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CLIMATE CRISIS

Climate crisis: 2019 was Europe’s hottest year in history, EU says

Last year was the hottest in history across Europe as temperature records were shattered by a series of extreme heatwaves across the continent, the European Union's satellite monitoring surface said on Wednesday.

Climate crisis: 2019 was Europe's hottest year in history, EU says
A picture shows a dry part of the bed of the River Loire at Montjean-sur-Loire, western France on July 24, 2019, as drought conditions prevail over much of western Europe. A new heatwave blasted into

In its annual report on the state of the climate, the EU's Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S) said that 11 of the continent's 12 warmest years on record have been since 2000 as greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise. 

Warm conditions and summer heatwaves contributed to widespread drought across southern Europe, while areas of the Arctic were close to one degree Celsius hotter than a typical year, it said. 

Overall, temperatures across Europe have been 2C hotter during the last five years than they were in the latter half of the 19th century, C3S's data showed.

2019 globally was second-hottest only to 2016, a year that experienced an exceptionally strong El Nino warming event.

C3S director Carlo Buontempo said that while 2019 was Europe's hottest year on record, it was important to focus on the continent's long-term heating.

“One exceptional warm year does not constitute a warming trend, but to have detailed information from our operational service, that covers many different aspects of our climate, we are able to connect the dots to learn more about how it is changing,” he said. 

Some parts of Europe experienced periods up to 4C hotter than the historic baseline last year, and heatwaves — notably in June and July — saw temperature records shattered in France, Germany and Britain.

The Paris climate deal commits nations to limit global temperature rises to “well below” 2C above pre-industrial levels. 

To do so, and to stand any hope of meeting the accord's more ambitious cap of 1.5C of warming, the UN says emissions from fossil fuel use must fall 7.6 percent annually by 2030. 

While carbon pollution levels are expected to drop significantly in 2020 due to the economic slowdown from the COVID-19 pandemic, there are fears that emissions will surge back once a vaccine is found.

“The response to the COVID-19 crisis could exacerbate the climate crisis if bailouts of the fossil fuel industry and fossil-intensive sectors are not conditional on a transition to clean technologies,” said Cameron Hepburn, director of the University of Oxford's Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment.

Andrew Shepherd, director of the University of Leeds' Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling, said C3S's data was all the more worrying as it foreshadowed accelerated melting of the Greenland Ice Sheet.

“We can't avoid the rapid changes in climate that are happening around our planet, even if they occur miles away in the polar regions, because they affect our weather today and will affect our coastlines in the future,” he said.

Anna Jones, a climate scientist at British Antarctic Survey, said she wasn't surprised by the C3S findings.

“Concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are obstinately increasing as a result of human activity,” she said. 

“With this rise come changes in our climate – warming trends and events of extreme weather.”

“For things to improve, we need massive reductions in greenhouse gas emissions – there is no other way,” Jones added.

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CLIMATE CRISIS

Scorching summer was France’s second hottest on record

Three heatwaves since June produced France's second-hottest summer since records began in 1900, the Météo France weather service said on Tuesday, warning that scorching temperatures will be increasingly common as the climate crisis intensifies.

Scorching summer was France's second hottest on record

With 33 days of extreme heat overall, average temperatures for June, July and August were 2.3C above normal for the period of 1991-2020.

It was surpassed only by the 2003 heatwave that caught much of France unprepared for prolonged scorching conditions, leading to nearly 15,000 heat-related deaths, mainly among the elderly.

Data is not yet available for heat-related deaths this summer, but it is likely to be significantly lower than 15,000 thanks to preventative measures taken by local and national authorities. 

Most experts attribute the rising temperatures to the climate crisis, with Météo France noting that over the past eight summers in France, six have been among the 10-hottest ever.

By 2050, “we expect that around half of summer seasons will be at comparable temperatures, if not higher,” even if greenhouse gas emissions are contained, the agency’s research director Samuel Morin said at a press conference.

The heat helped drive a series of wildfires across France this summer, in particular a huge blaze in the southwest that burned for more than a month and blackened 20,000 hectares. 

Unusually, wildfires also broke out even in the normally cooler north of the country, and in total an area five times the size of Paris burned over the summer. 

Adding to the misery was a record drought that required widespread limits on water use, with July the driest month since 1961 – many areas still have water restrictions in place.

MAP: Where in France are there water restrictions and what do they mean?

Forecasters have also warned that autumn storms around the Mediterranean – a regular event as air temperatures cool – will be unusually intense this year because of the very high summer temperatures. A storm that hit the island of Corsica in mid August claimed six lives. 

“The summer we’ve just been through is a powerful call to order,” Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said on Monday, laying out her priorities for an “ecological planning” programme to guide France’s efforts against climate change.

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