By Elisa Jiménez Alonso
A new report by the European Environment Agency (EEA) finds that climate change is already having wide-ranging impacts on ecosystems, the economy, and on human health and well-being in Europe.
Hot-spot Southern Europe
While all European regions are vulnerable to climate change, some of them stand out. Southern Europe is projected to experience the highest number of climate impacts which range from increasing heat extremes and reduced precipitation to severe droughts. These will lead to lower crop yields, biodiversity loss and forest fires. Additionally, they will also affect human health and well-being negatively.
Impacts to ecosystems, the economy and human health
The report focusses on how ecosystems, human health, and economy will be impacted by climate change. Ecosystems are increasingly under pressure from climate impacts that will lead to biodiversity loss and species redistribution, which will in turn affect the agriculture, forestry and fishery sectors. In EEA member countries, the economic impact of climate-related extreme events in the last almost 40 years amounts to as much as EUR 400 billion in losses. When projecting potential future losses, the report suggests that the Mediterranean region will be worst hit, although there remains a high level of uncertainty around the exact figures.
Finally, there are considerable risks to human health. These are linked to extreme events, the distribution of climate-sensitive diseases, and changes in environmental and social conditions. Two particularly worrying trends are increasing river and coastal flooding, which have affected millions in the past decade, and more intense and frequent heatwaves, which can lead to premature deaths, especially among vulnerable parts of the population.
Putting the spotlight on adaptation
While climate change mitigation efforts continue to be extremely important, the mainstreaming of climate change adaptation needs to be urgently improved. EEA Executive Director, Hans Bruyninckx, points out, “the scale of future climate change and its impacts will depend on the effectiveness of implementing our global agreements to cut greenhouse gas emissions, but also ensuring that we have the right adaptation strategies and policies in place to reduce the risks from current and projected climate extremes.”
Important actions outlined in the report include:
- Taking steps to improve policy coherence across different policy areas and governance levels (EU, transnational, national and subnational);
- Encouraging more flexible adaptive management approaches; and
- Combining technological solutions, ecosystem-based approaches and ‘soft’ adaptation measures.
Additionally, the report emphasises the importance of improving knowledge about vulnerability and risk assessment at various scales, and regarding monitoring, reporting and evaluation of adaptation actions.