Climate change: Summer 2021 warmest on record

climate change
“Year of extremes:” The summer of 2021 in Europe was the warmest on record

A woman refreshes at a public fountain in Bologna

© Guido Calamosca / DPA

Climate change is making itself felt in Europe like never before: a number of Germans lost their lives in a flood of the century and huge fires were burning in southern Europe. 2021 was a year of extreme weather. These are likely to increase in view of climate change.

Temperatures are rising globally, there’s no doubt about it. In Europe, for example, last summer was the warmest since records began, according to current climate data. It was around one degree warmer than the average for the years 1991 to 2020, according to the current annual report of the EU climate change service Copernicus, which was published on Friday.

The Copernicus records go back to 1979. The climate change service also uses recordings from ground stations, balloons, airplanes and satellites going back to 1950.

Consequences of climate change: European heat record in Sicily

“2021 was a year of extremes, including the hottest summer in Europe, heat waves in the Mediterranean, floods and calm winds in Western Europe, showing that understanding weather and climate extremes is becoming increasingly important for core sectors of society,” said Carlo Buontempo, who director of service.

In parts of the Baltic Sea, the annual sea surface temperature was more than five degrees above average. A provisional European heat record was measured in Sicily at 48.8 degrees. Because the heat wave lasted two to three weeks in parts of Italy, Greece and Turkey and there was a drought at the same time, numerous devastating forest fires could break out there, according to the climate change service. In July and August alone, an area of ​​800,000 hectares was burned in the Mediterranean region. This corresponds to half the area of ​​Schleswig-Holstein.

The climate researchers also took a closer look at the flood disaster, which cost the lives of more than 180 people in Germany. The catastrophe was also able to develop in this way because an unusually large amount of rain had already fallen in the previous few weeks and the ground could therefore no longer absorb sufficient water, it was said. The water volumes in the Rhine and Meuse catchment areas are estimated to be the highest since 1991. It is difficult to unequivocally attribute such events to climate change, said the report’s lead author, Freja Vamborg. “But we know that in a warming world we will see more and more such events.”

Concentration of CO2 increases

According to the report, the proportion of climate-damaging gases in the earth’s atmosphere, which are the key cause of global warming, increased again last year: the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere rose by 2.3 ppm (parts per million air particles). Methane increased by 16.5 ppb (parts per billion air particles), a much larger increase than in previous years.

Although methane stays in the atmosphere for a shorter time, it is even more harmful than CO2 and is produced, for example, in agriculture, on landfills or in the oil and gas industry. “This is definitely a cause for concern, but also an open research question,” said Vincent-Henri Peuch, who heads data monitoring at the climate change service. It is still unclear whether significantly more methane was emitted or whether the effect of natural sinks had changed.

According to the recently published report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), greenhouse gas emissions must have peaked before 2025 to reach the 1.5 degree target agreed by the United Nations and then be significantly reduced. The international body of climate researchers from all over the world warned that this would require immediate and drastic reductions in emissions.

Scientists agree that the most catastrophic consequences of climate change can only be averted by limiting global warming to a maximum of 1.5 degrees compared to pre-industrial times. So far, the climate protection efforts of the states are far from sufficient.


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