Europe has seen a significant snow shortage in recent years and many are beginning to wonder what this could mean for the future of our planet. The abnormally warm winter Europe is currently experiencing is a clear consequence of global warming and it is yet another warning sign that we must take immediate action to address climate change and mitigate its devastating impacts on our lives and the environment.
According to the European Environment Agency (EEA), the average temperature in Europe has risen by 1.5C since the pre-industrial era, with the greatest warming occurring in the Arctic and the Mediterranean regions. This warming is projected to continue, with temperatures in Europe projected to rise by 2 to 5C by the end of the current century.
A Warm Start to 2023 for Europe
This winter in Europe will be remembered for record-high temperatures and a significant snow shortage. Several countries have experienced an unprecedented heatwave, with temperature breaking records in several areas including Germany, France, and the Netherlands. In North America, cities such as Seattle and Portland have experienced some of the warmest temperatures on record, while ski resorts in California and Colorado are also struggling due to an unprecedented snow shortage. In Asia, regions such as Siberia have seen temperatures rise far above the average, melting permafrost which releases large amounts of methane gas into the atmosphere.
This “abnormal” winter has led to a number of negative consequences, including economic losses for ski resorts and other winter tourism businesses, as well as potential ecological damage worldwide.
According to the EEA, the average snow cover in Europe has declined by 15% since the 1960s, with the greatest decrease occurring in the Mediterranean region. This snow shortage is having a significant impact on winter tourism, a major economic driver in many European countries. According to the International Ski Federation, the number of ski days in Europe decreased by 40% during the first two months of the current winter season, owing not only to changes in weather patterns but also to the long-lasting economic repercussions of the Covid19 pandemic.
Another study published by the European Environmental Agency found that Europe has experienced a significant increase in average winter temperatures over the last few decades, leading to a decline in snowfall and making it difficult for ski resorts to maintain their slopes. This also has a major impact on the winter sports industry. Already challenged by the pandemic and inadequate snow conditions, the Winter Olympics now face an uncertain future.
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Furthermore, the lack of snow has also led to concerns about the health of ecosystems. Snow acts as a natural insulator, helping to keep the ground frozen and preventing the release of carbon from the soil. Without it, there is a risk that more carbon will be released, contributing to further warming.
In addition to the snow shortage, climate change is also leading to increased heatwaves and extreme weather events in Europe. According to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), the number of heatwaves in Europe has increased by more than 50% since the 1980s, with the most significant increases occurring in Southern and Eastern regions. Extreme weather events, such as floods, droughts, and storms are becoming more frequent, causing significant damage to infrastructure and resulting in economic losses.
Climate change is also significantly impacting Europe’s biodiversity, with many species struggling to adapt to the changing conditions. According to the EEA, almost half of Europe’s species, including several species of birds, butterflies, and plants dependent on specific temperature and rainfall regimes, are currently at risk of extinction.
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The impact of these heatwaves on food and water supplies is significant. Extreme temperatures can cause crops to fail, leading to food shortages and price increases. Heatwaves also affect water supplies, as they increase the demand for irrigation and can cause drought, leading to water scarcity. Oftentimes, heatwaves also lead to power outages, as high temperatures put pressure on energy systems not designed to cope with extreme weather.
Despite significant progress being made in terms of emissions reduction, more action is needed. According to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), global greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) have plateaued in recent years but they are still not declining at the pace required to keep the global temperature rise below 1.5C. In order to limit the rise in global temperatures, it is estimated that GHG emissions must decrease by at least 45% from 2010 levels by 2030, and reach net zero by 2050. However, the current pace of emissions reduction is not enough to achieve these targets.
According to data from the Global Carbon Project, global CO2 emissions reached a record high in 2019, and emissions from energy production and transportation, the largest sources of CO2 emissions, are still increasing.
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Scientists have been studying the effects of climate change on Europe and have proposed a number of ways to mitigate its impact.
One key solution is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by transitioning to renewable energy sources and implementing energy efficiency measures. This can help slow the planet’s warming and reduce the intensity of heatwaves. Europe has made significant progress in the adoption of renewable energy sources over the past year. The majority of this progress has been driven by wind and solar power generation, and the smaller countries in Europe are leading the way. However, there is still a lot of work to be done if Europe is to meet its ambitious targets for a more sustainable energy mix.
According to recent data, around 33% of Europe’s total energy consumption comes from renewable sources. The majority of this renewable energy is generated from wind and solar power, with smaller contributions from hydro, geothermal, and biomass sources. In 2021, Europe continued to make progress in its transition to a more sustainable energy mix. The total installed capacity of renewable energy in Europe increased by 12.5GW, reaching over 300GW. This was mainly driven by the growth of wind and solar power, which accounted for more than 90% of new renewable energy capacity.
When it comes to the best-performing European countries in terms of renewable energy, countries including Sweden, Finland, and Iceland, are leading the way. These small nations have made significant investments in renewable energy and have set ambitious targets for the future. For example, Sweden generates more than 50% of its energy from renewable sources and aims to become 100% renewable by 2040.
On the other hand, some of the larger countries, including Germany and the United Kingdom, are still struggling to keep pace with their smaller counterparts. Despite being two of the largest economies in Europe, they generate less than 40% of their energy from renewable sources. This highlights the need for continued investment and political support for the transition to a more sustainable energy mix.
Another important solution is to adapt to the changing climate by developing more heat-resistant crops such as Sorghum, Quinoa, Amaranth, and Cowpea, and building infrastructure that can withstand extreme weather events.
By transitioning to renewable energy and implementing climate adaptation measures, we can help protect our communities and economies from the negative effects of climate change and snow shortage. It is also equally important for other countries to take action to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to the changes that are already happening.
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