Europe lashed by extreme weather as climate crisis grows

Waves hit the dike in Wimereux on February 17, 2022, after Northern France was hit by winds up to 115 km/h as Storm Dudley moved over the UK and Ireland towards the continent. – At least three people were killed in severe storms that hit Europe on February 17, 2022, with winds reaching 180 km/h, causing traffic disruption and in Britain, Storm Dudley caused transport disruption on February 16, 2022, although the damage was not widespread. (Photo by Denis Charlet / AFP)


by Marlowe HOOD
Agence France Presse

PARIS, France (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”.

A wildfire burns a forest in the village of Villa, Northwestern Athens, on August 18, 2021. – As devastating wildfires ravage Greece, experts say the blazes cast a harsh light on the failure to prepare against and contain them, threatening irreversible damage to the country’s rich biodiversity. (Photo by ANGELOS TZORTZINIS / AFP)

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

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.

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier stands at the banks of the small Ahr river in Ahrweiler, in Rhineland Palatinate, southwestern Germany, on October 10, 2021. – Steinmeier pays a visit to the region that was devastated in mid-July by floods causing damages and casualties. (Photo by Michael Probst / POOL / AFP)
This photograph taken on August 13, 2021 shows mangled cars and a damaged bridge in Trooz, one month after the river Vesdre burst its banks engulfing the town in floodwaters. – One month after huge storms battered northwestern Europe and forced an unprecedented wave of floodwater through densely populated valleys, Belgian residents are still in shock. The government of Wallonia has collected 155,000 tonnes of debris but red-brick industrial villages are still cluttered by smashed cars, uprooted trees and furniture ruined by mud and heating oil. (Photo by Dave CLARK / AFP)

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.”

– ‘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.

UPERNAVIK, GREENLAND – SEPTEMBER 07: Icebergs are seen from NASA’s Oceans Melting Greenland (OMG) research aircraft on September 7, 2021 near Upernavik, Greenland. The NASA Oceans Melting Greenland (OMG) campaign is wrapping up a six-year mission studying the ocean and glaciers along Greenland’s 24,000 mile remote coastline with airborne and shipborne instruments- data which cannot be captured by satellite. Each summer, OMG releases around 250 ocean probes from a modified DC-3 aircraft into the ocean to monitor the temperature and salinity of Atlantic subsurface waters around Greenland. According to NASA, the goal of the mission is ‘to figure out how much of Greenland’s ice melt is caused by warming oceans.’ Greenland’s massive ice sheet holds enough water to raise sea levels by around 25 feet worldwide. Mario Tama/Getty Images/AFP (Photo by MARIO TAMA / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP)

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.”

© Agence France-Presse

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