Europe, the fastest-warming continent, faces ‘major human, economic, environmental toll’ from climate impacts

Europe, the fastest-warming continent, faces ‘major human, economic, environmental toll’ from climate impacts
19 June 2023

By the Climate Centre

Climate change is taking a “major human, economic and environmental toll in Europe, the fastest warming continent of the world,” the World Meteorological Organization said today in the second of a series of annual reports on the continent’s climate

The State of the Climate in Europe 2022 says last year was “marked by extreme heat, drought and wildfires. Sea surface temperatures around Europe reached new highs, accompanied by marine heatwaves. Glacier melt was unprecedented,” a WMO press release said.

Europe has been warming at twice the global average since the 1980s and is now estimated to be 2.3°C above the pre-industrial average.

For the first time, however, in 2022 wind and solar generated more electricity (22.3 per cent) than fossil fuels (20 per cent) in the EU.

‘A pattern that will make heat-stress extremes more frequent and intense across the region’

WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas said: “Increasing use of renewables and low-carbon energy sources is crucial to reduce dependence on fossil fuels.

“Climate services play a key role in ensuring the resilience of energy systems to climate-related shocks, in planning operations, and in informing measures to increase energy efficiency.”

The Europe report – compiled jointly with the EU Copernicus Climate Change Service – was released to coincide with the European Climate Change Adaptation Conference that started today in Dublin and includes the Irish, British and Italian Red Cross, and the Climate Centre.

National Societies across Europe earlier this month took part in a variety of work to mark the IFRC’s global Heat Action Day on 2 June (pictured, Greece), after early-season record-breaking heat in countries like Spain, for example.

The new IFRC Europe regional climate road map was discussed most recently at a Red Cross climate champions’ meeting in Athens – a city showcasing its work on early warning for heatwaves, a joint project by the International Federation and the Hellenic Red Cross.

Warmest year

Copernicus Director Carlo Buontempo said today: “The record-breaking heat stress that Europeans experienced in 2022 was one of the main drivers of weather-related excess deaths in Europe. Unfortunately, this cannot be considered a one-off occurrence or an oddity of the climate.

“Our current understanding of the climate system and its evolution informs us that these kinds of events are part of a pattern that will make heat-stress extremes more frequent and more intense across the region.”

Belgium, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Portugal, Spain, Switzerland and the UK (alphabetically) all had their warmest year on record last year.

The WMO cites the Emergency Events Database as showing meteorological, hydrological and climate-related hazards in Europe causing 16,365 reported fatalities in 2022 – almost all of them excess deaths amid extreme heat – and direct impacts of all kinds on 156,000 people.

Almost all economic damage, however, was accounted for by storms and floods, together nearly 70 per cent of recorded events, despite generally below-average precipitation Europewide.

This year so far, the Red Cross Red Crescent in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Italy, Serbia, Spain and Turkey are among those National Societies who have responded to serious flood-events.

Telephone helplines

The IFRC network across Europe is working alongside communities to prepare for and reduce the risks of extreme-weather events, mobilizing local teams within hours to support people affected, taking part in rescue operations, providing first aid and psychosocial support, and delivering food, water and hygiene items.

This includes developing anticipatory action plans for emergencies, conducting community awareness sessions on risks, establishing telephone helplines, and mobilizing volunteers’ network to care for the most vulnerable.

IFRC Regional Director for Europe and Central Asia Birgitte Bischoff Ebbesen said: “Extreme weather doesn’t have to become a disaster if cities and communities are better prepared.

“The IFRC is working across Europe to help National Societies, but we cannot do it alone. Governments must scale up their investment in disaster risk reduction and building resilience to match the new level of threat.

“Together we need to support anticipatory approaches. Communities need to be warned of threats and hazards in advance to be able to act quickly when crises hit. This will ultimately save lives.”

Greek Red Cross volunteers handing out drinking water in an already-warm Athens on the IFRC’s global Heat Action Day on 2 June. (Photo: Hellenic Red Cross via IFRC Europe)