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Europe is fastest fastest-warming continent in the world: Copernicus

Europe is the fastest warming continent, with temperatures rising at around twice the global average rate, according to the 2023 edition of Copernicus Climate Change Service’s European State of the Climate report.

HQ Team

April 22, 2024: Europe is the fastest warming continent, with temperatures rising at around twice the global average rate, according to the 2023 edition of Copernicus Climate Change Service’s European State of the Climate report.

Temperatures for the year were above average across most of Europe, with some parts of eastern Europe experiencing  temperatures up to 2.6°C above average and parts of the Alps up to 2.3°C above average. 

Many parts of southeastern Europe, and regions of western and central Europe, saw their warmest year on record, the report, produced jointly with the World Meteorological Organization for the first time, stated.

Copernicus is the European Union’s Earth Observation Programme.

“In 2023, Europe witnessed the largest wildfire ever recorded, one of the wettest years, severe marine heatwaves and widespread devastating flooding. Temperatures continue to increase, making our data ever more vital in preparing for the impacts of climate change,” said C3S Director Carlo Buontempo.

Sea surface temperature

According to the report published on April 22, the three warmest years on record for Europe have all occurred since 2020, and the ten warmest since 2007.

Globally, 2023 was the warmest year on record, at 0.60°C warmer than the 1991–2020 average and around 1.48°C warmer than the pre-industrial average.

Close to 50% of days were more than 1.5°C warmer than the pre-industrial average and two days were, for the first time, more than 2°C warmer.

During 2023, the average sea surface temperature for the ocean across Europe was the warmest on record. Parts of the Mediterranean Sea and the northeastern Atlantic Ocean saw their warmest annual average sea surface temperature on record. 

In June, the Atlantic Ocean west of Ireland and around the United Kingdom was impacted by a marine heatwave that was classified as ‘extreme’ and in some areas ‘beyond extreme’, with sea surface temperatures as much as 5°C above average.

Artic region

The Arctic region also experienced higher-than-average temperatures and 2023 was the sixth warmest on record for the Arctic. For Arctic land, it was the fifth warmest, closely behind 2022.

“The climate crisis is the biggest challenge of our generation. The cost of climate action may seem high, but the cost of inaction is much higher. As this report shows, we need to leverage science to provide solutions for the good of society,” WMO Secretary-General Celeste Saulo said.

The year 2023 saw a record number of days with ‘extreme heat stress’. The report stated that there is an increasing trend in the number of days with at least ‘strong heat stress’ across Europe. 

At the peak of a heatwave in July, 41% of southern Europe was affected by at least ‘strong heat stress’, with potential for health impacts.

Overall, the number of adverse health impacts related to extreme weather and climate events was rising.

30% rise in heat-related mortality

Heat-related mortality has increased by about 30% in the past 20 years and heat-related deaths were estimated to have increased in 94% of the European regions monitored.

In July 2023, for the first time in history, the climate crisis and related extreme weather events were declared a public health emergency by the World Health Organization.

According to preliminary estimates for the year from the International Disaster Database, last year in Europe 63 lives were lost due to storms, 44 to floods and 44 to wildfires.

Flooding in 2023 affected an estimated 1.6 million people in Europe and caused about 81% of the year’s economic losses due to weather and climate-related events on the continent.

Economic loss at 13.4 billion pounds

One-third of the European river network saw river flows exceeding the ‘high’ flood threshold, and 16% exceeding the ‘severe’ flood threshold.

Economic losses related to weather and climate in 2023 were estimated to be at least €13.4 billion. 

Large fires occurred in Portugal, Spain, Italy and especially Greece, which saw the largest wildfire ever recorded in Europe, at around 96,000 hectares.

The 2023 wildfire season saw the fourth largest burnt area on record in the European Union, at a total of around 500,000 hectares.

Last year also saw a below-average number of days with snow in Europe, particularly across central Europe and the Alps during winter and spring. 

The Alps have seen glaciers lose around 10% of their remaining volume between 2022 and 2023.

“The data in ESOTC 2023 sound a warning bell for urgent coordinated global action to mitigate climate change,” according to the report.

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