The Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S) has today (April 22) released its annual European State of the Climate report (ESOTC 2021), examining climate variability of 2021 in Europe and globally. The report also provides the longer-term context and trends in key climate change indicators.
The 2021 global perspective includes increasing surface air and sea surface temperatures, sea level rise and glacier mass loss, while Europe saw a year of extremes including heatwaves, record sea surface temperatures, wildfires, flooding and unusually low wind speeds in some regions.
The report confirms that globally, the last seven years were the warmest on record with 2021 being among the cooler of these, and that average global sea surface temperature (SST) for 2021 was the sixth or seventh warmest since 1850. However, there is a clear increase globally both over land and sea compared with pre-industrial levels, with global surface air temperatures having increased by 1.1-1.2°C. La Niña conditions at the beginning and end of the year meant that 2021 SSTs were cooler globally than in recent years, which also impacted surface air temperatures over land and ocean. Global sea level continued to rise during 2021; the total increase since 1993 is around 9cm. Latest consolidated data, up until the end of 2020, shows that the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets continued to lose mass.
Europe had a year of contrasts. While 2021 annual surface air temperatures were only around 0.2°C above the 1991-2020 average and outside the 10 warmest years on record, annual sea surface temperatures over parts of the Baltic and the Mediterranean were the highest since at least 1993.
The European spring was cooler than average, with some parts of Europe seeing an early onset of spring followed by a late frost event, impacting agriculture. In contrast, summer brought record temperatures, as well as severe and long-lasting heatwaves, and an exceptional flooding event. In June and July, sea surface temperatures were also unusually warm, with parts of the Baltic more than 5°C higher than average.
Lower than average wind speeds in parts of western and central Europe led to a reduction in the estimated potential for wind power generation. Countries with the most below average wind speeds include Ireland, the UK, Czech Republic, Denmark and Germany. Some areas experienced the lowest or second-lowest annual wind speeds since at least 1979. In contrast, parts of southeastern Europe saw much higher than average annual wind speeds.
A summer of high heat stress and devastating wildfires
The Mediterranean region was affected by a summer of extremes including an intense heatwave, drought, record temperatures, extreme heat stress and wildfires.
During the summer heatwave, many temperature records were broken, including a provisional national record for Spain at 47°C and a provisional European record of 48.8°C in Italy. In parts of Italy, Greece and Turkey, the heatwave lasted for two to three weeks. Additionally, the widespread dry conditions were conducive to numerous, devastating wildfires, particularly in Italy, Greece and Turkey. The total area burnt during July and August in the Mediterranean region exceeded 800,000ha.
Flooding in western Europe
Severe flooding in July caused devastation in parts of Europe including Belgium, Germany and some surrounding countries. A slow-moving, low-pressure system traveled across Europe, drawing moist air from an unusually warm Baltic Sea. On July 14, 2021, record rainfall amounts were observed in the affected region, and the resulting river discharge in parts of the Meuse and Rhine catchments was also estimated to be the highest in the record dating back to 1991. Saturated soil prior to the event, alongside the record rainfall, was a contributory factor to the extreme nature of the event.
The Arctic recorded the 4th highest amount of carbon emissions from wildfires since 2003, mostly from eastern Siberia, though well below the record levels seen in 2020.
Compared with 2020, Arctic temperatures were less extreme, with large parts of Siberia being colder than average, especially in the early part of the year. Intense wildfires in subarctic Siberia led to smoke spreading across the Arctic region. Arctic sea ice extent remained below average throughout the year. However, during summer and autumn, it was well above the record low values seen in previous years.
Greenhouse gas concentrations continue to increase
In 2021, global concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2 ) and methane (CH4 ) continued to increase. There was an especially large rise in atmospheric methane concentration. Estimates from satellite data show that concentrations of CO2 have increased by around 2.3ppm and CH4 by around 16.5ppb.
Findings underline long-term changes despite short-term variability
The European State of the Climate 2021 highlights long-term trends in key climate indicators. Some indicators show small year-to-year variability and thus most years will show a clear continuation of the trend, albeit with different magnitudes from year to year. For the latest year with available data, greenhouse gas concentrations and sea level continued to increase, while glaciers continued to lose mass, as did the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets, albeit at a lower rate than other recent years, losing 397 ± 12 and 93 ± 157 gigatons of ice respectively.
Other indicators, such as temperature and sea ice show larger year to year or even decadal variability, superimposed on these long-term trends. While 2021 did not rank as a record warm year for either Europe or the globe, the European continent has warmed by around 2°C since the pre-industrial age and the globe between 1.1°C and 1.2°C. SSTs demonstrate a clear long-term increase and globally 2021 was the sixth or seventh warmest since at least 1850. In 2021 Arctic sea ice extent ranked 12th lowest at its annual minimum in September.
Carlo Buontempo, director of C3S, said, “2021 was a year of extremes including the hottest summer in Europe, heatwaves in the Mediterranean, flooding and wind droughts in western Europe, showing that the understanding of weather and climate extremes is becoming increasingly relevant for key societal sectors. Accurate climate information is more important than ever before to help us make informed decisions.”
Mauro Facchini, head of Earth observation at the Directorate General for Defence Industry and Space for the European Commission, said, “The EU’s C3S has given us key climate insights for Europe and the world. Such comprehensive, free climate data is essential to achieve European climate ambitions for the Green Deal and Net Zero. Scientific experts like the IPCC have warned that we are running out of time to limit global warming to 1.5°C. This report stresses the urgent necessity to act as climate-related extreme events are already occurring in Europe.”
The European State of the Climate 2021 report is compiled by C3S from a range of data sources from satellite to in-situ, with contributions from international climate science experts including Copernicus partners and national meteorological bodies.
Freja Vamborg, senior scientist at C3S, and lead author of the report, said, “Now in its fifth edition, the report highlights how the data we collect and process at C3S can be transformed into highly accurate and clear information to make collective and individual decisions. Collating the report is the result of enormous collaborations across all the Copernicus services, our partners and numerous climate and weather experts across the international community, including national meteorological and hydrological services, universities, research institutions and private entities.”
To view the complete European State of the Climate Report, click here.