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CLIMATE CRISIS

Europe’s temperatures rising more than twice global average, UN warns

Temperatures in Europe have increased at more than twice the global average over the past three decades, showing the fastest rise of any continent on earth, the UN said Wednesday.

Europe's temperatures rising more than twice global average, UN warns
(Photo by MARCO BERTORELLO / AFP)

The European region has on average seen temperatures rise 0.5 degrees Celsius each decade since 1991, the UN’s World Meteorological Organization and the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service found in a joint report.

As a result, Alpine glaciers lost 30 metres (just under 100 feet) in ice thickness between 1997 and 2021, while the Greenland ice sheet is swiftly melting and contributing to accelerating sea level rise.

Last year, Greenland experienced melting and the first-ever recorded rainfall at its highest point. And the report cautioned that regardless of future levels of global warming, temperatures would likely continue to rise across Europe at a rate exceeding global mean temperature changes.

“Europe presents a live picture of a warming world and reminds us that even well-prepared societies are not safe from impacts of extreme weather events,” WMO chief Petteri Taalas said in a statement.

WMO splits the world into six regions, with the European region covering 50 countries and including half of the swiftly warming Arctic, which is not a continent in its own right.

Within Antarctica — which is a continent but falls outside the six WMO-defined regions –only the West Antarctic Peninsula part is seeing rapid warming.

‘Vulnerable’

The new report, released ahead of the UN’s 27th conference on climate set to open in Egypt on Sunday, examined the situation in Europe up to and including 2021.

It found that last year, high-impact weather and climate events — mainly floods and storms — led to hundreds of deaths, directly affected more than half a million people and caused economic damage across Europe exceeding $50 billion.

At the same time, the report highlighted some positives, including the success of many European countries in slashing greenhouse gas emissions. Across the EU, such emissions decreased by nearly a third between 1990 and 2020, and the bloc has set a net 55-percent reduction target for 2030.

Europe is also one of the most advanced regions when it comes to cross-border cooperation towards climate change adaptation, the report said. It also hailed Europe’s world-leading deployment of early warning systems, providing protection for about 75 percent of the population, and said its heat-health action plans had saved many lives.

“European society is vulnerable to climate variability and change,” said Carlo Buontempo, head of Copernicus’s European Centre of Medium-range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF). “But Europe is also at the forefront of the international effort to mitigate climate change and to develop innovative solutions to adapt to the new climate Europeans will have to live with.”

Health concerns

Yet, the continent is facing formidable challenges.

“This year, like 2021, large parts of Europe have been affected by extensive heatwaves and drought, fuelling wildfires,” Taalas said, also decrying “death and devastation” from last year’s “exceptional floods”.

And going forward, the report cautioned that regardless of the greenhouse gas emissions scenario, “the frequency and intensity of hot extremes… are projected to keep increasing.”

This is concerning, the report warned, given that the deadliest extreme climate events in Europe are heatwaves, especially in the west and south of the continent.

“The combination of climate change, urbanisation and population ageing in the region creates, and will further exacerbate, vulnerability to heat,” the report said.

The shifting climate is also spurring other health concerns. It has already begun altering the production and distribution of pollens and spores, which appear to be leading to increases in various allergies.

While more than 24 percent of adults living in the European region suffer from such allergies, including severe asthma, the proportion among children is 30-40 percent and rising, it said.

The warming climate is also causing more vector-borne diseases, with ticks moving into new areas bringing Lyme disease and tick-borne encephalitis. Asian tiger mosquitos are also moving further north, carrying the risk of Zika, dengue and chikungunya, the report said.

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WEATHER

‘Winter is starting’: Italy braces for snow and storms as cold snap arrives

Northern Italy woke to freezing temperatures on Friday while Vesuvius was dusted with snow as long-delayed winter weather arrived in Italy.

‘Winter is starting’: Italy braces for snow and storms as cold snap arrives

A cold front arriving from northern Europe brought temperatures as low as minus 18 degrees Celsius in the eastern Alps in the early hours of Friday, while minus 14 was recorded in Garfagnana, and minus 5 in Milan, Turin and inland Sicily.

Snow also fell at higher altitudes in the south overnight, with local residents capturing images of Vesuvius covered in a dusting of snow.

“Winter is starting,” Claudio Cassardo, climatologist at the University of Turin, told newspaper La Repubblica on Friday.

“We will return to normal seasonal temperatures. However, we’re no longer used to the cold and snow”.

While the north in particular shivers in freezing temperatures and snow was forecast for many areas, including at lower altitudes, central and southern regions were warned to expect heavy rain and stormy conditions from Friday and into the weekend.

Italy’s Department for Civil Protection issued a lower-level alert for storms on Friday in parts of five southern Italian regions, including Basilicata and Calabria, and a medium-level amber alert for Campania, where the agency warned of a risk of hailstones and flash floods.

Showers, strong winds and thunderstorms are expected to spread further across the centre-south and to the Adriatic coast by Saturday, when temperatures are again forecast to drop below zero in inland parts of the centre and north.

Weather website Meteo3B predicted temperatures would drop to 0-1 C across much of the north overnight and in the early morning on Saturday.

Forecasts showed the mildest temperatures in the coming days would be in the southeastern region of Puglia and along the southern coasts of Sicily and Calabria, where a steady 8-10 degrees Celsius is expected over the weekend.

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