Climate change: diverse threats call for a united response
Abandoned village in southern Spain
Last year’s dramatic forest fires in Greece and floods in the United Kingdom once again showed the devastating power of the elements on humans and ecosystems. Troublingly, recent assessments by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC, 2007) and the European Environment Agency (EEA, 2008) indicate that global warming will increase the frequency and intensity of extreme weather-related events in the future.
The impacts of climate change are extensive and will vary across Europe. They include rising temperatures; more drought in southern Europe; river floods and storm surges; melting glaciers and sea ice; higher sea levels; and changing crop yields. Other impacts, such as the loss of biodiversity and ecosystem goods and services, threats to human health and damage to socio-economic activities (e.g., energy generation, transport, forestry, agriculture and tourism) still need to be fully assessed.
These changes would continue even if greenhouse gas emissions stopped today. Projections for 2080–2100 suggest that temperatures in Europe will rise by between 1 and 5.5 °C above 1961–1990 levels. We need proactive adaptation measures to moderate the effects.
Across Europe, the areas most vulnerable to climate change are the Arctic, the Mediterranean, mountain regions and low lying coastal areas. Correspondingly, the Netherlands is now developing plans to address coastal and river flooding in response to the potentially profound impact of rising sea levels and more frequent and intense storms. Habitats and coastal ecosystems on the Baltic, Black and Mediterranean Seas likewise face grave threats, with considerable loss of wetlands possible.
Rising average temperatures mean increased risks of fire in southern Europe and melting ice in mountainous regions, where the loss of glaciers and permafrost is likely to cause a surge in natural hazards, soil erosion and flooding. Already Austria is evaluating the risks to winter tourism, assessing its vulnerability to climate change and drawing up possible actions to adapt in time to minimise costs and impacts.
Some northern and western regions of Europe may experience beneficial impacts, particularly in the agriculture sector. But although climate change may increase yields in commercial forests in northern Europe, this gain is likely to be offset by increased variability in crop yields. Moreover, yield decreases are expected in Mediterranean regions and continental Europe due to more frequent droughts.
While Europeans face different threats from climate change across the continent, they are united by the common and urgent need to put in place timely, adequate, proportionate and cost-effective adaptation measures to avoid or lessen the negative impacts. Reducing vulnerability and increasing resilience is a common and pressing priority for all countries, regions, businesses and stakeholders in the European Union.
EEA, 2008. Impacts of Europe's changing climate – 2008 indicator-based assessment, European Environment Agency, Copenhagen.
R. Uhel and S. Isoard, 2008. Regional adaptation to climate change: a European spatial planning challenge, InfoRegio Panorama, Nr. 25 - March 2008
IPCC, 2007. Climate Change 2007: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. Contribution of Working Group II to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Cambridge, UK