Increasing climate change in Europe

Publish date: September 20, 2004

Written by: Vanja Børke

In Europe, rising temperatures and climate changes happen faster than in any other part of the world concludes a new report issued by the European Environmental Agency, or EEA

Over the past 100 years, the average global temperature has increased by roughly 0.7ºC, as the European average temperature has increased by 0/95ºC during the same period. The average global temperature is expected to rise by 1.4 to 5.8ºC during the next 100 years, while the expected rise in temperature in Europe is calculated to be from 2.0 to 6.3ºC during the same time frame. The temperature is currently increasing at a rate of about 0.2ºC a decade.

Glaciologists believe that an increase of 2.7ºC will initiate melting of the ice on Greenland.

Strategies to handle the climatic challenges

The time it takes for CO2—identified by scientists as one of the chief contributors to global warming—to pass through the atmosphere varies widely, but with significant impact.

It can take from 5 to 200 years to pass through the atmosphere, with an average of about 100 years. This means that CO2 emission produced 50 years ago still linger in the atmosphere today. It also means that current emissions won’t loose their deleterious effect until year 2104. Even though drastic measures to reduce climate emissions have been taken in recent years, climate change is impossible to prevent. The EEA report thus urges Europe to develop strategies to cope with the coming climatic challenges.

The report also suggests several drafts for adaptations against climate change that can be implemented quickly, and are also within the budget constraints of European countries. The EEA believes these adaptations should be initiated in co-operation with the European market. However, this process will have to conquer a widespread myth in the European market that implies that climate solutions are expensive, and that inaction is profitable.

Lack of action will prove expensive

If fact, the EEA report point out, the opposites is true. To ignore obvious warnings, the report argues, will prove very expensive in the long run. The average annual number of climate-related disasters during the 1990s was twice as large as the annual average of the 80s.

The financial burden of dealing with the consequence of these disasters was more than $11 billion a year, according to EEAs report. The drought of 2003 caused the farmers across southern parts of Europe to lose 30 percent of their crops. This equals an income loss of ˆ10 billion. The human costs of the drought were great as well: More than 10,000 people died from heat-related illness in France alone. Insurance companies expect the expenses related to climate disasters to double every decade in coming years. During the coming decade, annual global expenses are expected to rise to as high as $150 billion.

No more cold winters

By the year of 2080, cold winters in Europe are expected to disappear completely, according to the EEA report. This may seem a positive development for sun-loving Scandinavians, but cold winters are, among other things, important for preventing several kinds of diseases and household pests, the report says.

Loss of soil

The natural rate of soil formation is between 0.1 and 10 tonnes per hectare per year. In this slow creation of soil, a loss of more than 1 tonnes per hectare per year is considered irreversible within a timeframe of 50 to 100 years, the report says. In Europe, losses as large as 20 to 40 tonnes per hectare of soil have been measured during single storms. Extreme cases show losses as large as 100 tonnes per hectare. In parts of the Mediterranean region, the annual soil erosion has reached an irreversible level. In some cases, the erosion has stopped completely because, the report indicates, there is no more soil to erode.

Warm, dry summers lead to dry and infertile fields. It also causes more water to enter the atmosphere from oceans and lakes, which in turn results in more storms. When dried-out and vulnerable soil is hit by intense rain, the risk of increased erosion and loss of soil increases greatly.

The great flood that struck 11 European countries in 2002, caused more than 12 billion Euro worth of damages, and took 80 lives. In comparison, the total costs of the floods occurring between 1991 and 1995 were around ˆ100 billion Euro.

The report from the EEA presents a great deal of evidence proving that climate changes are already occurring, and that that they have large scale consequences. The changing climate is a danger to the economy, to human life and to ecosystems all over Europe.

Long term effects

EEA Director Jacqueline McGlade said in a general statement from the environmental agency that Europe must continue its leading role in reducing global emissions of climate gases. However, the report emphasises the need for solutions, both nationally and locally, to adapt to the changing climate. She also predicts that the phenomenon will have a strong effect on both society and environment in the coming century.

The Kyoto protocol is seen as a first step in the right direction to attempt to reverse the negative climactic trend. During the protocol’s first period, which will be completed in 2012, the contributing countries have agreed to reduce the emissions of 6 climate gases by percent. However, numbers from the UN climate board, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC, show that the cuts needed in these gasses to reverse the effect are between 65 and 80 percent.

So far, 123 countries, including all the members of the EU, have signed the agreement. However, the country responsible for the biggest emissions of climate gases, the United States, has not ratified the important protocol. Because of this, if the protocol is to have the desired effect, Russian needs to ratify it—a long shot given the administration of Vladimir Putin’s push for Russia’s industrial growth.

These are some of the climate-related effects now or in the future, based on the EEA report:

—Almost two out of three catastrophes since the 1980s have been caused by flood, storms, drought or heat waves.

—The annual number of floods in Europe, and the number of people affected by them, is increasing. With climate change, the frequency and intensity of floods is expected to increase.

—Climate changes during the last 30 years have led to a decrease in the number of species of plants in Europe, even in mountains. As habitats shrink or disappear, it is likely that several animal species will with them.

—Glaciers in eight of Europe’s nine Glacial areas are dissolving. European glaciers have not been this small in 5000 years.

—Ocean levels in Europe have increased by 0.8 to 3.0 millimetres annually for the last 100 years. This ocean rise is expected to double or even quadruple during the next 100 years.

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