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Consequences of Climate Change Impacting Europe

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Climate change affects all regions around the world and Europe is seeing unprecedented events affecting the entire Union area. Polar ice shields are melting and the sea is rising. In some regions, extreme weather events and rainfall are becoming more common while others are experiencing more extreme heat waves and droughts.

Sea level rise and coastal areas

The rise is mostly due to thermal expansion of the oceans because of warming. But melting ice from glaciers and the Antarctic ice sheet is also contributing. It is predicted that Europe will experience an average 60 to 80 cm sea-level rise by the end of the century, mainly depending on the rate at which the Antarctic ice sheet melts.

Around a third of the EU’s population lives within 50 km of the coast and these areas generate over 30% of the Union’s total GDP. The economic value of assets within 500 m of Europe’s seas totals between EUR 500 billion to 1,000 billion.

Biodiversity

Direct impacts include changes in phenology (the behavior and lifecycles of animal and plant species), species abundance and distribution, community composition, habitat structure and ecosystem processes.

The indirect impacts include: habitat fragmentation and loss; over-exploitation; pollution of air, water and soil; and the spread of invasive species.

Soils

Climate change may aggravate erosion, decline in organic matter, salinization, soil biodiversity loss, landslides, desertification and flooding. The effect of climate change on soil carbon storage can be related to changing atmospheric CO2 concentrations, increased temperatures and changing precipitation patterns

Inland water

Climate change is predicted to lead to major changes in water availability across Europe, due to less predictable rainfall patterns and more intense storms. This will result in increased water scarcity, especially in southern and south-eastern Europe, and an increased risk of flooding throughout much of the continent.

The resulting changes will affect many land and marine regions, and many different natural environments and species.

Marine Environment

Changes in temperatures and ocean circulation have the potential to change geographical fish distribution. An increasing sea temperature might also enable alien species to expand into regions where they previously could not survive.

Ocean acidification for example will have an impact on various calcium carbonate-secreting organisms. These changes will have unavoidable impacts on coastal and marine ecosystems, resulting in major socio-economic consequences for many regions.

Social Threats

Health

The most important health effects from future climate change are projected to include:

  1. Increases in summer heat-related mortality (deaths) and morbidity (illness);
  2. Decreases in winter cold-related mortality (deaths) and morbidity (illness);
  3. Increases in the risk of accidents and impacts on wider well-being from extreme weather events (floods, fires and storms);
  4. Changes in the impact of diseases e.g. from vector-, rodent-, water- or food-borne disease;
  5. Changes in the seasonal distribution of some allergenic pollen species, range of virus, pest and disease distribution;

Vulnerable population

Women may be disproportionately impacted by climate change and are at a disadvantage when expensive adaptation measures are required. At the same time, women are key actors in adaptation and more generally sustainable practices.

 Unemployed and socially marginalized people are among the most vulnerable to climate risks.

Employment

Climate change may affect workforce availability due to a decrease in the health conditions of the population and additional occupational health constraints (higher temperature at work, more frequent and intense natural hazards keeping people from reaching their workplace)

Education

The severity of climate change requires public and private actors to work together in reducing vulnerability and adapting to the impacts. However, not all stakeholders are aware and informed about their vulnerability and the measures they can take to pro-actively adapt to climate change.

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Natural consequences

High temperatures

Higher temperatures are also expected to cause a shift in the geographical distribution of climate zones. These changes are altering the distribution and abundance of many plant and animal species, which are already under pressure from habitat loss and pollution.

Higher temperatures increase the evaporation of water, which – together with the lack of precipitation – increases the risks of severe droughts.

Low-temperature extremes (cold spells, frosty days) could become less frequent in Europe.

Droughts and Wildfires

In Europe, most of the roughly EUR 9 billion annual losses caused by drought affect agriculture, the energy sector and the public water supply. Extreme droughts are becoming more common in Europe, and the damage they cause is also growing.

Availability of Fresh Water

As the climate heats up, rainfall patterns change, evaporation increases, glaciers melt and sea levels rise. All these factors affect the availability of fresh water.

More frequent and severe droughts and rising water temperatures are expected to cause a decrease in water quality. 

Floods

River flooding is a common natural disaster in Europe, which has, along with storms, resulted in fatalities, affected millions of people and incurred massive economic losses in the last three decades. Climate change is likely to increase the frequency of flooding across Europe in the coming years.

Threats to Economy

Buildings and infrastructure

Buildings and infrastructure can be vulnerable to climate change because of their design (low resistance to storms) or location (e.g. in flood-prone areas, landslides, avalanches). Indeed they can be damaged or rendered unfit for use by any changing climatic condition or extreme weather event: rising sea level, extreme precipitation and floods, occurrences of extreme low or high temperatures , heavy snowfalls, strong winds…

Insurance

The frequency and intensity of most types of extreme events is expected to change significantly as a result of climate change. In the short term, as long as due allowance is made for the underlying trend, premiums would rise gradually and the insurance market would absorb such changes without disruption.

However, risk knowledge often advances in ‘steps’, which can lead to jumps in the price over a short period. In the longer term, particularly in most vulnerable sectors or areas, climate change could indirectly increase social disparities as insurance premiums become unaffordable for a fringe of the population.

Tourism

The suitability of southern Europe for tourism is projected to decline markedly during the key summer months but improve in other seasons. Central Europe is projected to increase its tourism appeal throughout the year. Projected reductions in snow cover will negatively affect the winter sports industry in many regions.

Future Impacts

climate change impacts, sea-level rise will increase the risk of flooding and erosion around the coasts, with significant consequences for the people, infrastructure, businesses and nature in these areas. It will also affect biodiversity in coastal habitats, and the natural services and goods they provide.

Many wetlands will be lost, threatening unique bird and plant species, and removing the natural protection these areas provide against storm surges. The indirect impacts include: habitat fragmentation and loss; over-exploitation; pollution of air, water and soil; and the spread of invasive species.

They will further reduce the resilience of ecosystems to climate change and their capacity to deliver essential services; such as climate regulation, food, clean air and water, and the control of floods or erosion.

Ocean acidification for example will have an impact on various calcium carbonate-secreting organisms. These changes will have unavoidable impacts on coastal and marine ecosystems, resulting in major socio-economic consequences for many regions.

Must read: China Extreme Weather Highlights Climate Change Impacts and Need for Early Warnings!

Disclaimer: This article received full authorization from Economy Vibe.

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