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Climate risks could be 'catastrophic' in Europe, EU warns

March 11, 2024

Europe is the world's "fastest-warming continent," a new report has found. But it is underprepared to face the mounting threat caused by climate change.

Firefighters try to extinguish a wildfire burning at the Dadia National Park in the region of Evros, Greece, September 3, 2023
Europe is particularly at risk from forest fires and extreme weather events, the new report showedImage: Alexandros Avramidis/REUTERS

The European Environmental Agency (EEA) warned on Monday that Europe could suffer "catastrophic" consequences of  climate change if it fails to take urgent action.

In its first Europe-wide analysis of climate-related risks, the EEA listed 36 threats related to climate in Europe, 21 of which demand immediate action, while eight were described as "particularly urgent."

The dangers include fires, water shortages and their effects on agricultural production, while low-lying coastal regions face threats of flooding, erosion and saltwater intrusion, the report said.

Why should Europe worry?

Europe is the world's fastest-warming continent, heating up at twice the global rate, the EEA said. Even if countries manage to slow warming, global temperatures are already more than 1 degrees Celsius higher than in pre-industrial times.

EEA director Leena Yla-Mononen said that in the summer of 2022, between 60,000 and 70,000 premature deaths in Europe were caused by heat.

The agency said that areas in southern Europe are most at risk. However, that doesn't mean northern Europe is spared from the negative impact, as demonstrated by flooding in Germany and forest fires in  Sweden in recent years.

At the top of the list in the analysis were risks to ecosystems, mainly relating to coastal and marine areas.

This aerial view taken on February 2, 2024 shows an ancient pier and boats on the dry bank of the low water-level reservoir of Sau in the province of Girona in Catalonia. Sau is among the main reservoirs providing water to the Barcelona metropolitan area.
Extreme heat and drought are a growing risk to EuropeImage: PAU BARRENA/AFP/Getty Images

Report should be 'final wake-up call'

Without more urgent action, the EEA said most of the 36 climate risks facing Europe could hit "critical or catastrophic levels" this century. That includes risks to health, crop production and infrastructure.

In a pessimistic scenario, it warned that hundreds of thousands of people could die from heat waves and "economic  losses from coastal floods alone could exceed 1 trillion euros per year" by the end of the century.

"It should be the wake-up call. The final wake-up call," Yla-Mononen said.

Scientists say that greenhouse gas emissions, mainly from burning fossil fuels, need to be drastically reduced to avoid catastrophic climate change.

The European Commission will publish its response to the report on Tuesday.

2023: Hottest year on record

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ssa/nm (Reuters, AFP)