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New EU climate change report warns of increased greenhouse gases and record temperatures

In addition to the hottest summer on record, Europe continues to see rising atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations.

COPENHAGEN, Denmark (CN) — It was a wild weather year for Europe in 2021, and if the continued spike in greenhouse gas emissions is any indication, there will be more wild weather on the way.

“2021 was a year of extremes, including the hottest summer in Europe, heatwaves in the Mediterranean, flooding and wind droughts in Western Europe, showing that the understanding of weather and climate extremes is becoming increasingly relevant for key societal sectors," said Carlo Buontempo, director of the Copernicus Climate Change Service, in the annual report for 2021.

Copernicus provides yearly Earth observation data on the long-term persistent trends in climate change to the European Union. This year, the agency chose to publish its findings on Earth Day, a day dedicated to demonstrating support for the environment and sounding the alarm on global warming and damage to biodiversity.

Copernicus joins the latter.

The agency reported Europe had its warmest summer ever, with record temperatures of 48.8 degrees (119.8 degrees Fahrenheit) measured in Sicily last year. The dry climate caused two to three-week heat waves in the Mediterranean, where damaging wildfires occurred on a hitherto unseen scale.

The main reason for both European and global temperature rise is the increased atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases, according to Freja Vamborg, senior scientist at the Copernicus Climate Change Service and the report's lead author.

“It is the same key message on greenhouse gases that is forever repeated. We see large increases in carbon dioxide in 2021, and it is the main driver behind a general global rise in average temperature between 1.1 and 1.2 degrees Celsius (1.98 and 2.16 degrees Fahrenheit) since the pre-industrial age," Vamborg said at a press briefing ahead of the report's release.

The European continent has warmed by 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the report.

It also shows that global concentrations of C02 increased by 2.3 parts per million in the atmospheric air and methane by 16.5 parts per billion. Vincent-Henri Peuch, director of the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service, calls it a worrying sign.

This infographic shows the increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide and methane so far this century. (Copernicus Climate Change Service via Courthouse News)

“The rise has been steady for both greenhouse gases with no sign of reduction over the last 10 years. However, we saw a larger than usual increase of methane in both 2020 and 2021”, he said at the before-mentioned briefing. 

When asked about the specific reasons, he called them an open science question.

“An increase of methane concentrations could be linked not only to emissions but also to a possible change in the oxidizing capacity of the atmosphere," Peuch said. "More research is required to get a robust understanding. Still, some recent work points towards changes in tropical areas and emissions from natural sources like wetlands and from human sources such as rice culture and cattle.".

It is important to remember that there is a difference between atmospheric and emitted greenhouse gases. The report concludes on the former, which has accumulatively increased over the last decades.

Nonetheless, the findings clearly question the EU´s ability to live up to its European Climate Law goal of reducing CO2 and other greenhouse gases by at least 55% by 2030 compared to 1990 levels.  

Peuch also noted that despite expectations of Covid-19 having a positive effect on the overall emissions, they were only lowered by a little over 5% last year.

“The lockdown policy meant less use of cars and transportation. But people working from home resulted in more spent energy for heating and home cooking. Unfortunately, the estimated emissions are back to the level of 2019," he said.

The European State of the Climate report for 2021 maps different complex weather observations and measurements. One of them is a record rainfall in Belgium and Western Germany, causing the Rhine and Meuse rivers to spill over their banks.

The data concludes a combination of soil saturation, a travelling low-pressure system and the heavy July rain that led to river discharge reaching a historical maximum since 1991, when water level measurements initially began.

While the report methodically describes the major 2021 climate events, it does not hold explanations for all of them.

For example, Copernicus has measured one of the lowest wind speeds in Western and Central Europe since 1979, explaining a lower-than-expected amount of green electricity generated by windmills. In contrast, Southern Europe saw much higher speeds than usual.

The reason is still scientifically unknown and needs further examination.

When it comes to the Arctic region, temperatures were cooler than in 2020. And where the minimum sea ice extent in the Greenland Sea was the lowest on the record, the Beaufort & Chukchi Sea (between Russia and the United States ed.) was above average.

In short, a mixed picture. The same goes for the freezing European spring, contrasting the overheated summer period.

Infographic on the summer 2021 weather in the European Union. (Copernicus Climate Change Service via Courthouse News)

Generally, Europe had a “year of contrasts”, as the publication press release states. And the Copernicus experts made it clear that we can expect more extreme weather record breakers and new problems such as emissions from wildfires.

A rapid outfacing of fossil fuels from Russia could be a potential positive game-changer in the European and global carbon calculator for the years to come, noted Peuch.

Yet, the extent is still unknown. But the report´s message stands clear.

As Mauro Facchini, head of Earth Observation at the Directorate General for Defense Industry and Space for the European Commission, puts it:

“Scientific experts like the IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change ed.] have warned that we are running out of time to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit). This report stresses the urgent necessity to act as climate related extreme events are already occurring in Europe.”

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