Climate change in Europe is already affecting public health, and will continue to do so in the future. How does it affect Europeans today? What does the future look like? We asked these questions to Bettina Menne from WHO Europe.
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.
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.
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.
Most Europeans now live in cities, so the choices we make about urban infrastructure will have a large influence on how well we cope with climate change. More frequent rainfall, flooding, and heatwaves are likely to be among the challenges that Europe’s cities will face from climate change. We asked Holger Robrecht, Deputy Regional Director of ICLEI, what cities are doing to adapt to climate change.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Land and soil are essential for natural systems and human society, but human activities threaten the functioning of the overall land resource, including soil. Why is this happening? What is Europe doing to prevent it? 2015 is the International Year of Soils, so we put these questions to Geertrui Louwagie, project manager for soil assessments and reporting at the European Environment Agency.
Our natural environment is a key component of our health and wealth. However, our recent assessments show that the majority of habitats and species in Europe have an unfavourable conservation status despite significant improvements for many species in recent years.
The project on Foresighted Reasoning on Environmental Stressors and Health (FRESH) ran from 2013 to 2014 and investigated the frameworks and evidence base for undertaking integrated assessments of environmental health and well-being.
Litter, plastics in particular, is accumulating in our seas and coasts. Information and data on marine litter is essential for tackling it. The European Environment Agency has developed Marine LitterWatch to strengthen Europe’s knowledge base and thus provide support to European policy making.
Litter, plastics in particular, is accumulating in our seas and coasts mainly due to current unsustainable consumption and production patterns, poor waste management and the lack of public awareness. Marine litter is an increasing threat to the marine environment, to human health and our well-being. It has cross border impacts on wildlife and habitats. Without tackling marine litter, Europe cannot have healthy seas.
Our consumption and production patterns generate waste, a part of which ends up as litter in our oceans. Why is preventing marine litter important for the environment and the health of our seas in particular? What is Europe doing to prevent marine litter? We asked these questions to Constança Belchior, who works on marine assessments and impacts of marine litter at the European Environment Agency.
Over the past 40 years Europe has developed the most comprehensive, ambitious and binding environmental legislation existing anywhere today. And with good reason: these standards should be seen as a unique economic advantage.
Our climate is changing. We need to adapt to current and expected changes, while maximising our efforts to quickly and sharply reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. And 2015 can be a turning point for global climate policies. Europe and the world must seize the opportunity and allocate sufficient funds to end the carbon dependency of the global economy.
Air pollution has negative impacts on human health and the environment, and industry is one of the main contributors to air pollution in Europe. How do we estimate the costs of industrial air pollution on society? What do the numbers tell us? We asked these questions to Martin Adams, who leads the group working on air pollution, transport and noise at the European Environment Agency.
When taken as a single variable, population density, transport infrastructure, soil types, land use and terrain characteristics, might tell only a part of the story. What links them together and allows us to get a better understanding of what is happening where? How does spatial data help improve Europe's environmental policies? We asked these questions to Stefan Jensen, who leads a group working on implementing the Shared Environmental Information System (SEIS) – with a focus on spatial reference data – at the European Environment Agency.
Europe selected its new policy makers. They will need to address not only today's challenges but also set in motion policies that will affect Europeans well beyond their five-year mandate. What do they need to do today to make sure that Europeans live well in the future? By taking action at the EU level and tackling environment and climate issues, EU policy makers can actually revive the economy and guarantee our long-term well-being.