Climate change: Europe is fasting warming continent with temperatures rising twice the global average, UN says

This year, the continent has seen more extreme climate events from a deadly, record-breaking heatwave in the UK to a drought that plagued the continent, and destructive floods.

In Europe temperatures have risen by more than twice the global average over the past 30 years, making it the fastest warming continent, UN weather and climate experts have said.

A report from the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO), focusing on 2021, said temperatures had warmed significantly since 1991, rising at an average of about 0.5C a decade. While the global average was just 0.2C.

The WMO report comes ahead of the UN’s international climate summit in Egypt, and is one in a series of reports over the past months that show how the world is off-track on its climate goals.

The WMO has warned Europe was a “live picture of a warming world” after extreme weather events hit the continent both last year and in recent months. In 2021 Europe was hit by devastating floods and storms which claimed lives and directly affected more than half a million people.

This year, the continent has seen more extreme climate events from a deadly, record-breaking heatwave in the UK to a drought that plagued the continent, and destructive floods.

What did last year’s climate report find?

The report also revealed that Alpine glaciers lost 30m (nearly 100 ft) in ice thickness from 1997 to 2021. Greenland’s ice sheet is melting, contributing to accelerating sea level rise. In summer 2021, the surface of the ice sheet melted and the rainfall fell for the first time ever at its highest point.

There were also droughts and high temperatures which fuelled significant wildfires, particularly in Turkey, Italy and Greece, and summer heatwaves saw temperatures reach 48.8C near Syracuse in Sicily, in August – a provisional record.

The State of the Climate in Europe report for 2021, produced jointly with the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service, shows that some European countries are having success in cutting the greenhouse gas emissions driving global warming.

EU climate pollution decreased 31% between 1990 and 2020, and a target has been set for 2030 of 55% cuts.

However, recent reports from other UN bodies have shown how far off track the world is to limiting temperature rises to well below 2C or 1.5C to avoid the worst impacts of climate change - which countries agreed under the Paris Agreement in 2015.

The UN environment report analysed the gap between the CO2 cuts pledged by countries and the cuts needed to limit any rise in global temperature to 1.5C, and it concluded that progress has been “woefully inadequate”.

What has been said about the stark report?

WMO secretary-general Petteri Taalas said that the report “reminds us that even well-prepared societies are not safe from impacts of extreme weather events.”

He said: “This year, like 2021, large parts of Europe have been affected by extensive heatwaves and drought, fuelling wildfires. In 2021, exceptional floods caused death and devastation.

“On the mitigation side, the good pace in reducing greenhouse gases emissions in the region should continue and ambition should be further increased.”

He added: “Europe can play a key role towards achieving a carbon neutral society by the middle of the century to meet the Paris Agreement.”

What needs to be done to curb climate change?

A report from the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) shows that there is a big gap between the level of action countries are taking to tackle climate change and what is needed.

The UN secretary general Antonio Guterres told Sky News that without urgent action the climate is set to rise by 2.8C from pre-industrial levels by the end of the century. The UNEP executive director Inger Andersen said that "only a root-and-branch transformation of our economies and societies can save us from accelerating climate disaster.”

The UNEP report said it would require swift changes to electricity supplies, industry, transport and buildings, as well as the preservation of natural landscapes, changes to diet and farming and removing carbon from food supply chains.

Between $4 trillion and $6 trillion a year in investments will be required to fund the transformation. The entire financial system must also be reformed to accommodate this, according to the report.

Ms Andersen told Sky News: "We had our chance to make incremental changes, but that time is over. Only a root-and-branch transformation of our economies and societies can save us from accelerating climate disaster.

"It is a tall, and some would say impossible, order to reform the global economy and almost halve greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, but we must try”.