Europe's climate forecast: unsettling
Feb. 1, 2013
Climate change will mean winners and losers in Europe, with the effects likely to be more acute nearer the Mediterranean. But across the continent countries will have to find ways to adapt.
By Paul Brown
Climate News Network
LONDON – With the European land surface warming rapidly, rainfall patterns changing and sea levels rising ever faster, southern Europe will suffer most from climate change. But there is an urgent need for countries across the continent to adapt to change, according to the European Environment Agency.
Temperatures are already 1.3º Celsius above the pre-industrial average and are expected to go on rising. This brings gains to some countries in northern Europe, with higher crop yields and lower heating costs, while the south loses.
Lost harvests and tourists
Countries currently struggling most at the moment economically – Greece, Spain and Portugal – will fare worst under climate change, the EEA says. All three countries will lose both harvests and tourists, two of their main economic props, as a result of rising heat and low summer rainfall, the agency predicts.
Northern Europe does not escape unscathed. River flooding is already a problem and annual sea level rise, which has already doubled in the last 20 years and is currently rising at 3 millimeters a year, is expected to rise further. All the countries around the North Sea are now vulnerable to storm surges.
The latest assessment of how climate change is affecting Europe, published every four years by the agency and due out in March, is the main evidence being used by the European Union to underpin its policy of adapting to a warming world.
Billions of euros
Billions of euros will be spent trying to stave off the worst effects of climate change, which the agency says are already going to happen whatever is done now to mitigate carbon emissions. Temperatures in Europe are expected to rise as much as 4ºC this century.
Jacqueline McGlade, EEA's executive director, has said: "Climate change is a reality. The extent and speed of it is becoming ever more evident. This means every part of the economy, including households, has to adapt."
While in some places changes are beneficial – for example, an earlier spring and longer growing season – the overall effects are negative. The further south in Europe climatologists investigate, the more they see climate change affecting both human and natural populations.
Health effects, tick-borne diseases, mosquitoes and heat waves are serious threats. There is evidence that butterflies and other species adapted to living in cooler climes cannot move north fast enough to survive.
Among the predictions is a change in where Europeans will take their holidays, and when. As temperatures increase, more people will take their summer breaks in northern and central Europe, leaving it till the winter to travel south. This, along with loss of snow cover in the lower skiing resorts, is likely to have severe economic impacts in some regions.
The number of days people need to turn on their central heating has already gone down by 16 days a year in Europe since 1980. The number of days when air conditioning is needed in the summer has risen.
Lack of hydropower
The increased electricity demand in the summer is likely to cause a power crisis in southern Europe. Low river flows will probably face nuclear and thermal power plants with difficulties because both need large quantities of cooling water to operate efficiently.
The lack of summer hydropower, already a problem in some countries, will become far more noticeable because of the demand for electricity for cooling in the heat, the agency noted.
Crop yields will increase dramatically in some northern and eastern European countries and decrease in the south. The countries worst affected will be Spain, Portugal and Greece, which stand to lose between 15 percent and 25 percent of all crops because of a lack of summer rainfall. France, Italy, Albania, Macedonia, Serbia, Bosnia and Bulgaria will also suffer losses of between 5 percent and 15 percent.
The gains are mostly in the north, with the Scandinavian countries and Russia increasing yields – more than 5 percent and perhaps as much as 35 percent in parts of Norway and Sweden. The Ukraine, already one of the largest grain producers in Europe, is also going to have improved yields, according to predictions.
Along with the effect on agriculture, less rainfall will cause species loss in the Mediterranean, partly due to more forest fires and heat waves, the agency said. The health of rivers will be affected by low summer rainfall.
Paul Brown is a founding journalist of Climate News Network and a former environment correspondent of the London Guardian.
Climate News Network is a journalism news service led by four veteran British environmental reporters and broadcasters. It delivers news and commentary about climate change for free to media outlets worldwide.
DailyClimate.org is an independent, foundation-funded news service covering climate change. Contact editor Douglas Fischer at dfischer [at] DailyClimate.org or publisher Peter Dykstra at pdykstra [at] EHN.org
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