Climate Change 2001:
Impacts, Adaptationand Vulnerability
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5.4. Europe

Present-day weather conditions affect natural, social, and economic systems in Europe in ways that reveal sensitivities and vulnerabilities to climate change in these systems. Climate change may aggravate such effects (very high confidence). Vulnerability to climate change in Europe differs substantially between subregions. Southern Europe and the European Arctic are more vulnerable than other parts of Europe. More-marginal and less-wealthy areas will be less able to adapt, which leads to important equity implications (very high confidence). Findings in the TAR relating to key vulnerabilities in Europe are broadly consistent with those expressed in the IPCC Special Report on Regional Impacts of Climate Change and the SAR, but are more specific about subregional effects and include new information concerning adaptive capacity. [13.1.1, 13.1.4, 13.4]

5.4.1. Water Resources

Water resources and their management in Europe are under pressure now, and these pressures are likely to be exacerbated by climate change (high confidence). Flood hazard is likely to increase across much of Europe -- except where snowmelt peak has been reduced -- and the risk of water shortage is projected to increase, particularly in southern Europe (medium to high confidence). Climate change is likely to widen water resource differences between northern and southern Europe (high confidence). Half of Europe's alpine glaciers could disappear by the end of the 21st century. [13.2.1]

5.4.2. Ecosystems

Natural ecosystems will change as a result of increasing temperature and atmospheric concentration of CO2. Permafrost will decline; trees and shrubs will encroach into current northern tundra; and broad-leaved trees may encroach into current coniferous forest areas. Net primary productivity in ecosystems is likely to increase (also as a result of nitrogen deposition), but increases in decomposition resulting from increasing temperature may negate any additional carbon storage. Diversity in nature reserves is under threat from rapid change. Loss of important habitats (wetlands, tundra, and isolated habitats) would threaten some species (including rare/endemic species and migratory birds). Faunal shifts as a result of ecosystem changes are expected in marine, aquatic, and terrestrial ecosystems (high confidence; established but incomplete evidence). [,,]

Soil properties will deteriorate under warmer and drier climate scenarios in southern Europe. The magnitude of this effect will vary markedly between geographic locations and may be modified by changes in precipitation (medium confidence; established but incomplete evidence). []

In mountain regions, higher temperatures will lead to an upward shift of biotic zones. There will be a redistribution of species with, in some instances, a threat of extinction (high confidence). []

Timber harvest will increase in commercial forests in northern Europe (medium confidence; established but incomplete evidence), although forest pests and disease may increase. Reductions are likely in the Mediterranean, with increased drought and fire risk (high confidence; well-established evidence). []

5.4.3. Agriculture and Food Security

Agricultural yields will increase for most crops as a result of increasing atmospheric CO2 concentration. This increase in yields would be counteracted by the risk of water shortage in southern and eastern Europe and by shortening of the duration of growth in many grain crops because of increasing temperature. Northern Europe is likely to experience overall positive effects, whereas some agricultural production systems in southern Europe may be threatened (medium confidence; established but incomplete evidence).

Changes in fisheries and aquaculture production resulting from climate change embrace faunal shifts that affect freshwater and marine fish and shellfish biodiversity. These changes will be aggravated by unsustainable exploitation levels and environmental change (high confidence).

5.4.4. Human Settlements and Financial Services

The insurance industry faces potentially costly climate change impacts through the medium of property damage, but there is great scope for adaptive measures if initiatives are taken soon (high confidence). Transport, energy, and other industries will face changing demand and market opportunities. The concentration of industry on the coast exposes it to sea-level rise and extreme events, necessitating protection or removal (high confidence). [13.2.4]

Recreational preferences are likely to change with higher temperatures. Heat waves are likely to reduce the traditional peak summer demand at Mediterranean holiday destinations. Less-reliable snow conditions will impact adversely on winter tourism (medium confidence). []

The risk of flooding, erosion, and wetland loss in coastal areas will increase substantially, with implications for human settlement, industry, tourism, agriculture, and coastal natural habitats. Southern Europe appears to be more vulnerable to these changes, although the North Sea coast already has a high exposure to flooding (high confidence). Table TS-10 provides estimates of flood exposure and risk for Europe's coasts. []

Table TS-10: Estimates of flood exposure and incidence for Europe's coasts in 1990 and the 2080s. Estimates of flood incidence are highly sensitive to assumed protection standard and should be interpreted in indicative terms only (former Soviet Union excluded).
Flood Incidence
Exposed Population
Average Number of People Experiencing Flooding
(thousands yr-1)
Increase due to Sea-Level Rise, Assuming No Adaptation
Atlantic Coast
50 to 9,000
Baltic Coast
0 to 3,000
Mediterranean Coast
260 to 12,0000

5.4.5. Human Health

A range of risks is posed for human health through increased exposure to heat episodes (exacerbated by air pollution in urban areas), extension of some vector-borne diseases, and coastal and riverine flooding. Cold-related risks will be reduced (medium confidence; competing explanations). [13.2.5]

5.4.6. Adaptive Capacity

The adaptation potential of socioeconomic systems in Europe is relatively high because of economic conditions [high gross national product (GNP) and stable growth], a stable population (with the capacity to move within the region), and well-developed political, institutional, and technological support systems. However, the adaptation potential for natural systems generally is low (very high confidence). [13.3]

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