Greenland ice sheet, which has contributed an estimated 13 millimeters, or or about a half inch, to global mean sea level rise.

To add insult to injury, scientists firmly believe European climate-related disasters will increase in the future, even as some European countries are emerging as world leaders for their efforts to reduce greenhouse emissions. The EU in particular reduced emissions 31% between 1990 and 2020, with a target of 55% by 2030.

“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,” WMO Secretary-General Professor Petteri Taalas said in a statement accompanying the report. “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.”

Broadly, the 2015 Paris agreement seeks to limit global temperature increases to just 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2030 compared to pre-industrial levels, while also achieving carbon neutrality by 2050.

Wednesday's report isn’t all gloom and doom, however.  

Roughly 75% of Europeans are protected by early warning systems, while some countries have implemented “heat health action plans.” The report notes countries in Europe are more acceptable to working with geopolitical neighbors on climate solutions and have done so “across several transnational river basins.”

“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 Carlo Buontempo, director of the Copernicus Climate Change Service. 

Thirty-nine European countries were reported to have disaster risk reduction policies in place.

“All 39 countries have also reported that their strategies promote policy coherence and compliance, notably with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement, while 33 have reported that they have made progress on adopting and implementing local DRR strategies in line with national strategies,” the report states.

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