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CLIMATE CRISIS

EXPLAINED: How the climate crisis is hitting Europe hard

From deadly wildfires to catastrophic floods, Europe is seeing the impact of the climate crisis with episodes of extreme weather only likely to increase in the coming years as average temperatures rise.

EXPLAINED: How the climate crisis is hitting Europe hard
Tourists watch from the roadside as dense smoke darkens the sky from reignited forest fires north of Grimaud, in the department of Var, southern France on August 18, 2021. - (Photo by NICOLAS TUCAT / AFP)

Europe endured record extreme weather in 2021, from the hottest day and the warmest summer to deadly wildfires and
flooding, the European Union’s climate monitoring service reported Friday.

While Earth’s surface was nearly 1.2 degrees Celsius warmer than pre-industrial levels last year, Europe saw an average increase of more than two degrees, a threshold beyond which dangerous extreme weather events become
more likely and intense, the Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S) said.

The warmest summer on record featured a heatwave along the Mediterranean rim lasting weeks and the hottest day ever registered in Europe, a blistering 48.8C (120 degrees Fahrenheit) in Italy’s Sicily.

In Greece, high temperatures fuelled deadly wildfires described by the prime minister as the country’s “greatest ecological disaster in decades”.

Forests and homes across more than 8,000 square kilometres (3,000 square miles) were burned to the ground.

Front loaders work to move branches and uprooted trees near a bridge over the Ahr river in Insul, Ahrweiler district, western Germany, on July 28, 2021, weeks after heavy rain and floods caused major damage in the Ahr region. – At least 180 people died when severe floods pummelled western Germany over two days in mid-July, raising questions about whether enough was done to warn residents ahead of time. (Photo by Sascha Schuermann / AFP)

A slow-moving, low-pressure system over Germany, meanwhile, broke the record in mid-July for the most rain dumped in a single day.

The downpour was nourished by another unprecedented weather extreme, surface water temperatures over part of the Baltic Sea more than 5C above average.

Flooding in Germany and Belgium caused by the heavy rain — made far more likely by climate change, according to peer-reviewed studies — killed scores and caused billions of euros in damage.

As the climate continues to warm, flooding on this scale will become more frequent, the EU climate monitor has warned.

“2021 was a year of extremes including the hottest summer in Europe, heatwaves in the Mediterranean, flooding and wind droughts in western Europe,” C3S director Carlo Buontempo said in a statement.

“This shows that the understanding of weather and climate extremes is becoming increasingly relevant for key sectors of society.”     

A picture taken on July 15, 2021 shows damaged cars on a flooded street in the Belgian city of Verviers, after heavy rains and floods lashed western Europe, killing at least two people in Belgium. (Photo by François WALSCHAERTS / AFP)

‘Running out of time’

The annual report, in its fifth edition, also detailed weather extremes in the Arctic, which has warmed 3C above the 19th-century benchmark — nearly three times the global average.

Carbon emissions from Arctic wildfires, mostly in eastern Siberia, topped 16 million tonnes of CO2, roughly equivalent to the total annual carbon pollution of Bolivia.

Greenland’s ice sheet — which along with the West Antarctic ice sheet has become the main driver of sea level rise — shed some 400 billion tonnes in mass in 2021.

The pace at which the world’s ice sheets are disintegrating has accelerated more than three-fold in the last 30 years.

“Scientific experts like the IPCC have warned us we are running out of time to limit global warming to 1.5C,” said Mauro Facchini, head of Earth observation at the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Defence Industry and Space, referring to the UN’s science advisory panel.

“This report stresses the urgent necessity to act as climate-related extreme events are already occurring.”

Member comments

  1. The global run-up in temperature prior to the Maunder Minimum before the industrial revolution, during the middle ages was greater than the current run-up. Look to sunspots, not CO2.

  2. The IPCC issues analyses and interpretations. They generally differ, with the analyses noting that there aren’t more extreme events, and those that happen aren’t more severe, and the likely increase in temp is below 2C.

    The interpretations generally seek to find something the analyses which speak of RCP 8.5, rather than the path we’re likely on, which is RCP 4.5. Then presenting the extremely unlikely RCP 8.5 projections as if they were the considered result of the analysis.

    That is, they’re lying again.

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ENVIRONMENT

Milan to turn off fountains as drought strikes Italy

The northern Italian city of Milan plans to take drastic measures to address its current water crisis.

Milan to turn off fountains as drought strikes Italy

The mayor of Milan on Saturday announced the northern Italian city’s fountains would be switched off as part of water restrictions imposed due to a drought.

Beppe Sala announced the measures the day after the wider Lombardy region declared a state of emergency to last until September 30, directing mayors to curtail non-essential water use.

An emergency decree would include the “closure of all the fountains except those where fauna and flora are present and the lakes and irrigation ditches of city parks”, Milan’s mayor said in a statement.

But he said drinking fountains would keep running, noting temperatures have been above 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit) for weeks and a fresh heatwave was due imminently.

Sala did not say when the measures would take effect, and city authorities did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

“The drought emergency continues and measures must be taken,” he said, adding that everyone must do their part.

He called on citizens to minimise their use of drinking water for cleaning and watering the plants, and said irrigation systems feeding public lawns and green spaces would be stopped, except for newly planted trees.

Temperatures in offices, shops and homes should be kept at 26 degrees or above, “to reduce the consumption of energy and therefore reduce the risk of blackouts”, he said.

Municipalities across Italy have begun introducing water rationing after an unusually hot and dry spring sparked widespread alarm.

The Po river, Italy’s longest river and its largest reservoir of fresh water, is suffering its worst drought for 70 years.

The Po river in Italy is currently at its lowest level in years.

The Po river in Italy is currently at its lowest level in years. (Photo by Piero CRUCIATTI / AFP)

Italy’s largest agricultural association, Coldiretti, said the drought is putting over 30 percent of national agricultural production and half of livestock farming in the Po Valley at risk.

Further to the west in Piedmont, water is being rationed in more than 200 municipalities, according to the ANSA news agency.

The Maggiore and Garda lakes are both far lower than usual for this time of year, while further south, the level of the River Tiber that runs through Rome has also dropped.

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