Europe’s climate continues to change

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News Published 05 Aug 2014 Last modified 08 May 2017
3 min read
Image copyright: Arthur Girling/EEA
The period from 2004-2013 was the warmest decade on record in Europe. Many other changes significant for Europe have been observed across the climate system, including warming oceans, rising sea level and shrinking snow cover, ice sheets, sea ice and glaciers.

In the last decade global near-surface average annual temperature was 0.75 - 0.81 °C warmer than the pre-industrial average. Other records have been broken in recent months – global average temperatures in May and June 2014 were the highest monthly averages ever recorded, according to the World Meteorological Organisation.

These are a few of the many trends featured in 13 climate change indicators recently published by the European Environment Agency (EEA). Using graphs, maps and concise analysis, the indicators demonstrate some of the most important observations and projections of climate change and its impacts.

The update also improves projections of future climate change. Global sea-level rise projections have been revised upwards, based on new climate models that better represent the effects of melting ice sheets on sea level rise. This indicator now also includes regional sea-level rise projections for the European regional seas. In addition, several indicators now include projections of further snow and ice decline. For example, if greenhouse gases continue to be emitted at high levels, the Arctic Ocean is projected to be nearly ice-free every September before mid-century.

In many cases, the indicators feature information from the recent Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on the physical science of climate change published in September 2013, although several indicators have been updated with even more recent information and adding trends and projections relevant for Europe.

The recently updated indicators are:

Adapting to climate change

As the climate changes, many European countries, regions and cities are trying to adapt to the prospect of more heatwaves, droughts, floods and a rising sea level. These efforts range from public policy (adaptation strategies and action plans) to major infrastructure works. Some of these efforts are illustrated in several updated case studies featured on the Climate-ADAPT website.

After several near-flood events in the Netherlands in the 1990s, the country decided to manage river flood risk differently in a project called ‘Room for the River’. One example is in the city of Nijmegen. The city is constructing an ancillary channel on the flood plains and an urban river park. These measures allow more water to be stored in the event of high river water levels. There are also other benefits, including room for living, recreation, cultural events, and wildlife.

For Zaragoza in Spain, climate change presents a very different problem. In 1996, drought and projections of declining river flows prompted Spain’s fifth largest city to promote a ‘water saving culture’ with revised water tariffs and positive examples of how people and businesses can use water more efficiently. A parallel programme of upgrading infrastructure also helped reduce water use by reducing leaks and upgrading waste water treatment. Over fifteen years, the city cut water consumption by almost 30 %.

Climate-ADAPT is an online portal with a wealth of information on how the EU, countries, cities or municipalities can best adapt to climate change. It has recently been revamped to include new or improved case studies, search features, country information, an updated adaptation support tool and more extensive pages on the funding opportunities available for adaptation.

More information

The indicators update information published in 2012 as part of an assessment of climate change impacts in Europe. The EEA will publish a fully-updated version of the report in 2016. In autumn 2014 the EEA will publish a detailed assessment of how European countries are adapting to climate change.

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Global and European temperature Global 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). Europe 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.

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