Europe Makes Early Climate Adaptation High Priority

BRUSSELS, Belgium, July 2, 2007 (ENS) - Rising temperatures are already changing Europe, so Europeans must make deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions and adapt now to climate change to lessen adverse impacts on people, the economy and the environment, the EU said in a discussion paper published across the 27 member states on Friday.

Issued by the European Commission, the bloc's executive branch, the Green Paper sets out options to help people learn to adapt to global warming by taking action to cope with changing conditions.

EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas (Photo courtesy European Commission)
Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said, "People all over Europe will increasingly feel the threatening effects of climate change on their health, jobs and housing, and the most vulnerable members of society will be the hardest hit."

People need to use scarce water resources more efficiently, for instance, and ensure that the frail and elderly are properly cared for during heatwaves. The summer 2003 heat wave caused an estimated 70,000 premature deaths, many of them among the elderly.

The Green Paper aims to stimulate a broad public debate on adaptation in Europe, starting with a major stakeholder conference hosted by the Commission that opens Tuesday in Brussels.

The conference at the Charlemagne Building is expected to launch a broad public debate which will include an internet consultation lasting until November.

"We need to fight the battle against climate change on two fronts," Dimas said. "We must sharply reduce global greenhouse gas emissions to prevent future climate change from reaching dangerous levels, but at the same time Europe must also adapt to the climate change that is already happening."

"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. This would prove far more costly," he warned.

The Green Paper sets out four lines of priority actions to be considered:

  1. Early action to develop adaptation strategies in areas where current knowledge is sufficient
  2. Integrating global adaptation needs into the EU's external relations and building a new alliance with partners around the world
  3. Filling knowledge gaps on adaptation through EU-level research and exchange of information
  4. Setting up a European advisory group on adaptation to climate change to analyze coordinated strategies and actions
Friends of the Earth Europe has demanded an "urgent acceleration" of action to fight climate change by European governments. The demand came after new data was released by the European Commission in June showing that overall EU greenhouse gas emissions are still not on track to meet Kyoto Protocol targets of an eight percent cut below 1990 levels.

Sonja Meister, climate campaigner at Friends of the Europe said, "The new data clearly shows that the EU is still way off course to meet its Kyoto target. The slight drop in emissions in 2005 is a decrease over only one year and is by no means a trend yet."

France generates nearly 80 percent of its power with nuclear reactors, and also uses this coal-fired power plant at Pas-de-Calais. (Photo courtesy Charbonnages de France)
"Several EU countries are still emitting more greenhouse gases than they did in 1990 or even increased their emissions from 2004 to 2005," she said. "The EU keeps on saying that it cares about climate change, but the overall data shows that this is not kicking yet."

The European Union's goal is to limit global warming to no more than 2C above the pre-industrial level, since beyond that threshold the risks of irreversible and possibly catastrophic planetary changes greatly increase.

Yet many parts of the world are already struggling with the adverse effects of a 0.76C rise in the global average temperature.

On current trends the global temperature is likely to increase further by 1.8 to 4C this century, scientists with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said earlier this year.

Even warming of 2C will have significant impacts, and Europe will not be spared, said Dimas.

Europe has already warmed by almost 1C over the past century, faster than the global average, and the effects are visible.

The rapidly melting Rhone Glacier in Switzerland, source of the Rhone River, feeds Lake Geneva. (Photo by Meinrad Küttel courtesy Ramsar)
Glaciers are melting and low-lying ski resorts are threatened with closure. Southern Europe is projected to dry out further and may become too hot for summer holidays, said Dimas, a Greek national whose homeland may feel the effects of falling tourism dollars as temperatures rise.

Winter storms could increase by up to 25 percent in the United Kingdom as a result of climate change, according to a 2006 WWF report. The "Stormy Europe" report shows that the UK will suffer a greater increase in storms by the end of the century than Poland, Germany, Netherlands, Spain, Italy, or France.

Climate change will affect Europe's natural environment and nearly all sections of society and the economy, including agriculture, forestry, fisheries, tourism and healthcare, according to the Green Paper.

Coastal zones, low-lying deltas and densely populated river plains could be affected by more frequent storms and floods, the Green Paper points out. Climate change could also lead to major population shifts, in Europe and neighboring regions.

Given these current and future impacts, adapting to climate change is now an indispensable complement to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, says the Green Paper, which the Commission sent to the European Council of Ministers, the European Parliament, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions.

Early action to adapt to climate change could bring clear economic benefits and avoid social disruption by anticipating potential damage and minimising threats to ecosystems, human health, property and infrastructure. Adaptation could also create new economic opportunities, such as new markets for innovative products and services.

Agriculture, water management, biodiversity protection and fisheries are integrated at the EU level through the single market or common policies.

Dimas says it makes sense to integrate adaptation goals into these sectors, as well as into EU spending on regional and rural development, agriculture, fisheries, social, and research programs.

European governments have to seriously increase their efforts to combat climate change," said Friends of the Earth's Meister, "with drastic measures now to set the EU's emissions on a downward path into the long term."

Responses to the Green Paper will feed into the development of a Communication on adaptation to climate change to be issued by the Commission by the end of 2008.

The Green Paper, "Adapting to climate change in Europe options for EU action," is online at: http://ec.europa.eu/environment/climat/eccp_impacts.htm

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