Europeans hit by melting snow and ice
The snow line is expected to creep upwards by 150 meters in the Alps for every degree C the temperature rises. A three degrees rise in summer could lead to a loss of about 80 % of the alpine glaciers. Snow and glaciers are important for the availability of water, especially in summer when the water retained gradually melts. Reduced run-off will reduce water supplies for Europeans living in catchment areas of, for example, the Alps or the Pyrenees and affect agriculture, industry and power generation.
Winter tourism generates huge amounts of revenue for Europe's economy. For example, it makes up 4.5 % of Austria's GDP. As most ski resorts rely on stable snow conditions, they are likely to be hit by higher winter temperatures.
Melting of snow and ice in remote areas like the Arctic will also affect Europe. As the white surfaces are replaced by darker ones, more heat from the sun will be absorbed. Also, there is more organic carbon and methane stored in the Arctic permafrost than in the atmosphere. Consequently, thawing of the permafrost will release these greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Thus, the effects in the Arctic will accelerate global warming.
Lower lying regions may be severely affected by the rise in the sea level. In European coastal zones, we find 16 % of the continent's inhabitants and 280 cities with more than 50 000 people. Sea level now rises 3 mm/year and is projected to continue to rise due to past emissions of greenhouse gases. However, the long-term effect of the melting of ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica remains largely uncertain. If emissions continue to grow, the melting of these ice sheets could lead to the sea level rising by metres over the next centuries, even with only a partial melt down.
The EU has proposed to limit the global warming to two degrees over pre-industrial time to avoid such adverse effects. This will require substantial reductions in the emissions of greenhouse gases. However, some effects are unavoidable. Therefore, adaptation measures are needed in vulnerable sectors and regions. The EU Commission will publish a Green Paper on adaptation to climate change in July this year.
Information and links
- 'Global outlook for ice and snow' with press material from UNEP
- UNEP web site on World Environment Day 2007
- Climate conference in Tromsø, Norway, 4–5 June 2007 following the global launch of the report. Lectures are being streamed
- Webcast of launch of UNEP report
- Webcast of substainability conference and climate conference
- For more details on how changes in snow and ice cover in Europe will affect the amount and availability of water, see WISE - Water themes and data
- EEA, 2007: Climate change and water adaptation issues. Technical report No 2: report on
adaptation measures to meet the climate change impacts on water in Europe:
For references, please go to www.eea.europa.eu/soer or scan the QR code.
This briefing is part of the EEA's report The European Environment - State and Outlook 2015. The EEA is an official agency of the EU, tasked with providing information on Europe’s environment.
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