On June 19, 2023, in Dublin, the report on the state of climate in Europe in 2022 was presented at the European Conference on Climate Change Adaptation.

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) publishes an annual report on the global climate, which complements the assessment reports and special reports of the IPCC. In the last two years, they have also started publishing specific reports for six regions of the world: North America, Latin America and the Caribbean, Africa, Europe, Asia, and the Southwestern Pacific. This allows for understanding the specific impacts of climate change in each region, which is essential for planning and implementing appropriate adaptation measures.

The report on the state of climate in Europe is jointly published by the WMO and the Copernicus Climate Change Service of the European Commission.

The report considers six key indicators: temperature, precipitation, land ice, Greenland ice, sea ice, and sea level. Additionally, it includes a focus on energy transition and the resilience of the energy system to climate change impacts and the new requirements for the energy system itself during the transition.

In Europe, 40% of energy is used for heating, 15% for electricity, and 45% for transportation. With the European Union’s goal of achieving climate neutrality by 2050, the transition to renewable energy sources is the primary form of mitigation, but the energy sector must adapt to the availability of natural resources (mainly solar and wind), which do not always align with the energy needs. In this scenario, energy storage and a flexible distribution network are essential. For example, electricity production from solar is higher in Southern Europe, and wind production is greater in Northern Europe, which is why it is necessary to enhance the grid to transport energy from one region to another. Additionally, changing energy demand due to climate change must be considered. For instance, the demand for electricity for air conditioning in the summer is expected to increase. On the other hand, climate change can impact energy production. Potential reductions in river flow during the summer can cause issues for thermal power plants that require water for cooling, as well as hydropower production. The grid itself needs to become resilient to potential climate shocks, such as heatwaves that can lead to failures due to high temperatures or ice formation in the winter.

However, 2022 was a successful year for the energy sector, with 22.3% of electricity being produced from renewable sources like solar and wind, surpassing gas production (20%) for the first time. It is expected that the increase in energy production from coal may be a temporary condition.

One of the key findings of this study is that Europe is the region in the world that has warmed the most, with Western countries (Portugal, the UK, France, and Italy) and Scandinavian countries experiencing some of the fastest temperature increases. It is interesting to note that Italy was frequently cited during the report presentation as a negative example, due to the impacts related to each of the considered indicators.

Now, let’s briefly look at the results presented by the Secretary-General of the WMO, Petteri Taalas, and the Director of the Copernicus Climate Change Service, Carlo Buontempo.

  • Temperature: The annual average temperature anomaly in 2022 was +0.79°C compared to the 1991-2020 period and +2.3°C compared to the pre-industrial period (1850-1900). The summer of 2022 was the hottest ever recorded, while, looking at the overall year, it can be put between the second and the fourth warmest years.
  • Precipitation: Most of the region suffered from precipitation deficits during the year, with the most significant deficits in southern Finland, southern France, and northwestern Italy. 2022 was also the third consecutive dry year in the Alps, especially in the southern slope, with minimal solid precipitation (snowfall) during the winter. Snow on the ground was only 50% of the 2011-2021 period’s average, and a similar situation recurred in 2023.
  • Glaciers: In Europe, from 1997 to 2022, 880 km3 of ice volume was lost from mountain chains. Focusing on the Alps, the volume lost in 2022, more than 3 meters of water equivalent (the volume of melted ice corresponds to a certain volume of water equivalent the can is found in rivers or underground), was outside the historical variability range, due to low winter solid precipitation, Sahara sand deposition in the spring, and an exceptionally hot summer.
  • Greenland Ice: From 1972 to 2021, Greenland lost 5362 Gt of ice, contributing to a 1.5 cm increase in the average sea level.
  • Sea Ice: The European Arctic sector remained within the 1991-2020 average from January to mid-May and then rapidly decreased below the average starting in early June and September.
  • Sea Level Rise: Values vary by region, but on average in Europe, the rise is 2-4 mm/year compared to the global average of 3.4 mm/year. In some areas, sea-level rise adds to the issue of subsidence, increasing the vulnerability of coastal areas to the risk of flooding.

The report also analyzed extreme events in the region, more than 200 in 2022. The most impactful events were: heatwaves and fires, droughts, heavy rainfall and floods, storms, and marine heatwaves.

In 2022, Europe experienced several very intense heatwaves, with the UK reaching 40°C for the first time, resulting in over 15,000 estimated deaths.

Drought prevailed in southwestern Europe and areas in the Middle East bordering the Mediterranean. The consequences on agriculture and food prices were significant. Major European rivers experienced record low water levels, and lake water reserves suffered due to lack of precipitation. The Po River, particularly due to very low water level, saw a 40 km saltwater intrusion, impacting agriculture and river ecosystems. Low river flows also led to a reduction in hydropower and thermoelectric power production (due to the inability to cool plants), especially in Germany, affecting energy demand for building cooling.

Due to drought and heat, numerous wildfires occurred, with the total burned area being the second largest ever recorded.

Heavy rainfall and resulting floods led to dozens of deaths and approximately $2 billion in damages across Europe, especially in Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Italy, Spain, and Turkey. One significant precipitation event occurred in the Marche region on September 15-16, recording 419 mm of rainfall in 12 hours.

The most intense storms occurred in Northern Europe, France, England, and Wales.

Marine heatwaves persisted for 4-5 months in some areas, such as the western Mediterranean, the English Channel, and the southern Arctic Ocean. In 2022, the North Atlantic had a record high sea surface temperature, while the Mediterranean locally reached a record surface temperature anomaly of +4.6°C in June-August.

The conclusion of the report presentation emphasized the importance of alert systems and Earth observation from satellites for climate adaptation (Sustainable Development Goal #13) and the work that the WMO is carrying out, particularly in developing countries (one-third of the world’s countries, including 60% of Africa, lack extreme weather alert systems). This was already discussed at COP27 and is part of the Sharm el-Sheikh Implementation Plan (final decision of COP27). In fact, the WMO supports and coordinates various services, like the Global Greenhouse Gas Watch (for monitoring greenhouse gas emissions), the Systematic Observation Financing Facility SOFF (providing developing countries and small insular States with funding, mainly from the European Union and the United States, to implement extreme weather forecasting systems by 2026) and the Early Warnings for All Initiative (ensure that all people on Earth are protected by alert systems within 5 years – by 2027).

The Copernicus service fits into this context as it monitors from satellites and provides real-time data on climate and extreme events on global and regional level. The data, whether original satellite imagery or processed maps, are available for free to everyone, with registration to the service, which already has over 200.000 subscribers.

Due to the evident impacts of climate change, not only in Europe but worldwide, alert systems are crucial for protecting people’s lives in the event of extreme weather and for reducing damage costs, to be complemented by Emergency Plans.

Article by Francesca Casale, Italian Climate Network volunteer Coordinator

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