The climate crisis affects the whole world, but some places are changing faster than others
Europe is heating up faster than any other continent in the world, a new report from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) finds. Since 1991, temperatures in Europe have risen more than twice as fast as global average temperatures. That’s brought extreme swings in weather, from devastating floods to deadly heatwaves.
The consequences are brutal, despite Europe having more resources than many other parts of the world to cope with climate change. For example, three in four people in Europe have access to early warning systems for disasters exacerbated by climate change. In comparison, the United Nations recently found that half of the world lacks adequate early warning systems.
“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 Petteri Taalas said in a press release yesterday.
While the whole planet is running a fever, change is coming more swiftly to certain parts of the world. Since the mid-1800s, when economies started polluting the atmosphere by burning vast amounts of fossil fuels, global average temperatures have risen by 1.2 degrees Celsius. But Europe’s land masses are already around 2 degrees warmer, on average, compared to the preindustrial era. Temperatures have risen by about 0.5 degrees Celsius each decade since 1991 in Europe, according to the WMO report.
Every fraction of a degree makes a difference when it comes to climate change. It drives unprecedented heatwaves, like the record-smashing heat spell the UK experienced this July. Excess deaths in England during this summer’s heatwaves reached 2,803 among people 65 years and older, who tend to be more vulnerable to heat-related health complications, as temperatures climbed above 40 degrees Celsius for the first time in recorded history. Such high temperatures in parts of the UK would have been “statistically impossible” in a world that was 1.2 degrees cooler than it is now, subsequent research found. Heatwaves are the “deadliest extreme climate events” in Europe, the WMO says.
Climate change also raised the risk of flooding in western Europe in July 2021, when raging rivers swept homes off their foundations and floods killed at least 220 people died in Germany and Belgium. Single-day rainfall events in the hard-hit regions are up to 19 percent more intense now than they would be without human-caused climate change, research found.
Europe is on track to continue warming at a faster rate than the rest of the planet, according to the WMO report. One reason for the accelerated warmingis that the continent encompasses parts of the Arctic, which is warming about four times faster than the globe. Each region faces unique vulnerabilities based on its landscape. Typically in the Arctic, sunlight and heat bounce off ice and snow — but as that melts, it uncovers dark surfaces that absorb rather than reflect heat, causing starker changes than in more temperate areas of the world.
Fortunately, the European Union has managed to reduce its planet-heating greenhouse gas emissions by 31 percent between 1990 and 2020, the WMO says. But much deeper pollution cuts need to happen more quickly to prevent even more severe climate change.