Climate change is already impacting Europeans’ daily lives and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. Europe is expected to get warmer, some regions getting drier, while others wetter. These changes will not only impact our health but also the ecosystems we depend on. The EU is preparing to live with a changing climate through various adaptation measures.  

Climate change is happening now — and even if we effectively reduce global emissions, it will continue to impact our lives. Flooding, droughts, heatwaves and other climate-related hazards are becoming more intense, longer and more frequent. These hazards carry significant health and economic impacts. Some communities and regions are more vulnerable, but over all, Europe is not prepared for rapidly growing climate risks.

Extreme weather events like storms, heatwaves and flooding accounted for 85,000 to 145,000 human fatalities across Europe, over the past 40 years. Over 85% of those fatalities were due to heatwaves. Economic losses from weather and climate-related extremes in Europe reached around half a trillion euros over the same period.

Less than a third of non-human losses were covered by insurance. Closing the climate protection gap by increasing insurance coverage can help increase societies’ ability to recover from disasters, reduce vulnerability, and promote resilience.

Building infrastructure that is resistant to hazards and using nature-based solutions like floodplains are examples of adaptation measures. Climate change adaptation measures are critical to increase our resilience and reduce disaster risks for all people in the EU.

Climate change is impacting Europe's environment and people in many ways. Extreme weather events like heatwaves, storm surges, droughts, and floods have the most significant effects.

  • There are 36 major climate risks for Europe within five broad clusters (as identified by the EEA): ecosystems, food, health, infrastructure, and economy and finance. Eight of them are particularly urgent, mainly to conserve ecosystems, protect people against heat, protect people and infrastructure from floods and wildfires, and to secure the viability of European solidarity mechanisms, such as the EU Solidarity Fund. 
  • Extreme weather has health impacts, particularly on vulnerable groups. The elderly, children and people in poor health are more likely to be affected by heatwaves, for example.
  • Global mean near-surface temperature between 2013 and 2022 was 1.13 to 1.17°C warmer than the pre-industrial level, which makes it the warmest decade on record. European land temperatures have increased even faster over the same period by 2.04 to 2.10°C.
  • Between 1980 and 2021, weather- and climate-related extremes caused economic losses estimated at EUR 560 billion in the EU Member States, of which EUR 56.6 billion from 2021.
  • Diseases are moving north. Mosquitos and ticks carrying infectious diseases are gaining a foothold in many parts of Europe.
  • Arctic sea ice has declined by an average of 76,000 km2 in summer and 32,000 km2 in winter since 1979.  
  • Severe droughts caused a 3% annual vegetation productivity loss in affected areas from 2000-2019.
  • Forest fires coinciding with record droughts and heatwaves affected central and northern European regions that are not typically prone to fires and had devastating effects in southern Europe. 

Across the EU, climate change adaptation measures are being taken to decrease specific risks and impacts. In February 2021, the European Commission adopted the EU Adaptation Strategy. The Strategy outlines a long-term vision for the EU to become climate-resilient by 2050. In 2024, the Commission has published a Communication on Managing climate risks - protecting people and prosperity.

All EU Member States have also adopted adaptation strategies and/or plans specific to their country’s needs and risks.

Examples of adaptation projects include:

  • Preventing flooding through urban adaptation measures, like new locks in Albert Kanaal in Flanders, Belgium.
  • Saving energy and reducing emissions with nature-based solutions, like green roofs.

Climate adaptation methods like these will make Europe more resilient to the impacts of climate change. By climate-proofing our infrastructure and enhancing nature-based solutions, we can be prepared for today's and tomorrow’s climate change risks and impacts.

Europe is not prepared for rapidly growing climate risks

Europe is the fastest warming continent in the world, and climate risks are threatening its energy and food security, ecosystems, infrastructure, water resources, financial stability, and people’s health.

Extreme heat, drought, wildfires, and flooding, as experienced in recent years, will worsen in Europe even under optimistic global warming scenarios and affect living conditions throughout the continent. The EEA has published the first ever European Climate Risk Assessment (EUCRA) to help identify policy priorities for climate change adaptation and for climate-sensitive sectors.

According to our assessment, many of these risks have already reached critical levels and could become catastrophic without urgent and decisive action.

How are extreme weather events influencing adaptation policies?

Climate risk assessments that take account of threats like heatwaves, droughts, floods and wildfires are increasingly being used to inform and improve national adaptation policies.

Heatwaves, droughts, floods and increasing wildfires were the top extreme weather events reported by national authorities in 2023. Many countries also reported that they expected an increase of frequency and intensity of these events.

Europe's regions will need to prepare for different impacts

While climate change impacts are felt throughout the EU, the impacts felt in different regions will vary. Our assessment also shows that some regions are more vulnerable:

  • Changes in rainfall will differ considerably throughout Europe, with expected heavy rain in the north. Combined with more frequent heatwaves, lower rainfall will present a greater risk of drought and forest fires in the south. 
  • Storm intensity is projected to increase across Europe, but changes in frequency are projected to differ across regions. 
  • Snowfall is projected to decrease in central and southern Europe, whereas mixed changes are anticipated for northern Europe.
  • Sea levels will rise in all areas except the North Baltic Sea. 
  • Sea surface temperature is projected to increase in all European seas. Europe’s seas are also expected to become more acidic.

Climate-ADAPT platform: Sharing adaptation knowledge for a climate-resilient Europe

Inequality leaves some communities more vulnerable

The most vulnerable in the EU are most likely to be exposed to climate change-related environmental health impacts. 

  • Vulnerable groups like the elderly, children and those in poor health tend to be more adversely affected by environmental health hazards than the general population. 
  • Groups of lower socioeconomic status tend to be more negatively affected by environmental health hazards because of greater exposure and higher vulnerability. 
  • Urban areas have disproportionate exposure to air pollution, noise, and high temperatures — especially among lower socioeconomic groups.
Picture of a flooded street – both pavement and road – with a man with a red hoodie seen walking on the left with water up to his knees.

Cities are key to a climate-resilient Europe

The EEA report ‘Urban adaptation in Europe’ highlights the urgent need to adapt European cities to climate change and provides an overview of actions they are taking.

As European cities increasingly feel the impacts of climate change, such as heatwaves and floods, there is a clear case for investing in urban societal resilience, the EEA report states. Cities have an essential role in the implementation of adaptation actions.

European cities are adapting to climate change through a wide range of effective actions, including urban planning and building codes, economic incentives and insurance, early-warning systems and information campaigns. Emerging areas of opportunity for adaptation include promoting urban agriculture, creating more liveable public spaces and protecting cultural heritage.

They are also increasingly implementing nature-based solutions, which are included in 91% of local adaptation plans analysed in the report.

What are cities doing to adapt?

The Climate-ADAPT platform, which is maintained by the EEA, targets governmental decision-makers as well as the organisations supporting them in the development, implementation, and evaluation of climate change adaptation strategies, plans and actions at all governance levels in Europe. The platform currently includes 134 case studies for learning and to inspire action.

According to the new EEA briefing 'Preparing society for climate risks in Europe  lessons and inspiration from Climate-ADAPT case studies', the recently published European Climate Risk Assessment (EUCRA) stressed the need to scale up adaptation measures and actions across all policy sectors and governance levels to address escalating climate risks like extreme heat, drought, wildfires and flooding.

More information