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Monitoring meteorological drought impacts supports policy measures that target, among others, greenhouse gas removals and the adaptation of ecosystems to climate change. In 2022, Europe experienced its hottest summer and second warmest year on record, and consequently the largest overall drought impacted area: over 630,000km2 as opposed to the 167,000km2 annual average impacted area between 2000 and 2022. Between 2000 and 2022 there is an increasing trend in drought-impacted areas in the EU. Drought impacts may increase further if global mitigation and EU and national adaptation strategies are not effectively implemented.
Drought impact hampers nature's ability to deliver a wide range of environmental, social and economic benefits. They impact the EU’s ability to achieve its climate change mitigation objective through decreasing carbon sequestration, and influence adaptation and the implementation of the EU biodiversity and soil strategies. Viable food production, sustainable management of natural resources and balanced territorial development, and long-term objectives of the EU Common Agriculture Policy are also affected by drought via decreasing soil moisture. It is therefore important that the EU takes action to decrease the severity of impacts and strengthen ecosystem resilience against climate change related droughts.
Europe experienced its hottest summer and second warmest year on record in 2022 with 631,000km2 under drought impact (Figure 1, dashboard). This is an almost five-fold increase compared to the annual impact during 2000-2022, when ca. 167,000km2 (4.2%) of EU land was affected every year by droughts due to low precipitation, high evaporation and heatwaves fuelled by climate change. The annual extent of intense drought impacts in the EU, of which six years were in the last decade, shows an increasing trend (Figure 1, dashboard) as a contributing factor to worsening ecosystem conditions .
During 2000-2022, the annual impacted area of EU cropland was around 73,000km2 (ca. 5% of cropland, dashboard), contributing to crop failures. The average annual impacted area in forests was 56,000km2 (ca. 4% of forests). Forests and woodlands sequester large amounts of carbon, but drought conditions slow this process. Grasslands and wetlands are among the most biodiverse areas in the EU, storing a large amount of carbon in the below ground biomass pool. When soil moisture is in deficit, this carbon is gradually released. The average annual drought impact on grassland was around 20,000km2 (ca. 5% of grasslands) comparable to the area of Slovenia. In absolute values the annual impacted wetland area was less than 2% of EU wetland. Here an increasing trend can be observed which contributes to CO2 emissions due to lower-than-normal ground water levels.
By 2030 the frequency and intensity of heatwaves is projected to increase whereas in the continental and Mediterranean regions summer precipitation is projected to decrease . Based on this and the current trends, drought impacted areas may not decrease by 2030. It is important that land management practices (e.g. cultivating drought tolerant and cover crops and leaving crop residuals on the ground) are adequately adjusted in a timely manner to mitigate future impacts of droughts and that EU and national adaptation strategies are effectively implemented.
In most EU Member States, the 2022 drought impacted area was much larger than the 2000-2020 average impacted area (Figure 2). The largest impacts in 2022 occurred in Belgium, Luxembourg and Slovenia. Drought affected as much as 70% of Luxembourg's area in 2022, much above the annual average impacted area during 2000-2020 which was around 20% (Figure 2). Drought impacted above 50% of the territories in Belgium and Slovenia, much above the long-term average (below 10% of the territory). In 2022, drought was also dominant in France and Portugal impacting over 35% of the countries' area, while in Croatia almost 30% was impacted. In all these countries the 2022 drought largely exceeded the long-term average impacted area.
From the non-EU region, Bosnia and Herzegovina (47% of the country) and Montenegro (25% of the area) experienced highest impact in 2022.
The trend of drought-impacted areas as well as in the number of impacted countries continue to increase in the Member States and in the non-EU member and cooperating countries of the European Environment Agency (see dashboard).