According to a new report released by the Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S) on Earth Day 2022, Europe experienced its warmest summer on record in 2021, with over 1.0°C above the 1991-2020 average. Severe and long-lasting heatwaves contributed to wildfires in Greece, Italy, and Turkey, and were compounded by heavy rainfall causing massive floods in Western Europe. Moreover, in large areas of the Baltic and Mediterranean Seas, annual sea surface temperatures spiked substantially and were the highest since at least 1993.
“2021 was a year of extremes including the hottest summer in Europe, heatwaves in the Mediterranean, flooding, and wind droughts in Western Europe, showing that the understanding of weather and climate extremes is becoming increasingly relevant for key societal sectors,” said Carlo Buontempo, the director of C3S.
Although spring in Europe was cooler than average last year, summer temperatures rose well beyond their expected values, reaching an all-time record of 48.8 degrees in Sicily, and causing devastating wildfires in several European countries (the total area burnt during July and August in the Mediterranean region exceeded 800,000 hectares). According to Freja Vamborg, a senior scientist at C3S, the main reason for these European (as well as global) temperature spikes and extreme weather events is the increased atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases.
“It is the same key message on greenhouse gases that is forever repeated. We see large increases in carbon dioxide in 2021, and it is the main driver behind a general global rise in average temperature between 1.1 and 1.2 degrees Celsius (1.98 and 2.16 degrees Fahrenheit) since the pre-industrial age,” Vamborg said.
The report revealed that global atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide increased by 2.3 parts per million and methane by 16.5 parts per million. “The rise has been steady for both greenhouse gases with no sign of reduction over the last 10 years. However, we saw a larger than usual increase of methane in both 2020 and 2021,” said Vincent-Henry Peuch, the director of the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service.
“An increase of methane concentrations could be linked not only to emissions but also to a possible change in the oxidizing capacity of the atmosphere. More research is required to get a robust understanding. Still, some recent work points towards changes in tropical areas and emissions from natural sources like wetlands and from human sources such as rice culture and cattle.”
If urgent measures are not taken by governments, policy makers, as well as each and every individual to significantly curb these emissions, last year’s summer will undoubtedly be followed by even more severe ones, significantly threatening life on Earth as we know it.