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Climate change and human health

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.

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Mitigating 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.

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Agriculture and climate change

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.

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Climate change and the seas

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.

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Climate change and cities

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.

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Climate change and investments

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.

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Are we ready for climate change?

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.

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Living in 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.

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Soil and climate change

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.

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Climate change: investing in low-carbon solutions and adaptation

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.

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A strong environment as the basis for Europe's future economy

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.

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Preparing Europe’s cities for climate change impacts

Climate change is impacting and will continue to impact Europe. Are cities ready to face rising sea levels and temperatures and more extreme events like floods, droughts or heat waves? We asked this question to Birgit Georgi, working on regional vulnerability and climate change adaptation at the European Environment Agency.

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EU policies deliver greenhouse gas emission reductions

The European Union has been reducing its greenhouse gas emissions since 1990. The EU has ‘over-achieved’ its Kyoto target for the period 2008–2012 and is projected to ‘over-achieve’ its 2020 targets. Can we reduce GHG emissions and have a strong economy at the same time? What was the impact of the recent recession on the EU’s GHG emissions? Does policy work?

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Every breath we take

Every breath we take

30 Jul 2013

We breathe from the moment we are born until the moment we die. It is a vital and constant need, not only for us but for all life on Earth. Poor air quality affects us all: it harms our health and the health of the environment, which leads to economic losses. But what does the air we breathe consist of and where do the various air pollutants come from?

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The melting Arctic

The melting Arctic

12 Jan 2013

The extent of the sea ice in the Arctic reached a new record low in September 2012. Climate change is melting the sea ice in the region at a rate much faster than estimated by earlier projections. The snow cover also shows a downward trend. The melting Arctic might impact not only the people living in the region, but also elsewhere in Europe and beyond.

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Turning the urban challenge into an opportunity

Copenhagen, 2 July 2011. Up to 150 mm of rainfall in two hours – a city record since measurements began in the mid-1800s. Homes destroyed. Citizens and emergency services struggled to cope. This is one example of how excessive extreme weather events can affect a European capital – events that are expected more often under climate change.

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Forests, health and climate change

Forests are essential to our survival and well-being. Forests clean our air, our water, our soil and they regulate our climate, amongst many other things. Trees and forests are not always associated with urban landscapes. However, there too they provide invaluable, often invisible, services. Simply by acting as 'green oasis' in our concrete jungles, they offer recreation and health services for many European citizens.

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Health in a changing climate

In August 2007, local health authorities in Italy detected a high number of cases of an unusual illness in Castiglione di Cervia and Castiglione di Ravenna, two small villages divided by a river. Almost 200 people were affected and one elderly man died (Angelini et al., 2007).

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Reducing speed limits on motorways: how good is it for the environment?

Lower speed limits on motorways are generally associated with road safety. But several European countries are now debating whether they also benefit the environment and, if so, how much. There is no simple way of measuring the environmental benefits of lower speed limits but several factors clearly play a key role.

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Power to the people

Power to the people

15 Mar 2011

In modern societies, almost everything consumes energy. It is not only electronic gadgets, household appliances or street lighting that need it. Bringing water to our homes or food products to our supermarkets also require energy. Current consumption and production patterns demand a steady and often increasing energy supply.

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