Europe’s record hot year made at least 35 times more likely by climate change, say scientists

Powered by article titled “Europe’s record hot year made at least 35 times more likely by climate change, say scientists” was written by Fiona Harvey, environment correspondent, for on Wednesday 17th December 2014 05.00 UTC

This year is on track to be the warmest ever recorded in Europe, and greenhouse gas emissions played a major role, according to new research. Scientists have analysed centuries of temperature records to conclude that this year’s warmth was made at least 35 times more likely because of climate change.

In the UK, this year’s weather included an unusually warm beginning to autumn, with hot sunny days continuing into late October. A team of researchers at Oxford found that the odds of such a warm year in this country had increased by a factor of 10.

Scientists from the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute (KNMI), the University of Melbourne and the Australian National University found that the likelihood of such warm temperatures across Europe was 35 to 80 times greater because of climate change.

Myles Allen, professor at Oxford University, told the Guardian that his group was working on much smaller areas than the other researchers, and was still able to detect a clear signal of climate change. “We are using regional climate models to zoom in on smaller areas than the other groups, and it is interesting that even on the scale of the UK, we are seeing a substantial impact of human influence on climate on the odds of such a warm year,” he said.

Average temperatures Europe
Average temperatures in Europe Photograph: Climate Central

The new work, which has yet to be peer-reviewed or published in full, adds to the increasing science of global warming attribution. While the science of global warming has been understood for many years – the comprehensive 2007 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) set out the certainty that climate change was occurring and caused in the main by human activity – it has always been difficult to tie specific events, such as heatwaves, storms or floods, to climate change. That is because such events also happen naturally, though less frequently than they would under a warming climate.

Ongoing work by teams of researchers around the world, including the Met Office and Oxford University in the UK, is changing that, enabling specific weather events or trends to be linked to global warming on a probability scale.

Previous research has shown, for instance, that the record warm November of 2011 was at least 60 times more likely to have happened because of climate change, according to the Met Office.

Global efforts to combat climate change are continuing. Last week, governments meeting at the UN’s annual climate change conference, held in Lima, agreed a framework for curbing the growth in greenhouse gas emissions, prior to a new global climate agreement that is supposed to be signed at another major conference next year in Paris.

There are encouraging signs that emissions may be moderating at the global level. Last year, global greenhouse gas emissions increased at a slower rate than the average of the past decade. Carbon output was 2% higher than the previous year, which is much lower than the average of 3.8% a year that has been normal since 2003, if the short-lived effects of the financial crisis on emissions are stripped out, according to data from the PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency.

A slowdown in the pace of China’s economic growth was to some extent responsible, along with increasing use of renewable energy. But amidst the decrease in emissions growth, there have been opposing signs: in the US, where the shale gas boom has driven down carbon emissions for several years, a swing back to coal – as gas prices have risen – pushed up emissions growth to 2.5% in 2013. Europe’s greenhouse gases fell by 1.4%. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

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