Summer of 2021 was Europe’s hottest on record

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Europe experienced its hottest summer on record in 2021, while being ravaged by floods, heatwaves and fires, according to a report published Friday by the European Union’s Copernicus climate change service, showing that global warming is sharply on the rise.

Less than three weeks after the publication of the latest IPCC report, warning that the world’s temperature is set to reach the critical 1.5ºC above pre-industrial levels within the next two decades, the European Union’s climate change service has issued another alarming finding.

Europe experienced its hottest summer on record in 2021, with temperatures 1°C higher than the 1991-2020 average, EU scientists reported on Friday.

Although 2021 was not the hottest year on record in Europe and the world, “the summer was marked by record temperatures, severe and long-lasting heatwaves and exceptional floods”, the European climate change service said in its annual report published on Earth Day.

Southern Europe was particularly hard hit by the summer heatwave, with “numerous temperature records”, the report continued. In northern Spain, temperatures reached 47°C, a “national record”, and Italy, with 48.8°C in Sicily, a “European record”. “In some parts of Italy, Greece and Turkey, the heatwave lasted two to three weeks,” the scientists added.

In these three countries, the high temperatures led to drought. As vegetation becomes more flammable in warmer air, forest fires broke out with devastating consequences. In July and August, fires destroyed a total of more than 800,000 hectares in the Mediterranean region, according to Copernicus.

Illusion of a cooler spring

However, the spring of 2021 was much colder than normal, which initially seemed reassuring. According to Copernicus, the spring was “one of the coldest in the last ten years”, with temperatures up to 2°C below average.

But there can be no mistaking that: “In general, all seasons have warmed up considerably in Europe over the past decades. In 2020, we had a very warm spring and a warm summer, but the autumn and winter were the warmest on record, while in 2021, the spring was colder than average and the summer the warmest on record,” Copernicus told FRANCE 24.

In addition, the average temperatures during the spring of 2021 were higher than before 1980. It was around 1970-1980 that global warming began to accelerate sharply.

European seas have not been spared the ravages of climate change either, particularly the Baltic, where scientists found that in June and July, some parts were “more than 5°C above average”. The results for the whole year also broke records. “Temperatures […] in large areas of the Baltic Sea and eastern Mediterranean have not been this high since at least 1993,” the Copernicus scientists noted.

Devastating floods

The unusually warm Baltic Sea appears to be the cause of the floods that hit Germany and Belgium in July. “It has led to higher humidity, which in turn has fed low atmospheric pressure,” which is conducive to the formation of wind, rain and clouds,” Copernicus explained to FRANCE 24. In addition, “the relatively low speed of the disturbance” is most likely another factor in the heavy rainfall, the European agency added. The water then accumulated in the Meuse and Rhine rivers, while the soil was already waterlogged and could no longer absorb the rain, causing the floods that ravaged several countries in Western Europe.

At the same time, on a global scale, “carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4) concentrations have continued to increase [in 2021, with a] particularly large increase” in methane concentration.

It is this increase in greenhouse gases, including CO2 and methane, in the atmosphere that is causing global warming. These greenhouse gases absorb more of the Sun’s rays than necessary, causing the Earth’s temperature to rise.

This phenomenon was not only felt during the summer in Europe, but throughout the year. “Globally, 2021 was the sixth or seventh warmest year since at least 1850,” the report said, adding that “the last seven years have been the warmest on record”.

The European continent has also warmed by about 2°C since pre-industrial times and the globe by 1.1°C to 1.2°C, according to Copernicus. The IPCC, for its part, is calling for urgent action to limit global warming to below 1.5°C – a threshold that must not be crossed if the Earth is to remain habitable.

This article has been translated from the original in French. 

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