Europe Experiences Effects of Climate Change
Updated: Aug 29
The European Environment Agency (EEA) released a report last week on the impacts that climate change is having on all regions of Europe. The report, entitled Climate change, impacts and vulnerability in Europe 2012, was written and compiled by approximately 50 authors, including the Europe Centre for Disease Prevention and Control. Overall, the report found higher average temperatures across all of Europe, decreasing precipitation in the southern regions and increasing precipitation in the northern regions. In addition, the Greenland ice sheet, Arctic sea ice and numerous glaciers are melting and permafrost soils are warming.
The Executive Director of EEA, Jacqueline McGlade says “Climate change is a reality around the world, and the extent and speed of change is becoming ever more evident. This means that every part of the economy, including households, needs to adapt as well as reduce emissions.”
The following presents some of the most significant findings as written in the summary of the report:
The last decade (2002–2011) was the warmest on record in Europe, with European land temperature 1.3° C warmer than the pre-industrial average. Various model projections show that Europe could be 2.5–4° C warmer in the later part of the 21st Century, compared to the 1961–1990 average.
Heat waves have increased in frequency and length, causing tens of thousands of deaths over the last decade. The projected increase in heat waves could increase the number of related deaths over the next decades, unless societies adapt, the report says. However, cold-related deaths are projected to decrease in many countries.
While precipitation is decreasing in southern regions, it is increasing in northern Europe, the report says. These trends are projected to continue. Climate change is projected to increase river flooding, particularly in northern Europe, as higher temperatures intensify the water cycle. However, it is difficult to discern the influence of climate change in flooding data records for the past.
River flow droughts appear to have become more severe and frequent in southern Europe. Minimum river flows are projected to decrease significantly in summer in southern Europe but also in many other parts of Europe to varying degrees.
The Arctic is warming faster than other regions. Record low sea ice was observed in the Arctic in 2007, 2011 and 2012, falling to roughly half the minimum extent seen in the 1980s. Melting of the Greenland ice sheet has doubled since the 1990s, losing an average of 250 billion tonnes of mass every year between 2005 and 2009. Glaciers in the Alps have lost approximately two thirds of their volume since 1850 and these trends are projected to continue.
Sea levels are rising, raising the risk of coastal flooding during storm events. Global average sea level has risen by 1.7mm a year in the 20th century, and by 3mm a year in recent decades. Future projections vary widely, but it is likely that 21st century sea-level rise will be greater than during the 20th century. However sea level rise at European coasts varies, for example due to local land movement.
Many studies have measured widespread changes in plant and animal characteristics. For example, plants are flowering earlier in the year, while in freshwater phytoplankton and zooplankton blooms are also appearing earlier. Other animals and plants are moving northward or uphill as their habitats warm. Since the migration rate of many species is insufficient to keep pace with the speed of climate change, they could be pushed towards extinction in the future.
The report calls for immediate action as future climate change will increase these effects. The report is expected to be followed by the European Commission’s European Adaptation Strategy in March 2013. Additionally, the EEA plans to select various adaptation actions in early 2013 to support this strategy.
The full report can be downloaded here.