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Irrigation water requirement (CLIM 033) - Assessment published Nov 2012

Indicator Assessmentexpired Created 14 Nov 2012 Published 20 Nov 2012 Last modified 29 Jul 2014, 12:41 PM
This content has been archived on 29 Jul 2014, reason: Other (New version data-and-maps/indicators/water-requirement-1/assessment-1 was published)

Generic metadata


Climate change Climate change (Primary topic)

Agriculture Agriculture

climate | climate change | mediterranean | irrigation | atmosphere | agriculture | rain water
DPSIR: Impact
Typology: Descriptive indicator (Type A - What is happening to the environment and to humans?)
Indicator codes
  • CLIM 033
Temporal coverage:
1961-2010, 2050-2060
Geographic coverage:
Albania, Albanien, Algeria, Belarus, Belgien, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bosnien und Herzegowina, Bulgaria, Bulgarien, Croatia, Czech Republic, Deutschland, Dänemark, Estland, Finnland, France, Frankreich, Greece, Griechenland, Irland, Italien, Italy, Kosovo (UNSCR 1244/99), Kroatien, Lettland, Liechtenstein, Litauen, Luxembourg, Luxemburg, Macedonia (FYR), Malta, Mazedonien (EJRM), Moldawien, Monaco, Montenegro, Morocco, Niederlande, Norwegen, Polen, Portugal, Rumänien, Russia, San Marino, Schweden, Schweiz, Serbien, Slovenia, Slowakei, Slowenien, Spain, Spanien, Tunesien, Turkey, Ukraine, Ungarn, Großbritannien, Zypern, Österreich

Key policy question: How is climate change affecting the water requirement of agricultural crops and water availability for irrigation across Europe?

Key messages

  • In the Iberian Peninsula and Italy, an increase in the volume of water required for irrigation from 1975 to 2010 has been estimated, whereas parts of south-eastern Europe have recorded a decrease.
  • The projected increases in temperature will lead to increased evapotranspiration rates, thereby increasing crop water requirements across Europe.
  • The impact of increasing water requirements is expected to be most acute in southern Europe, where the suitability for rain-fed agriculture is projected to decrease and irrigation requirements are projected to increase.

Rate of change of the meteorological water balance

Note: This figure shows the rate of change of the ‘water balance’. The map provides an estimate increase (red in map) or decrease (blue in map) of the volume of water required from irrigation assuming that all other factors are unchanged and given that there is an irrigation demand.

Data source:
Downloads and more info

Projected change in water availability for irrigation in the Mediterranean region

Note: This figure shows the relative change in water availability for irrigation as projected under the A1B emission scenario by the HIRHAM (DMI) regional climate model for 2071-2100 relative to 1961-1990. Light yellow areas indicate no change in water availability.

Data source:
Downloads and more info

Key assessment

Past trends

Consistent observations of water demand for agriculture do not currently exist for Europe but past trends can be estimated on the basis of meteorological data. Figure 1 estimates the change in the water balance, which is the difference between a reference evapotranspiration and the rainfall. This indicator provides only a rough proxy for changes in irrigation demand, because actual irrigation demand is determined by the crops grown, the type of irrigation applied and the local soil conditions. In the period considered (1975–2010), the Iberian Peninsula and Italy experienced an increase in the volume of water required for irrigation, if yields of irrigated crops were to be maintained, whereas parts of south-eastern Europe have experienced a decrease.


No projections of changes in irrigation demand are available for Europe. Many climate change projections show a consistent increase in the number of dry days in spring and summer in much of southern and central Europe [i]. In some of the severe climate change scenarios the increase in the number of dry days in summer even extends far into northern Europe. The increasing temperatures will increase the evaporative demand, which would be further increased if the higher frequency of dry days leads to lower relative humidity and reduced cloud cover. These effects will only be partly compensated by the reduced crop transpiration under higher CO2 concentrations [ii].

The expected increasing evapotranspiration will put pressure on the use of irrigation in drought-prone areas. Irrigation in Europe is currently concentrated along the Mediterranean, where some countries use more than 80 % of total freshwater abstraction for agricultural purposes [iii]. The increasing demand for irrigation will therefore increase the competition for water, in particular where total water availability declines due to reduced precipitation. Assuming that urban water demands would have preference over agricultural purposes, the proportional reduction of water availability for irrigation in many European basins is larger than the reduction in annual run-off (Figure 2) [iv]. Projections for the Mediterranean region show a considerable decline in water availability, which in some areas makes current irrigation practices impossible in the future.

[i] M. Trnka et al., „Agroclimatic Conditions in Europe Under Climate Change“, Global Change Biology 17, Nr. 7 (Juli 1, 2011): 2298–2318, doi:10.1111/j.1365-2486.2011.02396.x.

[ii] J. E. Olesen et al., „Uncertainties in projected impacts of climate change on European agriculture and terrestrial ecosystems based on scenarios from regional climate models“, Climatic Change 81 (März 17, 2007): 123–143, doi:10.1007/s10584-006-9216-1.

[iii] EEA, Water resources across Europe — confronting water scarcity and drought EEA Report (Copenhagen: European Environment Agency, 2009),

[iv] A. Iglesias et al., „Water and people: Assessing policy priorities for climate change adaptation in the Mediterranean“, in Regional Assessment of Climate Change in the Mediterranean (RACCM) (Springer, 2012), in press.

Data sources

More information about this indicator

See this indicator specification for more details.

Contacts and ownership

EEA Contact Info

Hans-Martin Füssel


EEA Management Plan

2012 2.0.1 (note: EEA internal system)


Frequency of updates

Updates are scheduled every 4 years in October-December (Q4)
European Environment Agency (EEA)
Kongens Nytorv 6
1050 Copenhagen K
Phone: +45 3336 7100