Climate Change Effects in Europe | World Series Part 5
Updated: Nov 3, 2022
In Part Five of our World Climate Change series, we will be discussing the climate change impacts in Europe, which includes the countries like the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Spain, Portugal, and the Netherlands.
Europe is the second smallest continent and holds 10% of the entire human population. It is also the second wealthiest and the second-largest economy in the world. Therefore, it is no surprise that it is ranked third in the world’s CO2 emitters list, as the economy or GDP of a country and GHG emissions are usually strongly correlated.
Currently, climate change is impacting the European continent and the population, irrespective of their status in the world. As Europe is one of the most developed continents, it is obvious that their share of carbon released into the atmosphere is also one of the greatest.
With that being said, the power they have in terms of their economy, politics, and other factors give the continent more responsibility to act against the climate crisis. Also, they should find ways to be more sustainable, else, minimal mitigation to emissions will keep rising the temperatures and the result is that the effects will get more severe, as also stated in the latest IPCC report.
Effects of Climate Change in Europe
The number one effect of climate change is a rapidly increasing surface temperature. Although currently other continents may be impacted by the rising temperatures way worse than Europe, it does not mean that they are completely safe.
For example, as food security within Europe is not yet at risk, the agricultural income and food prices are increasing due to changes in trade patterns, as the climate change impacts are more severe in these other continents.
Europe faces some direct impacts to rising temperatures, although the extent is a smaller scale of people affected. As some parts of Europe are usually cold for the entire year, an increased temperature will not necessarily affect them. However, in some areas with a hot summer, heatwave events are expected to increase in intensity and frequency.
Europeans have built residences in massive concrete crucibles that concentrate heat. The average temperature difference between cities and the surrounding countryside is 5 to 10 degrees. If nothing is done to cut global emissions, Europe's cities might warm by another 6 to 10 degrees, where the most significant increases will be towards the south.
As a worst-case scenario, the heat will become so severe in Rome and other Mediterranean towns that traditional architectural systems relying on natural ventilation will no longer function.
Demographically, Europe is weighed towards aged populations, therefore heatwaves are especially of concern as the elderly are at higher risk of getting respiratory diseases such as asthma, heat stress, and heatstrokes. There are clear spikes in hospitalizations and age-related complaints during hotter days.
Most fatalities from heatwaves are concentrated in Southern and Central Europe. A heatwave event in 2010 killed 54,000 people in Central Europe, then killed more people eight years later, with 104,000 deaths which were the most in any region of the world in that year.
Researchers have found that there is a strong link between mental health emergencies and increased temperatures. During a heatwave in Moscow in 2010, the number of suicides more than doubled. When the temperature in Madrid rises above 34 degrees, there is an increase in domestic violence and women being murdered by their partners.
The solution to heat stress is cooling by air conditioning in indoor places. However, we know how this could cause further climate change as air conditioners are a significant source of carbon emissions.
With no mitigation, total emissions will double by 2035, causing warming of 2-3 degrees, which can lead to around 26% to 49% of regions suffering from droughts and inadequate water supplies.
Even at 1.5 degrees, it will be nearly impossible to cultivate maize without irrigation across much of Spain, France, Italy, and the Balkans. The report by IPCC states that irrigation will not be sufficient to prevent damage from heatwave to crops by 2050 and that system costs will increase under all climate scenarios.
Besides a decline in food and water security, rising temperatures also influences the behavior and lifecycles of animal and plant species. Mass migration could lead to an imbalanced ecosystem from invasive species.
An increased number of pests and human diseases could also be apparent, from a wider range of vector-borne disease carrier distribution, as they favor a warmer temperature, such as malaria from mosquitoes which originated from the Mediterranean that could distribute to Europe.
While the warming could be beneficial for some parts of Europe, such as in the north from a warmer winter and longer growing seasons, Southern wheat production might be cut in half under catastrophic climate scenarios. Thus, different adaptation strategies should be tailored to each region’s emergencies.
For example, around EUR 9 billion has been lost from droughts affecting agriculture, energy, and water supply. Except for in Scandinavia, a decrease in hydropower is likely for all European sub-regions by high confidence, according to IPCC.
Coastal flooding and permanent flooding will be the risk from sea-level rise. The IPCC says that coastal flood damage could rise to 10x by the end of the century, depending on how the planet warms.
This creates vulnerability to around 37% of the coastline, especially for the low-lying regions such as the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium, Italy, and Scandinavia. Some of the world’s top tourist hotspots and ancient heritages are also at risk, such as Venice, Ravenna, etc., as they are all located in the predicted flood zones.
Lastly, rising temperatures also increase the risk of wildfires as a result of extremely dry summers and dry forests. Fire dangers are expected to be particularly large in western-central Europe and highest in southern Europe.
In 2018, nearly 178.000 hectares of forests and land in Europe has been destroyed. In 2017, a forest fire in Portugal caused some human fatalities, which sparked a political crisis. And though most European countries faced large forest fires in 2018, Sweden experienced the worst fire season in reporting history. Smokes from the fires could also be deadly as they form toxic clouds.
To conclude, severe impacts of climate change in Europe are still predicted and aren’t technically to be concerned yet as of now. However, if little to no mitigation and climate intervention is done, these worse case scenarios could turn into reality which will even devastate one of the wealthiest and most developed continents in the world.
Having adequate resources and advanced technology, Europe should be at the front line in preventing and solving the climate crisis; to help the other, more vulnerable regions in the world.
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Olivia Eugenia is an Environmental Science student at the University of Western Australia. She is also an activist and a content writer at IYOPS.