Europe should spend now to avoid climate catastrophes
Europe is warming faster than the world average, creating conditions that are making the Mediterranean region dryer and the north wetter, according to a report studying the impact of
global warming on Europe.
The report, called Impacts of Europe’s changing climate, adds that governments need to invest now to
adapt to this changing climate to prevent catastrophic losses later.
“Global average temperature has increased almost 0.8 °C (1.4 °F) above pre-industrial levels, with even higher temperature increases in Europe and northern latitudes,” says the
report, which was authored by the European Environment Agency and branches of the World
Health Organisation and the European Commission. By contrast, Europe has warmed by 1.0 °C.
Europe’s mountains, coasts, the Mediterranean and the Arctic are most at risk from global warming, it says.
Northern Europe will get wetter this century, while more of Europe’s Mediterranean region might turn to desert, based on trends already under way. Heatwaves like the one that struck
Europe in 2003, during which 70,000 people died, could also be more frequent.
“Annual precipitation changes are worsening differences between a wet northern part of Europe and a dry south,” the report said.
Governments need to review everything from irrigation to the ability of southern rivers to help cool nuclear power plants.
Among other impacts, seas are rising and will present more of a threat to coasts, some fish stocks have moved 1000 kilometres north in the past 40 years, and two-thirds of Alpine
glaciers have vanished since 1850.
A few are benefiting from the changes, including farmers in northern Europe, who are experiencing longer growing seasons for crops.
Cost of change
The report urges Europe to do more to adapt to the impacts of climate change, such as protecting people from insect-borne diseases and safeguarding coasts from higher seas. So far, most
adaptation has focused on easing the increasing number of river floods.
“We need to intensify such actions and improve information exchange on data, effectiveness and costs,” says Jacqueline McGlade, head of the Denmark-based European Environment Agency.
The report also says that Europe has a moral obligation to help people in developing nations adapt to a changing climate. The world’s governments plan to agree a new treaty to fight
climate change by the end of 2009. But financial turmoil and economic slowdown may dampen willingness to invest in billion-dollar climate projects.
Sea level rises are another problem likely to affect coastal areas. Seas are likely to rise by 18 to 59 centimetres by 2100, according to the UN Climate Panel, and could keep rising for
centuries if ice sheets of Greenland or Antarctica thaw. In Europe, that would place 4 million people and 2 trillion euros ($2.9 trillion) in assets at risk from flooding.
Recent estimates indicate that losses from rising seas could total up to 18 billion euros ($26 billion) a year by 2080, but those losses could be mitigated by spending now. A spend of
roughly 1 billion a year – on everything from dikes to raising beach levels – could cut losses to about 1 billion a year, said the report.
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