Although 2021 as a whole was not the warmest year in history in Europe or the world, there are several findings in the European Union’s annual climate report that raise concern.
The European summer was the hottest on record, in large part due to the heat wave in the Mediterranean. A new European heat record was set in Sicily, Italy, when the thermometer showed 48.4 degrees.
While the global temperature was 1.2 degrees above pre-industrial levels, it was more than 2 degrees higher in Europe, according to a report from the European Union’s climate monitoring service Copernicus (C3S). It’s a temperature increase so significant that more and more extreme weather is becoming more and more, according to the European Union.
More temperature records in store
Lemons rot on trees, forests ablaze, and snails die from the heat inside the shells. And the European record wasn’t the only one to fall, a new national heat record was set in Spain of 47 degrees. And this won’t be the last time.
– We don’t see much in the future, but we focus first and foremost on what has already happened. But that of course won’t be the last of the heat records we see, says lead author Freya Famburg in a press briefing about the report.
A climatic year full of variance
Although the annual air temperature has been only 0.2 degrees higher than the average for the past 30 years — 2021 was not even among the 10 warmest years in total — the annual average doesn’t show it all. Behind this number there are large disparities.
Spring was cooler than usual, while summer was characterized by constant heat waves and droughts. It contributed to the outbreak of large fires that destroyed about 8000 square kilometers of forests and land around the Mediterranean in July and August. By comparison, the entire Rogaland province has an area of just under 9,400 square kilometres.
The Greek prime minister described the fires as “the biggest environmental disaster in decades”.
Also in the water it was warmer than usual. In the Baltic Sea, temperatures were measured five degrees above average.
That’s too many, Famburg says.
At the same time that the heat was like a blanket over southern Europe, the rain caused serious damage in the north. Besides the fact that the land was already saturated with water, the record rainfall led to floods that killed more than 200 people and caused massive material damage. In Germany, divers were deployed to retrieve the dead, and there and in Belgium, bridges collapsed as cities and towns were washed away.
We know we’ll likely have more accidents like this in a warmer world, says Famburg.
Climatic factors other than rain also played a role, and thus it is difficult to conclude that the floods were due to climate change. At the same time, Copernicus notes that the results of 2021 also indicate long-term changes in the climate.
It melts three times faster
2021 was an extreme year. This shows that it is increasingly important for important sectors of society to understand extreme weather and climate, says Carlo Bontempo, Copernican director.
The annual report, the fifth in a row, shows an extreme development in the Arctic. Forest fires, mainly in eastern Siberia, have released more than 16 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. This is equivalent to what Bolivia emits in an entire year.
The temperature in the Arctic has increased by 3 degrees compared to the nineteenth century. This is nearly three times the increase in the global average.
Last year, about 400 billion tons of Greenland’s ice sheet disappeared, and melting here and in West Antarctica has become the single most important factor behind rising sea levels. The world’s ice sheet is now shrinking three times faster than it was 30 years ago.
– It’s urgent
The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recently warned that we are starting to have a very bad time if the world is able to keep temperature rise below 1.5 degrees and thus avoid the most devastating climate consequences.
We face a number of challenges, such as reducing global warming, green supply from the European Union and a net-zero emissions target by 2050, says Mauro Faccini of the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Defense and Space, the agency responsible for Copernicus.
– What we are already witnessing of extreme climate-related events in Europe confirms that this is urgent.
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