Climate change is already having wide-ranging impacts on ecosystems, economic sectors and human health and well-being in Europe, according to a report released by the European Environment Agency.
“Recent studies show that various observed changes in the environment and society, such as changes in forest species, the establishment of invasive alien species and disease outbreaks, have been caused or enhanced by global climate change.”
The report was compiled by the European Environment Agency in collaboration with the Joint Research Centre, European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, World Health Organisation Regional Office for Europe and three European Topic Centres.
The report, covering climate change, impacts and vulnerability in Europe in 2016, says that ecosystems and protected areas are under pressure from climate change and other stressors, such as land use change.
“The observed impacts of climate change are a threat to biodiversity in Europe, but they also affect forestry, fishery, agriculture and human health.
“In response to climate change, many land-based animal and plant species are changing their life cycles and are migrating northwards and to higher altitudes; regional extinctions have been observed; various invasive alien species have established themselves or have expanded their range; and various marine species, including commercially important fish stocks, are migrating northwards.”
Climate change is continuing globally and in Europe, the report says.
“Land and sea temperatures are increasing; precipitation patterns are changing, generally making wet regions in Europe wetter, particularly in winter, and dry regions drier, particularly in summer; sea ice extent, glacier volume and snow cover are decreasing; sea levels are rising; and climate-related extremes such as heat waves, heavy precipitation and droughts are increasing in frequency and intensity in many regions.”
Global climate change has substantially increased the probability of various recent extreme weather and climate events in Europe. “The reliability of this finding has been strengthened by recent progress in extreme weather attribution techniques.”
Most impacts of climate change across Europe have been adverse, although some impacts have been beneficial, according to the report.
The rise in sea level has increased flood risks and contributed to erosion along European coasts. The observed increase in heat waves has had significant effects on human health, in particular in cities.
Heat waves are also increasing the risk of electricity blackouts and forest fires. Transport and tourism have also been affected by climate change, with large regional differences. Examples of beneficial impacts of climate change include a decrease in heating demand and some benefits to agriculture in northern Europe.
Climate change is affecting all regions in Europe, but the impacts are not uniform, the report says.
“South-eastern and southern Europe are projected to be hotspot regions, having the highest numbers of severely affected sectors and domains. Coastal areas and floodplains in the western parts of Europe are also multi-sectoral hotspots.”
The Alps and the Iberian Peninsula are additional hotspots for ecosystems and their services. Ecosystems and human activities in the Arctic will be strongly affected owing to the particularly fast increase in air and sea temperatures and the associated melting of land and sea ice.
Economic costs can potentially be high, even for modest levels of climate change, and these costs rise significantly for scenarios of greater levels of warming.
“The projected damage costs from climate change are highest in southern Europe. However, estimates of the projected economic impacts of climate change in Europe consider only some sectors and show considerable uncertainty,” the report says.
(Photo: Floods in Serbia in 2014: EEAS)