The weather is usually known for being unpredictable but the extreme weather sweeping across Europe has proven catastrophic. With wildfires in Turkey, Greece and Italy and floods in Germany, we are beginning to witness first hand the consequences of global warming. But what do these extreme weather events mean in terms of climate change and the future of ‘summer weather’?
How does climate change affect the weather?
Climate change means our long-term weather patterns are being substantially altered. For example, both winters and summers are starting to get warmer. Since the Industrial Revolution, we’ve seen an average increase in global temperatures of about 1°C, with some regions like Europe experiencing substantially higher temperature increases close to 2 degrees Celsius.
Global warming is the result of more carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses accumulating in the atmosphere due to us burning fossil fuels or cutting down trees. The more carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, the more pronounced their polluting effects.
This includes absorbing the solar radiation bouncing back from the Earth and therefore trapping heat. As a result the Earth is getting warmer, accelerating climate change and increasing the likelihood of weather extremes like floods and intense heatwaves that lead to forest fires. Recently in Europe, specifically in Greece and Germany, we have seen these two effects of climate change in action. Below, we break down the causes behind this devastation and what we can do to reverse these consequences of climate change.
Climate change and the role it plays in flooding: how a month’s rainfall in a day overwhelmed Germany’s flood defence systems
The flooding witnessed in Germany is the product of a devastating effect of global warming: super-charged rainfall. The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report states that ‘globally averaged precipitation over land has likely increased since 1950. While it is difficult to attribute single events to being solely the result of climate change, what cannot be argued, however, is that as the air warms, its capacity to hold water increases, with this equating to around 7% more moisture for every 1°C of temperature change.
Due to the increased moisture available, heavy rainfall patterns become even heavier and the risk of flooding increases. This is what we have seen play out in Germany, as record amounts of rainfall caused not only rivers to burst their banks, but overwhelmed drainage and sewer systems, resulting in serious natural disasters. Deutscher Wetterdienst, the German meteorological service, referred to the flooding as a ‘once in a century’ event, with parts of Rhineland-Palatinate and North Rhine-Westphalia experiencing more than a month’s rainfall (100 l/m²) in just 24 hours.
As a result, Germany’s robust flood warning and defence systems, including being part of the European Commission's European Flood Awareness System, were breached. Due to the severity of the resulting flooding caused by such an extreme concentration of rainfall in a short period of time, 184 people sadly lost their lives and up to €30 billion will be needed to recover from the devastation caused by the floods, €13 billion of which is required for the west German state of North Rhine-Westphalia alone.
For this level of damage and loss of life to happen in a country that was seemingly so well prepared for the knock-on effects of extreme weather demonstrates the most severe consequences of climate change in action. Such was the speed and extent of the flooding in Germany, climate scientists are now starting to wonder if the human-made causes of climate change are set to be even worse than first expected. If this proves to be the case, we can and must urgently work to start reversing the effects of climate change.
Climate change and heatwaves: wildfires sweep through Greece after record temperatures
While Germany has been gripped by flooding, Greece, as well as Turkey and Italy, have been subject to intense heatwaves and forest fires. There is yet to be a study published that directly links this most recent wave of extreme temperatures to global warming, but they do fall in line with a wider global trend. As the latest IPCC report states, we can be highly confident that human-induced climate change is the main driver behind the huge increase in the hot extremes experienced globally since 1950.
Prof. Peter Taalas, secretary-general of the World Meteorological Organization, took this a step further in a statement published after the IPCC report was released, saying that the Greek wildfires were the ‘harsh reality of climate change playing [...] out before our very eyes’. This came after the U.N. Secretary General António Guterres labelled the same IPCC report a ‘code red for humanity'.
Greece’s recent weather has been both unprecedented and devastating. The extreme heat, including more than 200 locations topping 40°C in a single day, has sparked wildfires, with these being intensified by dry trees acting as kindling and persistent winds to fan the flames.
As a result, emergency services have had to grapple with 154 wildfires across Greece, with one of the worst hit areas being the island of Evia, where the Greek coast guard evacuated 650 residents by boat as the fires entered their fourth day of burning. The intensity of the fires has also necessitated a pan-European response to try and bring them under control, with nine planes, 1'000 firefighters and 200 vehicles having been deployed from Cyprus, France, Sweden, Czechia, Croatia and Spain.
Just like the floods that ripped through Germany, the wildfires in Greece are a stark warning that it is highly likely we are already dealing with the effects of climate change. What can we do to slow these down or even reverse them? Find out more below.
Climate change solutions: we need to remove harmful carbon dioxide from the air
These extreme weather events in Europe serve as warning, alerting humanity to the challenges posed by climate change in the face evidence that our actions are unequivocally a factor in how we reached this point. We know that global warming is caused by an increase of carbon dioxide in the earth’s atmosphere, so we must reduce and avoid these harmful emissions from entering the atmosphere in order to reach climate neutrality and achieve the temperature goals set in Paris. Emission reductions need to happen very fast for net zero CO₂ emissions to be reached latest by 2050 on a global level.
Therefore, science also demonstrates that we need to actively remove carbon dioxide from the air to combat climate change in addition to fast and far reaching emission reductions and avoidances. First as a means to compensate for hard-to abate sectors and second, as long-lasting historic (and future) CO₂ emissions accumulate in the atmosphere and needs to be removed from the air and stored safely and permanently underground. In addition historic carbon dioxide can be removed from the air and stored safely and permanently underground.
At Climeworks, we remove harmful carbon dioxide from the air to help mitigate climate change. We do this through our efficient direct air capture technology which safely removes and stores carbon dioxide. The more CO₂ removed, the more we can do to help prevent our planet from getting warmer, thus preventing the harmful effects of climate change.
For more information on how you can help with the removal of carbon dioxide from our atmosphere, read how you can become a Climeworks Pioneer here.