2003 was Europe's hottest summer for 500 years



Posted on 06 March 2004  | 
Forest fire in France, summer of 2003.
© WWF-Canon / Michel GuntherEnlarge
Gland, Switzerland - A study published yesterday in the journal Science confirms that last year's summer heatwave in Europe — which saw devasting fires in France and Spain, the Danube River reach a 100-year low, and at least 15,000 people die — was the hottest in more than 500 years.

Jürg Luterbacher and colleagues from the University of Bern analysed personal accounts and historical records to reconstruct Europe's climate since 1500 AD. They conclude that summer temperatures over the past decade (1994–2003) were the hottest in more than than 500 years, with 2003 by far the hottest summer.

The study confirms an analysis by WWF-Sctoland, which used figures from the Meterological Office to confirm that 2003 was the warmest year ever recorded in Scotland.

It also supports previous studies showing that the Northern Hemisphere as a whole is warming up, and that average global temperatures have risen by 0.6° Celsius over the past century.

The Science report comes shortly after Swiss Re, the world's second-largest reinsurer, said that global warming is aggrevating the economic costs of natural disasters, which threaten to double to US $150 billion a year in 10 years, hitting insurers with US $30–40 billion in claims. Global warming is expected to trigger increased climate change and extreme weather events such as droughts, heatwaves, floods, and storms.

"Climate change is the biggest threat to nature and people for this century," says Jennifer Morgan, Director of WWF's Climate Change Programme. "The only possible answer is to immediately cut down emissions of gases known to cause climate change."

The current increase in global temperatures is predominantly caused by the release carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere though the burning of fossil fuels by people.

The impacts of this warming and associated climate change include increased bleaching of coral reefs due to rising sea temperatures; potential extinction of 1 million species; glaciers melting on every continent; and disappearence of low lying coastal lands as sea levels rise due to melting polar ice

WWF and many others believe that significant reductions in CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions are urgently needed to slow global warming. Such reductions can be achieved by setting mandatory caps on greenhouse gas emissions, including CO2, and supporting a switch towards clean energy — increased energy efficiency, and use of renewable energy resources such as wind, solar, and biomass. Experts agree that the rise in average global temperatures must stay well below 2 degree Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) to keep climate change impacts to a minimum. 
 
WWF's PowerSwitch! initiative challenges the power sector — the companies producing electricity, and the largest CO2-emitting sector — to become CO2-free by 2050 in developed countries and make a major switch from coal to clean in developing countries.

For further information
Martin Hiller
WWF Climate Change Programme
Tel: +41 22 3649226
E-mail: mhiller@wwfint.org
Forest fire in France, summer of 2003.
© WWF-Canon / Michel Gunther Enlarge

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