EU adapts to climate change

Publish date: July 13, 2007

Written by: Niklas Kalvø Tessem

BRUSSELS – The European Commission (EC) on June 27th issued a Green Paper whose policy formulation will be similar in scope to the now famous British Stern Review on the impact of climate change to infrastructure and other economic activities.

The Green Paper identifies the actual damage of climate change and possible remedies.

The EU has taken the threat of climate change close to heart for several years. In 2006, the EC issued a Green Paper on sustainable energy, leaving no doubt that the world is getting warmer. The EU is now taking this to the next step, and is the first large political entity to formulate a policy to adapt to climate change proactively

The cost of upgrading infrastructure and preparing for extreme and varying weather patterns could prove to be very low compared to the price tag to clean up after the damage is done.

The impact of climate change will depend on the actual rise in global temperature. Even if greenhouse gas emissions were to be dramatically reduced tomorrow, global temperatures will rise. This is because of the delay in the atmospheric system to respond to the emissions level. Since global warming cannot be stopped, it is vital that the consequences be dealt with, and the recent Green Paper is a respond to these challenges.

The Stern Review findings

Estimates from the Stern review on the Economics of Climate Change, published by the UK government in 2006, suggest that the cost of upgrading infrastructure in retrospect will amount to 15 to 150 billion dollars each year. This figure accounts for a 3 to 4 degree increase in global temperature – a realistic suggestion even if global emissions are limited in the near future. With the potential rise in sea level, the Stern Review calculated that it would be four times as expensive to deal with flood damage than to radically upgrade flood defence systems in advance.

"Unless the EU and its member states plan a coherent policy response in advance, we could be forced into taking sudden, unplanned adaptation measures to react to increasingly frequent crises and disasters,” EU Commissioner for the Environment Stavros Dimas said.

“This would prove far more costly."

Regional differences

The average temperature on Earth has increased by 0.76 degrees since 1850. This has already had serious consequences as seen in more dramatic weather all over the world. It is, however, not possible to find a one-size-fits-all solution to the weather challenge. In southern Europe there will be droughts, and in the northern regions more rainfall is expected.

The regionally various impacts of global warming means that is vital for local authorities to get involved. The task for the EU will be to support measures at all levels of governance, in all fields of economical, legislative and advisory action.

Uncertain business climate
The costs involved in preparing for droughts and floods can be compensated to a certain extent by adjusting to the climatic change. In Northern Europe the growth season will increase, and possibly also tourism in the summer months, when temperatures are unbearable in the South. In the South, it may be an option to shift the tourism season to a spring and fall, instead of today’s summer beach boom.

Even taking this into considerations, the cost will be too high to expect sufficient involvement through financial mechanisms. It is therefore important that the EU set a standard for a legislative framework for countries to follow up with concrete measures. It is expected that the EU will follow up this Green Paper consultation with a policy proposal in 2008. Both emissions reductions and preventive action are needed for the world to live through the climate crisis of the future.