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CLIMATE CRISIS

Europe’s temperatures rising more than twice global average, UN warns

Temperatures in Europe have increased at more than twice the global average over the past three decades, showing the fastest rise of any continent on earth, the UN said Wednesday.

Europe's temperatures rising more than twice global average, UN warns
(Photo by MARCO BERTORELLO / AFP)

The European region has on average seen temperatures rise 0.5 degrees Celsius each decade since 1991, the UN’s World Meteorological Organization and the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service found in a joint report.

As a result, Alpine glaciers lost 30 metres (just under 100 feet) in ice thickness between 1997 and 2021, while the Greenland ice sheet is swiftly melting and contributing to accelerating sea level rise.

Last year, Greenland experienced melting and the first-ever recorded rainfall at its highest point. And the report cautioned that regardless of future levels of global warming, temperatures would likely continue to rise across Europe at a rate exceeding global mean temperature changes.

“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,” WMO chief Petteri Taalas said in a statement.

WMO splits the world into six regions, with the European region covering 50 countries and including half of the swiftly warming Arctic, which is not a continent in its own right.

Within Antarctica — which is a continent but falls outside the six WMO-defined regions –only the West Antarctic Peninsula part is seeing rapid warming.

‘Vulnerable’

The new report, released ahead of the UN’s 27th conference on climate set to open in Egypt on Sunday, examined the situation in Europe up to and including 2021.

It found that last year, high-impact weather and climate events — mainly floods and storms — led to hundreds of deaths, directly affected more than half a million people and caused economic damage across Europe exceeding $50 billion.

At the same time, the report highlighted some positives, including the success of many European countries in slashing greenhouse gas emissions. Across the EU, such emissions decreased by nearly a third between 1990 and 2020, and the bloc has set a net 55-percent reduction target for 2030.

Europe is also one of the most advanced regions when it comes to cross-border cooperation towards climate change adaptation, the report said. It also hailed Europe’s world-leading deployment of early warning systems, providing protection for about 75 percent of the population, and said its heat-health action plans had saved many lives.

“European society is vulnerable to climate variability and change,” said Carlo Buontempo, head of Copernicus’s European Centre of Medium-range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF). “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.”

Health concerns

Yet, the continent is facing formidable challenges.

“This year, like 2021, large parts of Europe have been affected by extensive heatwaves and drought, fuelling wildfires,” Taalas said, also decrying “death and devastation” from last year’s “exceptional floods”.

And going forward, the report cautioned that regardless of the greenhouse gas emissions scenario, “the frequency and intensity of hot extremes… are projected to keep increasing.”

This is concerning, the report warned, given that the deadliest extreme climate events in Europe are heatwaves, especially in the west and south of the continent.

“The combination of climate change, urbanisation and population ageing in the region creates, and will further exacerbate, vulnerability to heat,” the report said.

The shifting climate is also spurring other health concerns. It has already begun altering the production and distribution of pollens and spores, which appear to be leading to increases in various allergies.

While more than 24 percent of adults living in the European region suffer from such allergies, including severe asthma, the proportion among children is 30-40 percent and rising, it said.

The warming climate is also causing more vector-borne diseases, with ticks moving into new areas bringing Lyme disease and tick-borne encephalitis. Asian tiger mosquitos are also moving further north, carrying the risk of Zika, dengue and chikungunya, the report said.

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CLIMATE CRISIS

Swedish youths launch landmark climate lawsuit against government

Over 600 Swedish children and young people - including climate activist Greta Thunberg and three seven-year-olds - are suing the Swedish state for doing too little to combat climate change.

Swedish youths launch landmark climate lawsuit against government

The so-called Aurora law suit has been in preparation for two years, and the group is accusing the government of, among other things, failing to carry out investigations into how large a percentage of the global work to combat the climate crisis Sweden should be responsible for.

“If the state’s climate measures are lacking, they are threatening our human rights in the future,” law student Ida Edling told Dagens Nyheter (DN), the newspaper which first reported the story.

“It’s a legal responsibility which the state can be legally called to account for. That’s why we’re suing them,” she said.

Edling is one of the people behind the initiative, which climate activist Greta Thunberg is also involved with.

Aurora would have launched their lawsuit no matter which political bloc had won September’s election, Edling said.

“We’ve worked on this for two years and would have sued any government which is not working towards a climate policy in line with Sweden’s fair share of the global climate transition,” she said. “That includes the previous government.”

On Friday, she marched to the Stockholm courthouse to file the lawsuit alongside young people from Aurora and other members of the climate and environment movement.

“In a state with the rule of law, everyone has to follow the law. Even the government,” Edling said. “When the state’s climate policy threatens our human rights, it breaks the law.”

Climate minister Romina Pourmokhtari told DN via her press secretary that she had no comments on the case.

Similar suits have been brought forward in other European countries. In Germany and the Netherlands, climate activists won against the respective governments in court, forcing both countries to sharpen their climate targets.

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