- Climate Change. Climate model projections suggest a general increase
in temperature, greatest in northerly latitudes. Precipitation changes are
considerably more uncertain, but one could expect generally wetter conditions
in the north, drier conditions in the south, and increasingly drier conditions
from west to east. Winter precipitation may be greater than today, while summer
precipitation is likely to decrease.
- Sensitive Regions. As water is one of the main integrating factors
for many environmental and economic systems in Europe, currently sensitive
areas in terms of their hydrology include the Mediterranean region, the Alps,
northern Scandinavia, certain coastal zones, and central and eastern Europe.
A changing climate is likely to enhance water-related stresses in these already
Vulnerability and Potential Impacts
Hydrology, Snow and Ice, Water Supply and Demand
- Evapotranspiration will increase in a warmer climate, with potential reductions
in water availability; however, the response of hydrological systems depends
on the distribution of precipitation (highly variable, as suggested above)
and storage capacity.
- Many regions in the southern and interior parts of Europe could experience
a general decrease in runoff, though the change in runoff may range between
-5% and +12%.
- More droughts could be expected in southern Europe, and the potential for
winter and springtime flooding could be greater in northern and northWestern
Europe. However, this pattern is not the same for all general circulation
- Intrusion of saline waters into coastal aquifers and the expected reduction
in precipitation could aggravate the problem of freshwater supply in some
- Snow and ice are likely to decrease in many places, with consequences for
the timing and amount of runoff in river basins, as well as winter tourism.
- Demand for water could increase in summer. Supply could decrease, though
there may be regional differences in which storage capacity plays an important
- Pollution is a major stress factor for many European rivers, and a decrease
in discharge would increase pollutant concentrations, leading to reductions
in water quality.
- Current national and international policies and practices for water resources
management will be put under stress by climate change.
- With the exception of parts of Scandinavia and the Russian Federation, Europe
has few genuine natural ecosystems. Natural ecosystems generally are confined
to poor soils and are fragmented and disturbed; consequently, they tend to
be more sensitive to climate change than agriculture, which occupies the most
- The reaction of European ecosystems to global change is difficult to predict
because there are a number of interactions and feedback loops between increasing
temperatures, decreasing availability of soil water, and increasing carbon
dioxide (CO2) concentrations.
- Increasing CO2 concentration increases the productivity of plants with C3
metabolism under laboratory conditions (for most agricultural plants, except
maize and millet). However, many other factors come into play under field
conditions, such as water and nutrient stress, increased respiration losses,
and interactions between species. Therefore, the overall change in productivity
can only be predicted if these interacting environmental conditions are taken
into account. Many studies indicate that CO2 increases alone may have relatively
little impact under field conditions.
- The forests in many parts of Europe are affected by high deposition rates
of nitrogen. Their productivity is not only a function of climatic factors
but of the change in nitrogen deposition, which can both act as a fertilizer
and cause disturbances to many processes within the ecosystem.
- Crop mixes and production zones will be redistributed, and the use of water,
fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides will shift with them.
- Conflicting demands for water-for instance, between irrigation and domestic
supply in southern Europe-will need to be taken into account.
- Changes in potential production translate in a complex way to farmer incomes
and food prices, depending on technology, farmer adaptation, world markets,
and agricultural policies.
- Sea-level rise will place additional stress on coastal zones already stressed
by other factors (urbanization, coastal developments, pollution, etc.).
- The level of impact will depend on the adaptation capacity (e.g., the ability
of systems to move inland) and policies of individual countries (e.g., trade-offs
between lands that are not considered important and those that need to be
- Sensitive zones include areas already close to or below mean sea level (such
as the Dutch and German North Sea coastlines, the Po River delta, and the
Ukrainian Black Sea coast), areas with low intertidal variation (such as the
coastal zones of the Baltic Sea and the Mediterranean), and coastal wetlands.
- Changes in the nature and frequency of storm surges, particularly in the
North Sea, are likely to be of considerable importance for low-lying coastal
Other Infrastructure, Activities, Settlements
- Energy. Changing hydrology will impact those energy and industrial
production sectors that depend on water for cooling. There is a potential
for increased energy demand related to cooling in summer, and decreased energy
demand related to heating in winter. Such changes would lead to shifts in
peak energy demand.
- Urbanization. Infrastructure, buildings, and cities designed for
cooler climates will have to be adjusted to warmer conditions, particularly
heat waves, to maintain current functions.
- While there are fewer heat-related deaths in Europe than in some other parts
of the world, the risk of heat-related deaths would probably increase with
summer warming. The risk of cold-related deaths would probably decline with
winter warming. It is not clear what the net change in risk would be for Europe.
- Warmer temperatures will exacerbate summer air pollution episodes and their
health impacts in many cities.
- Some vector-borne infectious diseases will have the potential to extend
their range; the adaptation capacity of individual countries will depend on
their level of environmental management, public health surveillance, and health