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Warming Europe: 2022 was hot, hot, hot and there’s no end in sight

The EU’s climate change service says last year was the second hottest on record in Europe and the hottest summer ever. Europe is heating up faster than any other continent on Earth and scientists warn this faster-than-expected warming trend is here to stay.

(CN) — Europe baked like never before last summer with heat records getting smashed across northern Europe and the continent endured its second-hottest year ever on record, according to a report released Tuesday by the Europe Union's climate change service.

Most alarming, last year's record temperatures – and accompanying droughts, wildfires and extreme weather – were yet more proof that Europe is in the midst of what scientists warn is a dire trend of increasing heat caused by global warming. This spike in temperatures is coming sooner than scientists expected and it is likely to continue as global carbon emissions continue to rise.

“2022 was yet another year of climate extremes across Europe and globally,” said Samantha Burgess, the deputy director of the EU's Copernicus Climate Change Service. “These events highlight that we are already experiencing the devastating consequences of our warming world.”

Only 2020 was warmer than last year in Europe, Copernicus said. Last year was cooler than 2020 by 0.3 degrees Celsius (0.54 degrees Fahrenheit).

Globally, Copernicus said 2022 was the fifth warmest ever recorded and that the last eight years were the warmest on record for the planet. The global temperature is about 1.2 C (about 2.16 F) warmer than pre-industrial levels, according to Copernicus.

Last summer was the hottest ever measured by a clear margin and autumn was the third warmest on the books, the agency said. Along with the heat, western and northern Europe were battered by prolonged and intense heatwaves and much of the continent suffered drought.

“2022 surprised many of us,” said Giulio Betti, a climatologist at Italy's National Research Council-Institute of Biometeorology, in a telephone interview.

“But so did 2021. Really, it's been since 2019 that we've been measuring record temperatures not predicted by mathematical models,” he said. “Such a quick change was not expected.”

Last summer was beset by a slow-moving wave of heat from North Africa that extended over much of western and northern Europe. In July, Great Britain's Met Office said a temperature of 40.2 C (104.3 F) was recorded at London Heathrow. It was the first time ever for a temperature to exceed 40 C (104 F) in Britain. The previous record was 38.7 C (101.7 F).

“Forty degrees wasn't expected before 2030-2040,” Betti said. “It's a record completely outside the forecasts.”

Graphic showing climate changes in Europe between 1979 and 2022. (Copernicus Climate Change Service via Courthouse News)

And Europe can expect it to get worse in the years and decades to come.

The European continent is heating up faster than any other continent on the planet. In the past 30 years, temperatures in Europe have increased by more than twice the global average and it is experiencing the highest rate of increase of any continent, according to the World Meteorological Organization and Copernicus.

Betti said the warming trend is set to continue and that Europe must prepare for a new climate reality where winters are shorter and summers longer.

He pointed to the warm winter being felt across Europe this January.

“Snow is missing all across the Apennines,” he said. “There's no snow between Austria and Germany. Ski resorts are closed.”

Europe is warming so much faster than other continents due to its geographic location, he said.

“Europe is a hot spot because of its position,” he said.

There are the warm currents from the Sahara Desert and Africa that bring heat to Europe. With Africa also warming due to climate change, Betti said Europe too is feeling those effects.

Then there's the Mediterranean Sea, which tends to warm up quickly compared to the world's oceans and this in turn brings warm temperatures into Europe, he said

Betti cited another factor in Europe's rapid warming: The loss of sea ice in the Barents Sea and around the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard.

“Europe suffers now from an almost chronic lack of Arctic ice” in these areas, he said. He said sea ice helps cool Europe.

Freja Vamborg, a senior researcher at the Copernicus center, said the reason why Europe is warming faster remains open to debate, though the northern hemisphere in general is warming faster.

"There are a lot of combined reasons and I would say not all of them are clear." she said during a Tuesday news conference.  

Naturally, the toll from a warming climate is massive.

“Take for example the snow on the mountains,” Betti said. “Snow serves as insulation; it facilitates dormancy; it helps plants grow; it allows animals to rest; it helps the soil because it makes it more porous; it slowly releases water.”

Across Europe, natural cycles are being disrupted by climate change, he said. “The flowering cycles of trees are being completely upset.”

With carbon emissions continuing to accumulate, Betti said it's hard to envision the rise in temperature in Europe slowing within the next decade or two.

“Many years ago, we talked about the need to mitigate the effects of climate change” through massive efforts to reduce carbon emissions and slow down global warming, he said. “But because we didn't have the political will to mitigate, now unfortunately we must begin to quickly adapt” to a “climate that is always hotter and less regular."

He said reducing carbon emissions and slowing global warming must remain a priority, otherwise “we will never be able to adapt” to a constantly changing, and worsening, climate.

Courthouse News reporter Cain Burdeau is based in the European Union.

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