By Stanislava Gaydazhieva | New Europe
In a new report, the European Environmental Agency (EEA) said that the observed climate change has already led to a wide range of impacts on environmental systems and the society.
The report ‘Climate change, impacts and vulnerability in Europe 2012’ projected further climate change impacts for the future and assessed the vulnerability of society, human health and ecosystems in Europe, while identifying those regions in Europe most at risk from climate change.
The study concluded that climate change, and in particular, increases in temperature, changes in precipitation and reduction in ice and snow, was occurring globally and in Europe, while some of the observed changes had established records in recent years.
For example, compared to the end of the 19th century, mean temperature and the frequency and length of heat waveshave increased across Europe. According to the EEA, the average temperature over land in Europe in the last decade was 1.3 °C warmer than the preindustrial era, which made it the warmest decade on record.
Another finding of the report was that overall rise in sea levels; decrease in river flows in southern and Eastern Europe and increase in other regions; earlier occurrence of spring seasonal events and later occurrence of autumn seasonal events in plants and animals and earlier flowering and harvest dates in cereals were all only a small part of the impacts of climate change on environmental systems and society in Europe.
Other examples included the reduction in forest growth due to storms, pests and diseases in some central and western areas of Europe; reduced demand for heating but increased demand for cooling, as well as increase in the frequency and intensity of droughts.
Moreover, the EEA report emphasised that climate change in Europe was already quite visible in terms of its impact on human health. The report pointed the tens of thousands of premature deaths due to the extreme 2003 summer heat‑wave; thousands of premature deaths per year due to tropospheric ozone and the increased number of people affected by river and coastal flooding as examples of this impact.
The report found that besides heat-related health impacts, climate change played a role in the transmission of certain diseases, for example, further warming was making parts of Europe more suitable for disease-carrying mosquitos (the main cause for West Nile fever) and sandflies. In addition, the pollen season has become longer and arrived 10 days earlier than 50 years ago, also affecting human health.
The report concludes that the observed impacts of climate change are projected to continue due to further climate change, while the level of future impacts depend on the magnitude of climate change and on socio‑economic and environmental factors.
The most costly impacts in southern Europe were projected to be increases in energy demand and heat waves, in Western Europe coastal flooding and heat waves, in Northern Europe coastal and river floods, and in Eastern Europe river floods.
However, the EEA said that damage costs from climate impacts could be reduced significantly by mitigation and adaptation actions and recommended, inter alia, global and European mitigation policies, consistent with the UNFCCC 2 °C objective, in combination with adaptation actions.