Europe is burning up – the coldest summer for the rest of our lives?

Since the start of July Europe has been hit by heatwave after heatwave, bringing the continent some of the most extreme temperatures since the beginning of recorded weather history. As much of 47%, almost half of the European continent, is afflicted by a severe drought.

Such periods of excessively hot weather have been becoming more and more common in Europe and the latest one is just a continuation of a series of devastating weather events. Heatwaves can have deadly impacts. In 2003 months of extreme temperatures were responsible for over 70.000 deaths in western Europe while subsequent heatwaves in 2006, 2010, 2015, 2018, 2019 and 2020 killed thousands more.

This one feels different though. The collective awareness of climate change has gone up dramatically in the last decade, making people more mindful of the consequences of global warming. Media attention for this heatwave has been very high, largely because of just how many heat records are being shattered across the continent.

The UK has broken its all-time heat record with temperatures reaching 40.9 degrees in some places. As many other western European countries that are used to having relatively mild climate even in the summer, the UK was wholly unprepared to deal with such heat and subsequently issued an extreme heat emergency for large areas of the country. British infrastructure, some of it dating back to the Victorian age, could not handle the heat. In parts of the country railroad workers had to paint the train tracks with white color to keep the tracks cool and prevent deformation. Large parts of western Europe are also not equipped with air conditioning leading to serious situations especially in residential and nursing homes.

Because of the dry heat many southern and western European countries are dealing with major wildfires that are very difficult to control. The state of the European waterways is reason to worry as well. The German Rhine which is the longest and most important waterway for inland shipping in Europe has dried up completely in some places and is close to historically low water levels everywhere. Big shipping companies are now having trouble supplying coal to power plants which leads to irregular energy supply in some regions of Germany. Hydroelectric dams are only generating a fraction of their normal output because of the low water levels and cooling for nuclear and conventional power plants proves to be increasingly difficult. The steel and chemical industry largely relies on inland shipping to still their hunger for resources. Large ships that normally move thousands of tons of cargo are forced to reduce their cargo load drastically to decrease their draught and thereby making sure they can navigate sections of the river where water levels are low. This means that that shipping companies must rely on many smaller boats to replace them. Consequently, costs for inland shipping are through the roof as the supply can’t keep up with the supply. The dwindling water supply is also to blame for decreasing yields in Europe’s key crops such as soybeans, sunflower and grain maize. Farmers have trouble irrigating their crops and dealing with dry soil.

Source: Climate Prediction Center (

The European continent is a bit of an outlier when it comes to extreme weather events and global warming. Temperatures here are 1.94 – 1.99 degrees higher than the pre-industrial average of the continent which is nearly twice the global average of around 1.1 degrees Celsius. Europe is warming around three to four times faster than the rest of the midlatitudes.

This disproportionate increase in temperature cannot fully be explained by existing climate change models. However, many potential explanations include changes in the jet stream (a so-called double jet), parched soils and slow ocean circulation contributing to the unique situation in Europe.

So, what can be done about this? Projections show that it will only get worse. Temperatures upward of 50 degrees are presumably not that far away and it stands to argue that most Europeans are not equipped to deal with such a shift in the weather.

In the last years green finance has been gaining more and more traction in the financial markets. But the pandemic has really underscored the importance of building a greener economy. Now is the time to explore the prospect of using the COVID-19 pandemic recovery as a steppingstone on the way to green growth.

The EU is investing close to a EUR 100bn yearly into development banks to increase climate resilience and green projects already. The goal is to reduce emissions by 55% until 2030 compared to the level of 1990. But the European community needs to do more to improve drought resilience. The root of the problem lies in climate change. The global community is taking action, but it might be too little too late. The EU is already projecting that costs of climate change mitigation and adaptation could reach 4% of the EU GDP by the end of the century. The ECB has already come out and said that failing to address climate change could reduce the EUs GDP by up to 10% by the end of the century.

More governments should utilize environmental funds (EFs) to implement and supervise their mid- to long term climate strategies. EFs provide funding and technical expertise to green projects exclusively. By adding stakeholders in the private sector, the fund is encouraged to employ more transparency in the governance and management of the funds. Government funding should be provided as a Kickstarter and to draw in more private investment.

There needs to be investment into more sustainable and resilient transportation infrastructure, retrofits to new buildings and homes and improvement to urban spaces. Arguably the biggest chance to adapt to climate change is the large-scale investment into building and developing more renewable energy infrastructure.

Or else every future summer would be the coldest summer for the rest of our lives.

Oliver Knels

University of Applied Sciences of the German Federal Bank, MNB

Oliver Knels is in the final year of his studies at the University of the Bundesbank. Over the course of three years at the Bundesbank he has gained insight into many different sections of the Bundesbank such as banking supervision, financial stability, cash management and payment infrastructure. During his six week internship with the MNB he works in the Directorate for international monetary policy analysis and training of economic sciences.

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