Climate change, Europe is the continent that is warming the most


By John

Europe is the fastest warming continent, with temperatures rising around double the global average. This was stated in the report on the “European State of the Climate 2023” drawn up by Copernicus and the World Meteorological Organization, noting that the three warmest years have been since 2020 and the ten warmest since 2007. Heat-related mortality has increased by 30 % in the last 20 years. According to estimates from the International Disaster Database, 63 people died from storms, 44 from floods and 44 from fires in Europe in 2023.

Economic losses are estimated at over 13.4 billion. The report is full of data and contrasts. The “prolonged summer” (from June to September) saw heat waves, fires, droughts and floods. With only one positive aspect: energy production from renewable sources in Europe reached a record 43%, exceeding the production from fossil sources. But if you look at the climate in north-western Europe, the hottest June ever recorded was experienced, while in the Mediterranean areas rainfall was recorded well above the average for the month.

In July, this pattern almost reversed. At the height of the July heat wave, 41% of southern Europe was affected by at least 'severe heat stress', with potential health impacts. On the one hand the heat, on the other the rainfall which in 2023 in Europe was 7% higher than the average. Across the European river network average, river flows were the highest ever recorded in December, with “exceptionally high” flows in almost a quarter of the river network. In 2023, a third of the European river network recorded higher river flows at the “high” flood threshold and 16% exceeded the “severe” flood threshold.

In the main river basins, including the Loire, Rhine and Danube, record or near-record flows were recorded, due to a series of storms between October and December. According to preliminary estimates from the International Disaster Database (EM-DAT), floods affected around 1.6 million people in Europe in 2023 and caused around 81% of the year's economic losses due to climate impacts on the continent. Heat stress, on the other hand, had an impact on health. Over the last 20 years – explains the report – heat-related mortality has increased by around 30% and it is estimated that heat-related deaths have increased in 94% of the European regions monitored. This trend is particularly worrying, given that Europe is seeing an increasing number of days with at least 'severe heat stress', and 2023 has seen a record number of days with 'extreme heat stress'.

Then there are the glaciers. In 2023, the Alps experienced exceptional glacier ice loss, linked to lower-than-average winter snow accumulation and strong summer melting due to heat waves. In the two-year period 2022-2023, the glaciers of the Alps lost around 10% of their residual volume. But not even the Arctic region is saved: the past year was the sixth warmest on record.

Arctic sea ice extent remained below average for much of 2023. At its annual maximum in March, monthly extent was 4% below average. At its annual low in September, the monthly extension ranked sixth, 18% below average. The only positive aspect concerns the production of renewable energy, linked to the sun, the wind and the greater flow of the rivers. In 2023, in Europe, the percentage of actual electricity production from renewable sources was record, with 43%, compared to 36% in 2022. Thus for the second consecutive year, the production of energy from renewable sources exceeded that from polluting fossil fuels.