The Heat Is Online

Speed of Warming Prompts Europeans to Plan to Adapt Changes

Study: European winters may vanish by 2080

Reuters News Service, Aug. 18, 2004

AMSTERDAM, Netherlands (Reuters) -- Europe is warming up more quickly than the rest of the world, and cold winters could disappear almost entirely by 2080 as a result of global warming, researchers predicted Wednesday.

Heat waves and floods are likely to become more frequent, threatening the elderly and infirm, and three quarters of the Swiss Alps' glaciers might melt down by 2050, the study prepared by the European Environment Agency (EEA) said.

"This report pulls together a wealth of evidence that climate change is already happening and having widespread impacts, many of them with substantial economic costs, on people and ecosystems in Europe," EEA executive director Jacqueline McGlade said in a statement.

The average number of climate-related disasters per year doubled over the 1990s compared with the previous decade, costing economies around $11 billion a year, said the report, the first by the European Union body on the impact of global warming on Europe.

"Projections show that by 2080 cold winters could disappear almost entirely and hot summers, droughts and incidents of heavy rain or hail could become much more frequent," the report said.

Climate changes are likely to increase the frequency of floods and droughts like those that hit Europe in the past years, damaging agriculture and making plant species extinct, the Copenhagen-based EEA concluded.

The floods that swept through 11 European countries in 2001 killed about 80 people, while last year's heat wave in western and southern Europe claimed the lives of more than 20,000.

Greenhouse gases

The EEA findings echo those published last week by U.S. climate researchers who predicted that heat waves might become more common as global warming heats the earth and said regions already prone to heat, such as the U.S. Midwest and Europe's Mediterranean area, could suffer even more.

The concentration of carbon dioxide, one of the heat-trapping greenhouse gases blamed for global warming, in the lower atmosphere is now at its highest level for at least 420,000 years and stands 34 percent above its level before the Industrial Revolution, the EEA report said.

According to the agency's study, temperatures in Europe have risen by an average of 1.7 degrees Fahrenheit over the past 100 years and are projected to climb by a further 3.6 to 11.3 degrees this century due to the rise in greenhouse gases emissions.

This compared with a global rise in temperatures of 0.36 to 1.26 degrees Fahrenheit in the past century and a forecast of another rise of 2.52 to 10.4 degrees this century, said the report.

The researchers said glaciers in eight of Europe's nine glacial regions were at their lowest levels in terms of area and mass in 5,000 years.

They forecast that sea levels in Europe would rise at a pace more than two-to-four times faster than the rise seen in the last century -- a threat to low-lying countries such as the Netherlands, where half the population lives below sea level.

Copyright 2004 Reuters. All rights reserved

Europe 'must adapt on climate', Aug. 18, 2004

Europeans must learn how to live with a changing climate as well as seeking to limit its effects by cutting emissions, the European Environment Agency says.

An EEA report, "Impacts of Europe's changing climate", says fewer than 50 years remain to act against the threat.

It says melting meant Europe's glaciers lost a tenth of their mass last year, and harvests fell by almost a third.

The EEA says the climate change under way now probably exceeds all natural climate variation for a thousand years.

Warmer in Europe

The report brings together existing knowledge about how the climate is changing, and highlights some pointers of particular concern to Europe.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change suggests the global average temperature could on present trends be from 1.4 to 5.8C warmer in 2100 than in 1990.

The EEA says the comparable temperature increase for Europe is between 2 and 6.3C.

It says the 2003 heatwave caused melting which reduced the mass of the Alpine glaciers by 10%, and harvests in many southern countries were down by as much as 30%.

The European Union says the world should act to try to prevent temperatures rising more than 2C above their 1990 level, an increase which it regards as the highest sustainable level.

The report says: "On present trends this target is likely to be exceeded around 2050."

The EEA's executive director, Professor Jacqueline McGlade, said: "This report pulls together a wealth of evidence that climate change is already happening and having widespread impacts, many of them with substantial economic costs, on people and ecosystems across Europe.

"Europe has to continue to lead worldwide efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but this report also underlines that strategies are needed, at European, regional, national and local level, to adapt to climate change."

The clock is ticking

Professor McGlade told BBC News Online: "This is the first time we've called specifically for Europe to adapt, but we're not minimising the Kyoto Protocol process. We remain committed to the need to cut emissions.

"What the report shows is that, if we go on as we are, we have less than 50 years before we encounter conditions which will be uncharted and potentially hazardous."

The report says:

  • by 2050, about 75% of the glaciers in the Swiss Alps will probably have disappeared
  • at sea, there has been a northward shift of zooplankton species over the last 30 years by up to 1,000 km (625 miles)
  • projections suggest annual river discharge will decline strongly in southern and south-eastern Europe, but increase almost everywhere in the north and north-east of the continent
  • cases of encephalitis carried by ticks, and associated with a warming climate, increased from 1980 to 1995 in the Baltic region and central Europe, and remain high.

The report says human activities have raised the atmospheric concentration of one of the main greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide, to 34% above its pre-industrial level.

Up not down

To achieve the EU's goal of limiting the temperature rise to 2C by 2100, it says, global greenhouse emissions "need to be reduced substantially".

But it says: "Due to ongoing emissions of greenhouse gases, the observed rise in global temperature is expected to continue and increase during the 21st Century."

The EEA underlines the very long time it would take to slow the rate of climate change, because of the longevity of many gases.

It says: "There is new and stronger evidence that most of the warming observed over the last 50 years is attributable to human activities.

"Even if society substantially reduces its emissions of greenhouse gases over the coming decades, the climate system would continue to change over the coming centuries."