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The global average concentrations of various greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the atmosphere continue to increase. The combustion of fossil fuels from human activities and land-use changes are largely responsible for this increase.
The concentration of all GHGs, including cooling aerosols that are relevant in the context of the 2 o C temperature target, reached a value of 435 parts per million (ppm) CO 2 equivalents in 2012, an increase of about 3 ppm compared to 2011. As such the concentration continued to close on the threshold of 450 ppm.
In 2012, t he concentration of the six GHGs included in the Kyoto Protocol had reached 449 ppm CO 2 equivalent, an increase of 171 ppm (around +62%) compared to pre-industrial levels.
The concentration of CO 2 , the most important GHG, reached a level of 393 ppm by 2012, and further increased to 396 ppm in 2013. This is an increase of approximately 118 ppm (around +42%) compared to pre-industrial levels.
River and coastal flooding have affected millions of people in Europe in the last decade. They affect human health through drowning, heart attacks, injuries, infections, exposure to chemical hazards, psychosocial consequences as well as disruption of services, including health services.
Observed increases in heavy precipitation and extreme coastal high-water events have increased the risk of river and coastal flooding in many European regions.
In the absence of additional adaptation, the projected increases in extreme precipitation events and in sea level would substantially increase the health risks associated with river and coastal flooding in Europe.
The latest EEA preliminary estimations shows that transport emissions fell by 3.3 % in 2012, following the reduction trend seen from 2008. In 2012, transport (including shipping and aviation) contributed 24.3 % of the total of GHG emissions in the EU-28. Transport emissions (including aviation) in 2012 were 20.5 % above 1990 levels, despite a decline between 2008 and 2012. Emissions will, therefore, need to fall by 67 % by 2050 in order to meet the Transport White Paper target. International aviation experienced the largest percentage increase in GHG emissions from 1990 levels (+ 93 %), followed by international shipping (+ 32 %).
Emissions from international shipping declined between 2008 and 2012. GHG emissions from international aviation also declined, by 1.3 %, in 2012.
Outside the EU-28, in the last year available (between 2011 and 2012), values were generally stable.
The extent and volume of the Arctic Sea ice has declined rapidly since global data became available in 1980, especially in summer. Record low sea ice cover in September 2007, 2011 and 2012 was roughly half the size of the normal minimum extent in the 1980s. September ice cover has somewhat recovered in 2013 and 2014 but it was still well below the average for 1981-2010.
Over the period 1979–2014, the Arctic has lost on average 42 000 km 2 of sea ice per year in winter and 91 000 km 2 per year at the end of summer. The decline in summer sea ice appears to have accelerated since 1999.
The maximum sea ice extent in the Baltic Sea has been decreasing most of the time since about 1800. The decrease appears to have accelerated since the 1980s but the large interannual variability prohibits a clear assessment as to whether this increase is statistically significant.
Arctic Sea ice is projected to continue to shrink and thin all year round. For high greenhouse gas emissions, a nearly ice-free Arctic Ocean in September is likely before mid-century. There will still be substantial ice in winter.
Baltic Sea ice, in particular the extent of the maximal cover, is projected to continue to shrink.
In 2012 EU GHG emissions were 19.2 % below 1990 levels (excluding LULUCF and international aviation). Preliminary estimates for 2013 show a further fall of 80 Mt CO2 eq. between 2012 and 2013 (20.7 % below 1990 levels).
Almost all EEA countries are well on track towards achieving its commitments under the first period of the Kyoto Protocol.
EU-15 average emissions between 2008 and 2012 were 11.8 % below base-year levels.
In the EU, emissions covered by the Emission Trading System (ETS) between in 2013 were 19 % below 2005 levels.
In 2013, all EU Member States apart from Germany, Luxembourg and Poland, are considered to be on track to meet their annual targets.
For six Member States, projections indicate that implementing the additional measures which were in planning stage in 2013 might not be sufficient to reduce GHG emissions below targets by 2020 under the Effort Sharing Decision.
Storm location, frequency and intensity show considerable decadal variability across Europe over the past century, such that no long-term trends are apparent.
Recent studies on changes in winter storm tracks generally project an eastward extension of the North Atlantic storm track towards central Europe and the British isles, but this finding is not yet robust.
Climate change simulations show diverging projections on changes in the number of winter storms across Europe. However, almost all studies agree that storm intensities will increase in the future for the North Atlantic, northern, northwestern and central Europe.
Global mean sea level (GMSL) has risen by 19 cm from 1901 to 2013 at an average rate of 1.7 mm/year. There has been significant decadal variation of the rate of increase but an acceleration is detectable over this period. The rate of sea level rise over the last two decades, when satellite measurements have been available, is higher at 3.2 mm/year.
Most coastal regions in Europe have experienced an increase in absolute sea level as well as in sea level relative to land, but there is significant regional variation.
Extreme high coastal water levels have increased at many locations around the European coastline. This increase appears to be predominantly due to increases in mean local sea level at most locations rather than to changes in storm activity.
GMSL rise during the 21st century will very likely occur at a higher rate than during 1971–2010. Process-based models project a rise in 2081–2100, compared to 1986–2005, that is likely to be in the range 0.26–0.54 m for a low emissions scenario (RCP2.6) and 0.45–0.81 m for a high emissions scenario (RCP8.5). Projections of GMSL rise from semi-empirical models are up to twice as large as from process-based models, but there is low confidence in their projections.
Available process-based models indicate GMSL rise by 2300 to be less than 1 m for greenhouse gas concentrations that peak and decline and do not exceed 500 ppm CO2-equivalent but 1 m to more than 3 m for concentrations above 700 ppm CO2-equivalent. However, these models are likely to systematically underestimate the sea level contribution from Antarctica. The multi-millennial sea level commitment is estimated at 1–3 m GMSL rise per degree of warming.
The rise in sea level relative to land at European coasts is projected to be similar to the global average, with the exception of the northern Baltic Sea and the northern Atlantic coast, which are experiencing considerable land rise as a consequence of post-glacial rebound.
Projected increases in extreme high coastal water levels in Europe will likely be dominated by increases in local relative mean sea level, with changes in the meteorologically-driven surge component being less important at most locations.
The length of the wet period has significantly increased in north-eastern Europe and decreased in south-western Europe. Changes in other regions are not statistically significant.
Data availability is insufficient for assessing trends of extreme daily precipitation across Europe. However, available studies generally point to a trend over recent decades towards more heavy precipitation, in particular in central and eastern Europe in winter.
No significant changes in the annually averaged duration of dry spells have been observed across Europe. However, increasing summer dryness has been observed in central and southern Europe since the 1950s.
Heavy precipitation events are likely to increase in most parts of Europe, especially in central and eastern Europe in winter.
The length of dry spells is projected to increase significantly in southern and central Europe, in particular in summer, and to decrease in northern Europe.
Heat waves and extreme cold spells are associated with decreases in general population well-being and with increases in mortality and morbidity, especially in vulnerable population groups. Temperature thresholds for health impacts differ according to the region and season.
The number of heat extremes has substantially increased across Europe in recent decades. Heat waves have caused tens of thousands of premature deaths in Europe over the last decade.
Length, frequency and intensity of heat waves are virtually certain to increase in the future. This increase will lead to a substantial increase in mortality over the next decades, especially in vulnerable population groups, unless adaptation measures are taken.
Cold-related mortality is projected to decrease due to better social, economic and housing conditions in many countries in Europe. However, recent studies have questioned whether the projected warming would lead to a further decrease in cold-related mortality.
The Greenland ice sheet is the largest body of ice in the Northern Hemisphere and plays an important role in the global climate system. Melting of the Greenland ice sheet has contributed about one fifth to global sea level rise in the last decade.
The Greenland ice sheet has lost ice during the last two decades at an increasing rate. The average ice loss increased from 34 billion tonnes per year over the period 1992-2001 to 215 billion tonnes per year over the period 2002-2011 and 375 billion tonnes per year over the period 2011-2013.
Model projections suggest further declines of the Greenland ice sheet in the future but the uncertainties are large. The upper bounds for the sea-level contribution during the 21 st century and the 3 rd millennium (until the year 3000) are 16 cm and 4-5 m, respectively.
Snow cover extent in the Northern Hemisphere has declined significantly over the past 90 years, with most of the reductions occurring since 1980. Snow cover extent in the Northern Hemisphere has decreased by 7% on average in March and April and by 53% in June over the 1967–2012 period; the observed reductions in Europe are even larger at 13% for March and April and 87% for June.
Snow mass in the Northern hemisphere has decreased by 7 % in March from 1982 to 2009; snow mass in Europe has decreased even more, but with large inter-annual variation.
Model simulations project widespread reductions in the extent and duration of snow cover in the Northern Hemisphere and in Europe over the 21 st century.
Changes in snow cover affect the Earth’s surface reflectivity, water resources, the flora and fauna and their ecology, agriculture, forestry, tourism, snow sports, transport and power generation.
Precipitation trends since 1960 show an increase by up to 70 mm per decade in north-eastern and north-western Europe, in particular in winter, and a decrease by up to 90 mm per decade in some parts of southern Europe, in particular in summer.
Projected changes in precipitation vary substantially across regions and seasons. Annual precipitation is generally projected to increase in northern Europe and to decrease in southern Europe. Projected decrease is the strongest in southern Europe in summer.
Yields of several crops are stagnating (e.g. wheat in some European countries) or decreasing (e.g. grapes in Spain), whereas yields of other crops (e.g. maize in northern Europe) are increasing. These effects are attributed partly due to observed climate change, in particular warming.
Extreme climatic events, including droughts and heat waves, have negatively affected crop productivity during the first decade of the 21st century. Projected increases in extreme climatic events are expected to further increase yield variability in the future.
Crop yields are affected by the combined effects of changes in temperature, rainfall and atmospheric CO 2 concentration. Future climate change can lead to both decreases and increases in yield, depending on the crop type and the climatic and management conditions in the region.
Three independent long records of global average near-surface (land and ocean) annual temperature show that the decade between 2004 and 2013 was 0.75 °C to 0.81 °C warmer than the pre-industrial average.
The rate of change in global average temperature has been close to the indicative limit of 0.2°C per decade in recent decades.
Variations of global mean near-surface temperature on decadal time scales are strongly influenced by natural factors. Over the last 10-15 years global near-surface temperature rise has been slower than in previous decades. This recent slow-down in surface warming is due in roughly equal measure to reduced radiative forcing from natural factors (volcanic eruptions and solar activity) and to a cooling contribution from internal variability within the climate system (the redistribution of heat to the deeper ocean).
The Arctic region has warmed significantly more rapidly than the global mean, and this pattern is projected to continue into the future.
The best estimate for further rises in global average temperature over this century is from 1.0 to 3.7°C above the period 1971-2000 for the lowest and highest representative concentration pathway (RCP) scenarios. The uncertainty ranges for the lowest and highest RCP are 0.3–1.7°C and 2.6–4.8°C, respectively.
The EU and UNFCCC target of limiting global average temperature increase to less than 2°C above the pre-industrial levels is projected to be exceeded between 2042 and 2050 by the three highest of the four IPCC scenarios (RCPs).
Annual average temperature across the European land areas has warmed more than global average temperature, and slightly more than global land temperature. The average temperature for the European land area for the last decade (2004–2013) is 1.3°C above the pre-industrial level, which makes it the warmest decade on record.
Annual average land temperature over Europe is projected to continue increasing by more than global average temperature over the rest of this century, by around 2.4 °C and 4.1 °C under RCP4.5 and RCP8.5 respectively.
Extremes of cold have become less frequent in Europe while warm extremes have become more frequent. Since 1880 the average length of summer heat waves over western Europe doubled and the frequency of hot days almost tripled.
The warming of the World Ocean accounts for approximately 93 % of the warming of the Earth system during the last six decades. Warming of the upper (0–700 m) ocean accounted for about 64% of the total heat uptake.
An increasing trend in the heat content in the uppermost 700 m depth of the World Ocean is evident over the last six decades. Recent observations show substantial warming also of the deeper ocean (between 700 m and 2 000 m depth and below 3000 m depth).
Further warming of the oceans is expected with projected climate change. The amount of warming is strongly dependent on the emissions scenario.
Model-based estimates suggest that the volume of water required for irrigation during the period from 1975 to 2010 has increased in the Iberian Peninsula and Italy whereas it has decreased in parts of south-eastern Europe.
For high emissions scenarios, increases in irrigation demand of more than 25% during the 21 st century are projected for most irrigated regions in 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 most.
Climate change is affecting the interaction of species that depend on each other for food or other reasons. It can disrupt established interactions but also generate novel ones.
Negative effects on single species are often amplified by changes in interactions with other species, in particular for specialist species.
Surface-ocean pH has declined from 8.2 to below 8.1 over the industrial era due to the growth of atmospheric CO 2 concentrations. This decline corresponds to an increase in oceanic acidity of 26%.
Observed reductions in surface-water pH are nearly identical across the global ocean and throughout Europe’s seas.
Ocean acidification in recent decades is occurring a hundred times faster than during past natural events over the last 55 million years.
Ocean acidification already reaches into the deep ocean, particularly in the high latitudes.
Models consistently project further ocean acidification worldwide. Surface ocean pH is projected to decrease to values between 8.05 and 7.75 by the end of 21 st century depending on future CO 2 emission levels. The largest projected decline represents more than a doubling in acidity.
Ocean acidification may affect many marine organisms within the next 20 years and could alter marine ecosystems and fisheries.
In the past 10–20 years European permafrost has shown a general warming trend, with greatest warming in the cold permafrost in Svalbard and Scandinavia. The depth of seasonal thaw has increased at several European permafrost sites. Some sites show great interannual variability, which reflects the complex interaction between the atmospheric conditions and local snow and ground characteristics.
Recent projections agree on substantial near-surface permafrost degradation resulting in thaw depth deepening (i.e. permafrost degeneration) over much of the permafrost area.
Warming and thawing of permafrost is expected to increase the risk of rock falls, debris flows and ground subsidence. Thawing of permafrost also affects biodiversity and can contribute to climate change through release of CO 2 and CH 4 from Arctic permafrost areas.
Long-term trends in river flows due to climate change are difficult to detect due to substantial inter annual and decadal variability as well as modifications to natural water flows arising from water abstractions, man-made reservoirs and land-use changes. Nevertheless, increased river flows during winter and lower river flows during summer have been recorded since the 1960s in large parts of Europe.
Climate change is projected to result in strong changes in the seasonality of river flows across Europe. Summer flows are projected to decrease in most of Europe, including in regions where annual flows are projected to increase.
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.
PDF generated on 06 May 2015, 12:58 PM
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