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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Extinction Rebellion attempt central Zurich blockade

More than 200 Extinction Rebellion activists, some dressed as clowns, attempted to blockade central Zurich on Monday in a bid to force the Swiss government to heed the environmental movement's climate demands.

Police detain a demonstrator affiliated Extinction Rebellion (XR) during a protest in center of Zurich
Police officers detain a demonstrator affiliated with global environmental movement Extinction Rebellion (XR) during a protest in the center of Zurich on October 4, 2021. (Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP)

XR urged its activists to return every day at noon to block traffic at three key strategic points in Switzerland’s financial capital, including a bridge and the crossroads of the city’s main shopping street.

Students and senior citizens were among those who descended on Zurich from across the wealthy Alpine nation, unfurling banners and stretching out large sheets of blue plastic symbolising the oceans suffocating with rubbish.

Others installed a ship daubed with climate crisis slogans, “because we are all in the same boat”, one activist said.

“We have children and are worried about their future,” said Genevieve, a teacher from Neuchatel who came with her physicist husband.

Demonstrators affiliated with global environmental movement Extinction Rebellion (XR) stage a protest in the center of the city of Zurich

Demonstrators affiliated with global environmental movement Extinction Rebellion (XR) stage a protest in the center of the city of Zurich on October 4, 2021. (Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP)

“We are a little afraid of being arrested because this is the first time we have taken part in civil disobedience.”

A retired humanitarian, who did not wish to give her name, said that the prospect of being arrested “does not scare me”, adding that “everything else, at the political level, did not work”.

In June, XR petitioned the Swiss government asking it to “officially” recognise the climate emergency and mandate a citizens’ assembly on “climate and ecological justice”, warning that its activists were otherwise prepared to engage in civil disobedience.

After an hour, the police ordered activists to retreat to designated areas to clear the way for trams on Zurich’s main shopping street.

A police statement later said 134 people were held before being released.