Temperatures in Europe have increased at more than twice the global average over the past 30 years – the highest of any continent in the world.

As the warming trend continues, exceptional heat, wildfires, devastating floods and other climate change impacts will wreak a worsening toll on society, economies and ecosystems, according to a new report from the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO).

The WMO’s State of the Climate in Europe report, produced jointly with the European Union’s (EU) Copernicus Climate Change Service, focused on 2021.

It provides information on rising temperatures, land and marine heatwaves, extreme weather, changing precipitation patterns and retreating ice and snow.

Temperatures in Europe

Temperatures over Europe have warmed significantly over the 1991-2021 period, at an average rate of about +0.5 °/decade.

As a result, Alpine glaciers lost 30m in ice thickness from 1997 to 2021. The Greenland ice sheet is melting and contributing to accelerating sea level rise, according to the report.

In summer 2021, Greenland saw an unprecedented melt event and the first-ever recorded rainfall at its highest point, Summit station. 

Annual average temperature anomaly for 1900-2021 compared to the 1981-2010 reference period for land-only over Europe. Source: UK MetOffice. Right: Annual average surface air temperature anomaly (°C) for 2021 compared to 1981-2010 reference period. Data: ERA5 reanalysis. Image: Copernicus Climate Change Service/ECMWF

The report also found that in 2021, high-impact weather and climate events led to hundreds of fatalities, directly affecting more than half a million people and causing economic damages exceeding $50 billion.

About 84% of the events were floods or storms.

However, it’s not all bad news, according to the WMO; a number of countries in Europe have been very successful in cutting greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

In particular, in the EU, GHG emissions decreased 31% between 1990 and 2020, with a net 55% reduction target for 2030.

Europe is also one of the most advanced regions in cross-border cooperation in climate change adaptation, in particular across transnational river basins.

It is one of the world leaders in providing effective early warning systems, with about 75% of people protected. Heat-health action plans have saved many lives from extreme heat, according to the report.


WMO secretary-general Prof. Petteri Taalas said: “Europe presents a live picture of a warming world and reminds us that even well-prepared societies are not safe from severe impacts of extreme weather events.

“This year, like 2021, large parts of Europe have been affected by extensive heatwaves and drought, fuelling damaging wildfires. 

“In 2021, exceptional floods caused death and devastation. This is a foretaste of the future.

“On the mitigation side, the good pace in reducing GHG emissions in the region should continue and ambition should be further increased. Europe can play a key role towards achieving a carbon-neutral society by the middle of the century to meet the Paris Agreement,” Prof. Taalas said.

Climate monitoring

The EU’s Copernicus Climate Change Service provides state-of-the-art climate-monitoring data and tools to support climate mitigation and adaptation.

Dr. Carlo Buontempo, director, Copernicus Climate Change Service said: “European society is vulnerable to climate variability and change, 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.

“As the risks and impact of climate change become increasingly apparent in day-to-day life, the need and the appetite grow for climate intelligence, and rightly so.

“With this report we aim to bridge the gap between the data and the analysis to provide science-based but accessible information that is ‘decision-ready’, across sectors, across professions,” he said.

The report and an accompanying storymap includes input from national meteorological and hydrological services, climate experts, regional bodies and UN partner agencies.

It has been issued ahead of the annual UN Climate Change negotiations, COP27, in Sharm-El Sheikh, Egypt.

Impacts of rising temperatures

The WMO has said that European people’s health is impacted by climate change in a myriad of ways, including death and illness from increasingly frequent extreme weather events (heatwaves), increases in zoonoses and food-, water- and vector-borne diseases, and mental health issues.

The deadliest extreme climate events in Europe are heatwaves, particularly in western and southern Europe.

The combination of climate change, urbanisation and population ageing in the region creates, and will further exacerbate, vulnerability to heat, according to the organisation.

Weather, climate and water related natural disasters in Europe during 2021. Source: EM/DAT, accessed on 09 August 2022. Note: Impacts for some disaster occurrences may lack due to data unavailability

Climate change-induced alterations in the production and distribution of pollens and spores may lead to increases in allergic disorders.

Climate change, human behaviours and other underlying factors are creating the conditions for more frequent, intense and devastating fires in Europe, with significant socioeconomic and ecological consequences, according to the WMO.

Transport infrastructure and operations are also at risk from both incremental climate change and extreme events (e.g., heat waves, heavy downpours, high winds and extreme sea levels and waves).

Climate policy

Nationally determined contributions (NDCs) are at the heart of the Paris Agreement and the achievement of these long-term goals, according to the Copernicus.

As of March 2022, 51 European countries and the EU submitted an NDC.

Mitigation to climate change has been a primary focus for many European parties, as reflected in their NDCs, highlighting the following priority areas: Energy supply; agriculture; waste; and land use, land-use change and forestry, as top priorities for mitigation.

In 2021, the EU, in its climate law, made climate neutrality, the goal of zero net emissions by 2050, legally binding in the EU. It set an interim target of 55% emission reduction by 2030.