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.

  3. Climate change is impacting us all now in Europe but both Africa and Asia experience worse conditions.

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Climate change the ‘biggest worry’ for people in Germany

According to a new Forsa poll, fears about climate change are one of the most common sources of worry for Germans - followed by the war in Ukraine and soaring energy prices.

Climate change the 'biggest worry' for people in Germany

According to the opinion survey conducted at the beginning of November, 59 percent of Germans are worried that climate change will have an increasingly frequent and stronger impact on everyday life – for example, through extreme weather events and natural disasters.

Just over half – or 53 percent – were worried that the Russian war of aggression on Ukraine would spread to other countries or even lead to a third world war. Meanwhile, 52 were worried that their own financial situation will be worsened by the high cost of electricity and energy products.

Following the attacks on the Nord Stream pipelines earlier this year, 51 percent of respondents said they feared that cyberattacks could hit other parts of Germany’s critical infrastructure in the future.

Alongside high energy prices, the general cost of living was also a concern for many, with 44 percent saying they worried about their financial health and the soaring cost of groceries.

Finally, 42 percent were kept awake by the prospect that Germany could run out of gas for households and businesses this winter. Germany managed to fill its gas storage facilities to 100 percent ahead of the heating season, but experts have warned that reducing consumption will still be necessary.

READ ALSO: Majority of Germans worried about ‘major war in Europe’

No pandemic fears

The latest survey marks a noticeable shift in public opinion since 2020 and 2021, when the Covid pandemic was still a dominant fear in people’s minds. 

Since then, climate fears, the war in Ukraine, and the cost of living appear have taken over as the biggest topics troubling the population. 

The Forsa poll was commissioned by civil servants’ association DBB, who warned that the public were losing trust in the protective function of the state. 

Ursula Silberbach, who is currently seeking re-election as chair of DBB, expressed alarm at the results.

“I think neither the traffic light coalition nor the opposition have understood how serious the situation really is,” she told DPA.

The union leader, whose organisation represents public service workers, called for a special fund and investment plan to improve the infrastructure and equipment of public service.