Climate change

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Page Last modified 25 Aug 2016, 03:31 PM
Climate change is happening now: temperatures are rising, rainfall patterns are shifting, glaciers and snow are melting, and the global mean sea level is rising. We expect that these changes will continue, and that extreme weather events resulting in hazards such as floods and droughts will become more frequent and intense. Impacts and vulnerabilities for nature, the economy and our health differ across regions, territories and economic sectors in Europe. It is very likely that most of the warming since the mid -20th century is due to the observed increase in greenhouse gas (GHG) concentrations as a result of emissions from human activities. The global temperature has risen by about 0.8 ºC over the past 150 years, and is projected to increase further. Exceeding an increase of 2 °C above pre-industrial temperatures raises the risk of dangerous changes for global human and natural systems.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) has recognised the goal to limit the global mean temperature increase since pre-industrial times to below 2 °C. How can we achieve this? Global GHG emissions must level off in this decade, and be reduced by 50 % compared with 1990 levels by 2050. Taking into account necessary efforts from developing countries, the EU supports the objective to reduce its GHG emissions by 80 % to 95 % by 2050 (compared with 1990).

Even if policies and efforts to reduce emissions prove effective, some climate change is inevitable; therefore, strategies and actions to adapt to its impacts are also needed.


Impacts and vulnerabilities

Europe's largest temperature increases are in southern Europe and the Arctic region; the largest precipitation decreases are in southern Europe with increases in the north and the north-west. Projected increases in intensity and frequency of heat waves and floods and changes in distribution of some infectious diseases and pollen adversely affect human health. Climate change is an additional pressure on ecosystems, leading to northward and uphill shifts of many plant and animal species. It negatively impacts agriculture, forestry, energy production, tourism, and infrastructure in general.

European regions particularly vulnerable to climate change include:

  • southern Europe and the Mediterranean basin (due to increases in heatwaves and droughts);
  • mountainous areas (due to increasing melting of snow and ice);
  • coastal zones, deltas and floodplains (due to sea level rises, and increasing intense rainfall, floods and storms);
  • Europe's far north and the Arctic (due to increasing temperatures and melting ice).

Causes of human-induced climate change

Greenhouse gases are emitted through both natural processes and human activities; the most important natural GHG in the atmosphere is water vapour. Human activities are releasing large amounts of other GHGs into the atmosphere, increasing the atmospheric concentrations of these gases and thus enhancing the greenhouse effect and warming the climate. The main sources of man-made GHGs are:

  • burning of fossil fuels (coal, oil and gas) in electricity generation, transport, industry and households (CO2);
  • agriculture (CH4) and land-use changes like deforestation (CO2);
  • land filling of waste (CH4);
  • use of industrial fluorinated gases.

EU policies

Several EU initiatives aim to cut GHG emissions:

  • ratifying the Kyoto Protocol: this calls for 15 EU Member States (the 'EU-15') to reduce their collective emissions in the 2008 to 2012 period to 8 % below 1990 levels;
  • continually improving the energy efficiency of a wide array of equipment and household appliances;
  • mandating increased use of renewable energy sources, such as wind, solar, hydro and biomass, and of renewable transport fuels, such as biofuels;
  • supporting the development of carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies to trap and store CO2 emitted by power stations and other large installations;
  • acting through the Emissions Trading System (EU ETS), the EU's key tool for reducing GHG emissions from industry.

The 2009 EU climate and energy package constitutes binding legislation for implementing the 20-20-20 targets by 2020: a reduction in EU GHG emissions of at least 20 % below 1990 levels, 20 % of EU energy consumption to come from renewable resources, and a 20 % reduction in primary energy use compared with projected levels.

The EU is also mainstreaming climate change adaptation in EU policies. In April 2013, a proposal for a comprehensive EU adaptation strategy was launched by the European Commission that strengthens Europe's resilience to climate change.

Find out more about climate change policies

EEA activities

By providing information on climate change in Europe, the EEA supports the implementation of legislation on climate mitigation and adaptation in Europe, the evaluation of EU policies and the development of long-term strategies to mitigate and adapt to climate change. EEA's information (data, indicators, assessments, projections) focuses on climate change mitigation (greenhouse gas emission trends, projections, policies and measures), and on climate change impacts and adaptation actions in Europe. The EEA hosts the European climate change data centre and manages the European Climate Adaptation Platform (Climate-ADAPT).

The EEA works closely with the European Commission (DG Climate Action, DG Joint research centre, Eurostat), experts from its European Topic Centres on Air and Climate Change Mitigation (ETC/ACM), and on Climate Change Impacts, vulnerability and adaptation (ETC/CCA) and with EEA's country network (Eionet).

Key activities and products include:

  • the annual compilation and publication of the European Union GHG inventory;
  • the annual assessment of progress of the EU and European countries towards their Kyoto and 2020 targets;
  • the analysis of co-benefits of climate change and air quality policies;
  • the assessment of climate change impacts in Europe;
  • the analysis of climate change and sectoral adaptation issues, including overviews of countries' adaptation actions;
  • the analysis of vulnerability of specific regions to climate change. 

The EEA is the European data centre on greenhouse gas emissions and climate change impacts, vulnerability and adaptation and maintain and manage the European Climate Adaptation Platform (Climate-ADAPT).

Find out more about EEA activities

Related links

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change

European Commission Directorate-General for Climate Action

European Topic Centre on Air Pollution and Climate Change Mitigation

European Topic Centre on Climate Change Impacts, Vulnerability and Adaptation

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European Environment Agency (EEA)
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