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Why Europe is the fastest-warming continent on Earth

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Climate change is causing Europe to heat up more quickly than any other continent, and that heat is deadly, according to a new report by European climate officials. Here's NPR's Rebecca Hersher.

REBECCA HERSHER, BYLINE: The whole planet is warming up because of heat-trapping pollution from oil, gas and coal. But Europe is getting warmer faster. Samantha Burgess is the deputy director of the Copernicus Climate Change Service, which is the EU's official weather and climate organization. She says Europe is warming about twice as fast as the global average.

SAMANTHA BURGESS: Globally, we're looking at about a 0.2 degrees Celsius change per decade, whereas Europe is, I think, about 0.4 degrees Celsius per decade.

HERSHER: Those tenths of a degree add up quickly. Europe is already more than 4 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than it was in the late 1800s. One reason Europe is heating up so quickly is that it's very close to the Arctic, and the polar regions feel the effects of climate change more intensely. Another reason is that the ocean and atmospheric currents around Europe are warmer in general than those at similar latitudes in other parts of the world. That's why London's winters are so much more temperate than Chicago's, even though London is farther north. And it means that as the oceans and atmosphere heat up, Europe feels it in a big way.

BURGESS: We are continuing to see new records broken all the time.

HERSHER: Last year was tied for the hottest year on record in Europe. A new report by the Copernicus Climate Change Service and the United Nations finds that the number of deaths from hot weather in Europe has grown by at least 30% in the last 20 years. Chris Hewitt directs the U.N.'s weather service.

CHRIS HEWITT: Extreme heat causes the greatest mortality of all extreme weather.

HERSHER: Last summer was a prime example. During a heat wave in July, intense heat and humidity made it feel like it was 110 degrees or hotter in nearly half of southern Europe. That's the kind of heat that can kill people if they don't have access to air conditioning. Preliminary estimates say tens of thousands of people likely died. European cities are scrambling to make sure residents have access to air conditioning and reliable electricity for that air conditioning.

On that front, there's good news in the new report. Europe is increasingly turning to solar and wind for its electricity. 2023 was the second year in a row that the continent made more of its electricity from renewables than from burning fossil fuels, which means fewer greenhouse gas emissions, which means slower warming in the long term.

Rebecca Hersher, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Rebecca Hersher (she/her) is a reporter on NPR's Science Desk, where she reports on outbreaks, natural disasters, and environmental and health research. Since coming to NPR in 2011, she has covered the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, embedded with the Afghan army after the American combat mission ended, and reported on floods and hurricanes in the U.S. She's also reported on research about puppies. Before her work on the Science Desk, she was a producer for NPR's Weekend All Things Considered in Los Angeles.
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