European Environment Agency (EEA)

Adapting to climate change


Courtesy of Courtesy of European Environment Agency (EEA)

This assessment addresses climate change vulnerabilities and adaptation (1). Global climate observations, science and physical impacts as well as mitigation — the reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions — are covered in separate analyses (2). To achieve the EU's objective of limiting the global temperature increase to 2 °C above pre-industrial levels, global GHG emissions need to stop increasing in the coming decade and be reduced significantly thereafter. However, some climate change is inevitable due to past emissions. To complement mitigation efforts, we must, therefore, also develop strategies and actions to adapt to the impacts of climate change. The EU also recognises that developing countries are among the most vulnerable due to limited financial and technical capacity, and is committed to contributing its fair share in supporting developing countries cope with and adapt to climate change.

This assessment focuses primarily on the adverse effects of climate change and does not discuss extensively possible opportunities. This risk-oriented approach is based on the understanding that the majority of the projected impacts of climate change in Europe will be negative (IPCC, 2007). Furthermore, adverse impacts of climate change are more important for policymaking since many of them need to be addressed proactively by public policies whereas beneficial impacts can often be exploited by autonomous adaptation of private actors.

1.1 Key challenges for European society

Climate change has far-reaching consequences and is one of the key drivers of global environmental change. Current and projected impacts in Europe, together with their related costs, suggest that climate change will — either directly or indirectly — test the vulnerability of European society with economic, environmental, societal, geopolitical and technological risks (3). The security, health and quality of life of European citizens are at the core of the matter and climate change constitutes an additional pressure (4) that challenges most of the components of human and natural systems.

Europe faces significant challenges from current and expected climate change, ranging from gradual ones — increase in temperature, loss of biodiversity, and rise of sea level — to sudden and extreme events — storms and flooding. Human systems in Europe are expected to be heavily affected by health problems and fatalities as a result of heat waves, floods, etc.; unbearable costs of damage to communities, infrastructures and the built environment from, for example, droughts and water scarcity; the loss of economic opportunities from, inter alia, lower crop yields and changing patterns of tourism; and a loss in the quality of life as a result, for example, of stress. Climate change will directly or indirectly affect all economic sectors, regions and citizens, although to different degrees depending on their coping and adaptive capacities as well as their location. The consequences of climate change will also have feedback effects on socio-economic developments, such as settlement patterns especially in regions and areas that are particularly vulnerable, such as coastal zones, flood plains, mountains and cities as well as the Mediterranean basin and the Arctic.

Drivers of socio-economic development in Europe also have the potential to exacerbate the impacts of climate change. For example land-cover and land-use changes such as urban sprawl and soil sealing may heighten the effects of floods, heat island effects and heat waves on urban systems or food systems could be impacted by water scarcity. Natural systems provide vital ecosystem goods and services for many human activities including agriculture, forestry, fisheries, tourism and the supply of clean water.

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