Europe’s first climate risk assessment: there is much to fear!

Pierwsza europejska ocena ryzyka klimatycznego: jest się czego bać!

Europe is unprepared for the growing threats posed by climate change, a recent report by the European Environment Agency (EEA) concludes. By the end of the 21st century. Hundreds of thousands of people on our continent could die from heat waves, and the financial damage from coastal flooding is likely to exceed €1 billion. The European Climate Risk Assessment is the first ever such a comprehensive study of the challenges ahead. Unfortunately, it is not optimistic.

Climate change in Europe – alarming data

The European Climate Risk Assessment (EUCRA 01/24) is a document that identifies 36 risk factors with potentially serious consequences. Its preparation stems from the EU Climate Change Adaptation Strategy of February 24, 2021. The goal is to identify the owners of the risk and those eligible to act quickly and effectively to mitigate it.

Europe is the fastest warming continent in the world, according to the EEA report. In recent years, the frequency of weather extremes in its area has increased significantly. Many regions are seeing increasingly intense rainfall, leading to tragic floods. In the south, prolonged droughts and associated fires are a problem. Sea levels are also rising dangerously off European coasts.

EUCRA and water

At Water Matters, we pay special attention to the hydrosphere and its future. The European Climate Risk Assessment highlights that recent years have seen unusually heavy precipitation in the northern, western and central-eastern parts of the continent. The situation is particularly dramatic in mountainous areas, where, in addition to flooding, mudslides and the surging of glacial lakes are also observed.

A further serious problem that will increase in coastal areas is the accumulation of river flooding and storm surges, putting coastal cities at risk of severe flooding and sanitary risks. Only in the period from October to December 2023. The northwestern part of Europe has been hit by above-average lashing rains accompanied by exceptionally frequent and severe thunderstorms. More and more of the population is threatened by flooding, not only as a result of climate change, but also the expansion of urbanization into floodplains.

The EEA report also included disturbing data on rising sea temperatures. As of 2014. heat records are being observed with anomalies as high as +4.6°C in the Mediterranean. Water temperatures in European lakes are also consistently rising. As a result, we can expect the extinction of not only cold-loving aquatic species, but also organisms sensitive to changes in oxygen concentration in the water due to a reduction in the number of days with ice cover.

European climate risk assessment vs environmental and social crisis

The EEA report analyzes risk factors in five different categories, called clusters. The first is ecosystems, the most threatened by climate change. The situation in coastal and marine ecosystems was considered particularly catastrophic, while the decline in biodiversity due to fires, drought, pests and invasive species was identified as critical. The second cluster includes threats to food production, especially from drought and high temperatures.

As another cluster of risks, the European Climate Risk Assessment identifies health. Deaths related to heat waves and fires appear to be the most serious problem – in the summer of 2022. 60-70 thousand have been reported. premature deaths due to excessively high temperatures. In addition to destroying buildings and causing life-threatening burns, fires also significantly worsen the quality of the air inhaled.

The infrastructure cluster is particularly vulnerable to flooding associated with both excessive rainfall and river flooding and rising sea levels. The report’s authors note the cascading links between the various risk factors, pointing out that infrastructure destruction, for example, affects health and economic development. And it is the economy and finance that is the last of the five climate change risk areas. These include. European mechanisms for solidarity with the injured, public finances, and the real estate and insurance markets. Weather extremes will leave a significant mark on them.

Attention to risk factors not directly related to climate

The European Climate Risk Assessment highlights the interdependencies between weather extremes, their environmental and social impacts, and problems seemingly unrelated to climate change. Controversial land use or water management decisions that de facto reduce our resilience to droughts or floods are cited as examples. Meanwhile, a well-maintained infrastructure that takes into account needed reserves has a much better chance of surviving expected future disasters.

European regional climate risk assessment

Although climate change threatens all of Europe, the intensity of individual factors varies from region to region, and adaptation efforts should take this diversity into account. Southern countries are already beginning to experience the negative impact of drought and heat on agriculture, outdoor work and tourism. In low-lying coastal areas, the main problems are flooding, soil erosion and increasing salinity. Still other realities apply to the most isolated areas, such as. Canary Islands or the Azores, where infrastructure is less developed and economic diversification is limited. Where local prosperity depends on agriculture, forestry, fishing and tourism, climate change will be felt particularly hard.

The EEA report also stresses that regions with higher rates of poverty, unemployment, emigration and aging will have more difficulty adapting. Heat waves and flooding will also particularly affect residents of large cities.

The European Climate Risk Assessment indicates that European society is poorly prepared for the coming challenges. The responsibility for implementing appropriate steps falls on the EU and individual member states. However, activities must be implemented in a way that takes into account the interdependencies identified in the report.

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