Our climate is changing. Scientific evidence shows that the global average temperature is rising, and rainfall patterns are shifting. It also shows that glaciers, Arctic sea-ice and the Greenland ice sheet are melting. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fifth Assessment Report shows that the warming since the mid-20th century is predominantly due to an increase in greenhouse-gas concentrations as a result of emissions from human activities. Combustion of fossil fuels and changes in land use are largely responsible for this increase.
Climate change is causing a variety of impacts to our health, ecosystems and economy. These impacts are likely to become more serious in the coming decades. If not addressed, these impacts could prove very costly, in terms of ill health, adverse effects on ecosystems, and damaged property and infrastructure. Many adaptation projects are already underway across Europe to prepare for a changing climate.
Climate change is warming the oceans, causing acidification of marine environments, and changing rainfall patterns. This combination of factors often exacerbates the impacts of other human pressures on the seas, leading to loss of marine biodiversity. Many human livelihoods depend on marine biodiversity and ecosystems, so action to limit ocean warming must be taken quickly.
Agriculture both contributes to climate change and is affected by climate change. The EU needs to reduce its greenhouse-gas emissions from agriculture and adapt its food-production system to cope with climate change. But climate change is only one of many pressures on agriculture. Faced with growing global demand and competition for resources, the EU’s food production and consumption need to be seen in a broader context, linking agriculture, energy, and food security.
Soil is an important — and often neglected — element of the climate system. It is the second largest carbon store, or ‘sink’, after the oceans. Depending on the region, climate change might result in more carbon being stored in plants and soil due to vegetation growth, or more carbon being released into the atmosphere. Restoring key ecosystems on land, and a sustainable use of the land in urban and rural areas, can help us mitigate and adapt to climate change.
2014 was the hottest year on record. It was also one more year in series of increasingly warm decades. To limit global warming to 2°C above pre-industrial levels and minimise the impacts of climate change, greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere need to be reduced substantially. Governments can set targets, but it is ultimately up to industry, businesses, local authorities, and households to take action. This action must aim to ensure that emissions are reduced, atmospheric greenhouse-gas concentrations stabilised, temperature rises halted, and climate change limited.
Measures to mitigate and adapt to climate change are often considered to be expensive, and are seen as an additional burden on the economy. But European countries are already spending public and private funds on research, infrastructure, agriculture, energy, transport, urban development, social protection, health, and nature conservation. We can ensure that our existing expenditure on these areas favours climate-friendly and sustainable options that will help to create new jobs.
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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