Heat wave, fires, floods: 2021, year of climate disasters in Europe

The hottest summer in history, a panicking thermometer, exceptional fires, devastating floods: Europe experienced an avalanche of extreme events in 2021 that underline the need to act against global warming, the annual report on Europe’s climate underlines.

Since the pre-industrial era, the planet has risen between 1.1 and 1.2 °C, but Europe is warming faster with an average temperature increase of +2 °C, notes the European Climate Change Service Copernicus (C3S). Warming that is already multiplying with extreme weather events around the world, and Europe is not spared.

“2021 was a year of extremes, including the hottest summer in Europe, heat waves in the Mediterranean, flooding and a lack of wind, demonstrating that understanding weather and climate extremes is becoming increasingly important for key sectors of society,” said in a comment. press release Carlo Buontempo, director of Copernicus.

The hottest summer

Although the whole year does not fit in the top 10 warmest on the continent, the report confirms that the summer of 2021 was the warmest on record in Europe, 1°C above the average for the past 30 years.

This particularly hot summer was marked by particularly intense heatwaves lasting several weeks, with the mercury rising to 48.8°C in Sicily, a new European record (yet to be officially approved) or 47°C in Spain, a new national record .

Heat associated with persistent drought, particularly in the Mediterranean, is creating conditions conducive to fires, particularly in Italy, Greece and Turkey. A total area of ​​800,000 hectares went up in smoke in July and August, making this burning season one of the most intense in Europe for 30 years.

Conversely, after record rains on July 14, 2021, Germany and Belgium were ravaged by floods that killed more than 200 and caused billions of euros in damage. An episode whose chance has increased by 20% to 900% due to global warming, according to researchers at World Weather Attribution.

>> Read again: After the floods, the return to normalcy in Belgium will take a long time

>> Read also: Germany releases 30 billion to repair flood damage

More and more heat waves

And a period of late spring frosts, when nature had already finished flowering, damaged a number of vines and fruit trees, from France to northern Greece.

The clearest imprint of climate change in Europe so far is the intensification of heat waves. But scientists say other extreme events will follow the same trajectory. “We expect them to increase in the future,” Freja Vamborg, lead author of the report, warns.

>> Read also: Drought in Europe worsens and affects ecosystems

This inventory of Europe’s climate also shows the Arctic warming even faster, averaging +3°C compared to the pre-industrial era. Although 2021 is not a record year for the Arctic, the recorded temperature was 0.4°C higher than normal and fires devastated the region, especially eastern Siberia, releasing 16 million tons of carbon (the fourth highest volume since the start of the measurements in 2003).

Greenland’s sea ice, in turn, has melted like never before, with the lowest amount ever recorded, 72% below normal. Higher-than-normal temperatures and southerly winds largely melted the ice in the summer, leaving eastern Greenland virtually ice-free by the end of the season.

The IPCC Warning

“Scientists, especially the IPCC (UN climate experts), have warned us that time is running out to limit warming to +1.5°C”, the most ambitious target of the Paris Agreement, said Mauro Facchini, director from Earth Observation. at the European Commission.

>> Read also: Faced with global warming, the world has three years to cut emissions

Specifically, in its latest report published in early April, the IPCC stressed the need to completely reform the economy and curb emissions in less than three years in order to hope to maintain a “liveable” world. The Copernicus report “underlines the need to take action, as extreme climate-related events are already taking place in Europe,” emphasized Mauro Facchini.

>> Listen again to the Point J episode on the IPCC reports:

What are IPCC reports for? / Point J / 12 min. / March 21, 2022


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