Climate change evident across Europe, says report

Flooded properties as the River Tiber, Rome, breaches its banks (Getty Images) The cost of damage from extreme weather events is projected to increase in the future

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The effects of climate change are already evident in Europe and the situation is set to get worse, the European Environment Agency has warned.

In a report, the agency says the past decade in Europe has been the warmest on record.

It adds that the cost of damage caused by extreme weather events is rising, and the continent is set to become more vulnerable in the future.

The findings have been published ahead of next week's UN climate conference.

They join a UN Environment Programme report also released on Wednesday showing dangerous growth in the "emissions gap" - the difference between current carbon emission levels and those needed to avert climate change.

"Every indicator we have in terms of giving us an early warning of climate change and increasing vulnerability is giving us a very strong signal," observed EEA executive director Jacqueline McGlade.

"It is across the board, it is not just global temperatures," she told BBC News.

"It is in human health aspects, in forests, sea levels, agriculture, biodiversity - the signals are coming in from right across the environment."

2C or not 2C

The report - Climate Change, Impacts and Vulnerabilities in Europe 2012 - involving more than 50 authors from a range of organisations, listed a number of "key messages", including:

  • Observed climate change has "already led to a wide range of impacts on environmental systems and society; further climate change impacts are projected for the future";
  • Climate change can increase existing vulnerabilities and deepen socio-economic imbalances in Europe;
  • The combined impacts of projected climate change and socio-economic development is set to see the damage costs of extreme weather events continue to increase.

As it currently stands, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change has set a target of limiting the rise in global mean temperature to 2C (3.6F) above pre-industrial levels.

But the report's authors warn that even if this target to mitigate warming is met, "substantial impacts on society, human health and ecosystems are projected to occur".

To limit the impacts, experts say effective adaptation strategies need to be developed in order to minimise the risk to nations' infrastructure, homes and businesses.

The European Commission is expected to publish its European Adaptation Strategy in 2013, outlining measures it think will help the 27-nation bloc deal with future climate shifts.

Swollen River Tiber, Rome (Getty Images) Europe will have to climate-proof its infrastructure if its economy is to "weather the storm"

Examples of adaptation measures include using water resources more efficiently, adapting building codes to be able to withstand extreme weather events and building flood defences.

Prof McGlade said such measures would be essential in order to climate-proof the EU.

Start Quote

While governments work to negotiate a new international climate agreement... they urgently need to put their foot firmly on the action pedal ”

End Quote Achim Steiner Unep executive director

"I think what the European Commission and other parts of the world are finding is that whilst it is important to understand what is happening at the global level, it is what is happening at the regional and local levels that will really determine how economies will weather the storm," she said.

The report said the cost of damage caused by extreme weather events had increased from 9bn euros (£7bn) in the 1980s to 13bn euros in the 2000s.

One of the report's authors, Andre Jol, head of the EEA's vulnerability and adaptation group, added: "We know that the main increase in damage costs from natural disasters has not been from climate change, as such, but more as a result of an increase in wealth, people and infrastructure in risk areas.

"But one of the key messages from the report is that in the future, with projected increases in the frequency and intensity of extreme events, we know that climate change will contribute to the increase in the cost of damage from extreme events."

'Lack of action'

On Monday, the World Bank published a report that warned that the world was "on track to a 4C [increase by the end of the century] marked by extreme heatwaves and life-threatening sea-level rise".

It added that the world's poorest regions would be hardest hit by the warming, which was "likely to undermine efforts and goals".

"A 4C warmer world can, and must be, avoided - we need to hold warming below 2C," said World Bank group president Jim Yong Kim.

"Lack of action on climate change threatens to make the world our children inherit a completely different world than we are living in today."

However, the UN Environment Programme (Unep) warned that it was still possible to achieve the 2C target but time was running out.

Data in the Emissions Gap Report showed that annual greenhouse gas emissions were now "14% above where they need to be in 2020".

Unep executive director Achim Steiner said: "While governments work to negotiate a new international climate agreement to come into effect in 2020, they urgently need to put their foot firmly on the action pedal by fulfilling financial, technology transfer and other commitments under the UN climate convention treaties."

The reports have been published ahead of the annual two-week UN climate conference, which starts on Monday in Doha, Qatar.

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