Europe's nature changing rapidly due to climate change

News Published 30 Apr 2008 Last modified 17 Jul 2017
3 min read
Europe's biodiversity is already responding to climate change. 'Many species are already on the move, expanding northwards as temperatures rise,' says Prof. Jacqueline McGlade, Executive Director of the EEA on the occasion of the celebration of the International Day for Biological Diversity and the theme of 'biodiversity and climate change'.

Many species are already on the move, expanding northwards as temperatures rise

Jacqueline McGlade, Executive Director of the EEA

'We can already see startling changes in growing seasons. Many species are already on the move, expanding northwards as temperatures rise,' says Jacqueline McGlade, Executive Director of the EEA.

The impact of climate change on biodiversity varies extensively from region to region. The most sensitive natural ecosystems in Europe are found in mountain regions, coastal zones (the Baltic wetlands, in particular), the Arctic and in various parts of the Mediterranean. Many species and ecosystems in these regions are likely to have difficulty in adapting to climate change.

'Europe's landscape is already experiencing massive change at our hands as we build on and develop our land resources at a rapid rate. Between 1990 and 2000, more than 800 000 hectares, of Europe's land was built on. That is an area three times the size of Luxembourg. Combine this development with the impacts of climate change and it’s not difficult to imagine the pressure that our future environment will be under,' Professor McGlade said.

The EU has proposed to limit global warming to no more than 2 °C above the pre-industrial level, since there is strong scientific evidence that a temperature rise beyond this threshold would greatly increase the damage to natural systems not to mention human society. Substantial global greenhouse gas emission reductions are needed to achieve this target. However, even with a global temperature increase limited to 2 °C adaptation will still be required in many affected sectors.

Climate change is very likely to alter conditions of suitability for many species in current conservation areas. This poses a major challenge for conservation, because current conservation policy is underpinned by the idea of static species ranges.

The ability of countries to meet the requirements of EU Directives and other international conventions is likely to be compromised by climate change, and a more dynamic strategy for conservation is needed for sustaining biodiversity (IPCC 2007). This has important consequences for the successful implementation of the Natura 2000 network which covers over 18 % of the EU-25's terrestrial area.

Towards boosting nature's adaptation capacity, the recent Commission's Biodiversity Communication calls for the strengthening of the coherence, connectivity and resilience of the EU's network of protected areas. Specific measures to help the most at-risk habitats and species to adapt are also called for. Furthermore, the Commission is planning to publish a Green Paper on adaptation to climate change in Europe covering all sectors that are affected by climate change in June 2007.

Information and links

International Day for Biological Diversity is an annual Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) event, and is organised in conjunction with United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). Information about the event itself and this year’s theme of climate change and biodiversity is available on the CBD’s homepage.

The website of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) contains further information about the Fourth Assessment Report.

The 2006 EEA Report 'Progress towards halting the loss of biodiversity by 2010' summarises our knowledge about biodiversity in Europe and explains the policy framework including the Natura 2000 network of protected areas.

Policy Area 3 of the 2006 Communication on Biodiversity addresses biodiversity and climate change. Full information about the Communication is available on DG Environment's 'Nature and Biodiversity' website.

Information on EU policies to address climate change is available on DG Environment's website.

International research projects within the EU which cover biodiversity and climate change include the following:

This research is facilitated and further developed by networks of excellence such as ALTER-Net ( and, research coordination (e.g. CIRCLE) , and meta-analysis (e.g. MACIS). A number of important national activities are also ongoing.

Further information about EU-funded research within the biodiversity theme is available on the website of DG Research, and a catalogue of 6th Framework Programme projects on climate change is also available.


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