Temperatures in Europe rise at more than twice global average over past 30 years

‘Europe presents a live picture of a warming world,’ says World Meteorological Organisation

Temperatures in Europe have increased at more than twice the global average over the past 30 years, and more than anywhere in the world, according to a World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) report, up by 1.5 degrees in three decades.

Exceptional heat, wildfires, floods and other climate change impacts will affect society, economies and ecosystems across Europe, predicts the State of the Climate in Europe report, produced jointly with the EU Copernicus Climate Change Service (CCCS).

The research published on Wednesday, and focusing on 2021 data, shows that temperatures over Europe have warmed significantly since 1991, up by 1.5 degrees in three decades. Alpine glaciers lost 30m in ice thickness from 1997 to 2021.

A key Paris Agreement target is containing average global temperature rise to within 1.5 degrees. In 2021, storms, floods and fires in Europe led to hundreds of fatalities, directly affected more than half a million people and caused more than $50 billion worth of damage, the report confirms.


Temperatures in Ireland are following a similar trajectory. The month of October 2022 will be the 17th consecutive month that was warmer than normal and 1.2 to 2.2 degrees above the monthly mean at 25 of Met Éireann’s main weather stations. These temperatures are significantly above what is “usual” for this time of year, according to its head of climate services division Keith Lambkin.

Clipping emissions

Met Éireann also confirmed it has been much wetter than average in Ireland over the past seven days, with some areas up to 2½ times as wet as they normally would be at this time of year.

The WMO acknowledges some countries in Europe have reduced greenhouse gas emissions, which if achieved at scale would help reduce temperatures. EU emissions dropped 31 per cent between 1990 and 2020.

But the challenges remain formidable, says the WMO. “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.”

A study earlier this year found atmospheric circulation, specifically the state of “the mid-latitude jet stream”, has contributed to the accelerating heatwave trend in western Europe. Many parts of Europe saw plus 40 degrees this summer, while much of Europe is now seeing an exceptionally warm autumn.

WMO secretary general Prof Petteri Taalas said Europe is making good progress on cutting carbon emissions, but more should be done. “Europe can play a key role towards achieving a carbon-neutral society by the middle of the century to meet the Paris Agreement,” he said.

“European society is vulnerable to climate variability and change, 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,” said CCCS director Dr Carlo Buontempo.

The report issued in advance of UN climate negotiations — Cop27 — in Sharm-El Sheikh, Egypt, includes information from national meteorological and hydrological services, climate experts, regional bodies and UN partner agencies.

Disease hazard

Europeans’ health is already being affected by heatwaves, the increase in diseases transmissible to humans from animals, such as Lyme’s Disease, and by a rise, too, in food, water or vector-borne diseases, as well as by mental health issues and the situation will be worsened by Europe’s ageing population.

Children are most vulnerable to climate impacts, both physically and psychologically. According to the Unicef Children’s Climate Risk Index, nearly 125 million children in Europe live in countries with “medium to high” risk.

Nationally determined contributions (NDCs) are central to the Paris Agreement and the achievement of long-term goals. NDCs embody efforts by each country to reduce national emissions and adapt to the impacts of climate change.

Actions on energy supply, agriculture, waste, land use, land-use change and forestry are top priorities for mitigation, the WMO notes. In 2021, climate neutrality, the goal of net-zero emissions by 2050, was made legally binding in the EU and an interim target of 55 per cent emission reduction by 2030 was set. Ireland’s NDC is on par with this.

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan is Environment and Science Editor and former editor of The Irish Times