As many parts of Europe were still recovering from recent mudslides, floods and heavy rains, the new report, Assessment of the Potential Effects and Adaptations for Climate Change in Europe, representing Europe’s input to the Third Assessment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), predicted that extreme weather conditions will intensify in the future. Compiled by 30 scientific experts, all authors of the current assessment of the IPCC and released on 1 November, the report confirms the worst fears of many about the implications and pace of climate change, but also offers Northwestern Europeans a silver lining to a cloudy scenario.

Among the benefits for those in countries such as Britain, resulting from the predicted warmer winters and increased rainfall. Cold winters will be half as frequent in Northern Europe by 2020, the report says, reducing energy consumption for heating, and benefiting transport through a reduction in frost and snow. The productivity of ecosystems and of most crops is likely to increase, and northern Europe’s commercial forests will grow faster. Crops, previously not suitable for growing in northern areas, could thrive.

Increased rainfall will see water availability cease to be a problem, although the risk of flooding could increase, the report says. In terms of tourism, the South and Alpine regions’ downfall will be to the North’s advantage: as southern summers become unbearably hot and Alpine snowfall more unreliable, tourists will look increasingly to more northerly regions for their beach and winter sports holidays.

Southern Europe will witness the brunt of global warming’s effects, although the East also stands to lose out. Hot summers in the south will double in frequency by 2020, says the report, and increase by 500% in Southern Spain, which will increase energy needs for air conditioning. Potential water supplies in the region are predicted to decrease by a quarter, increasing desertification and forest fires and reducing agricultural potential and requiring careful planning for future urban water needs. Deteriorating air quality in cities and excessive temperatures on tourist beaches could reduce recreational potential.

Northern and western areas will also witness increasing climate-related problems. Apart from increased flooding, especially during the winter, gales, avalanches and mud and rock slides will increase, placing growing demands on the insurance industry. Pests will present more of a problem. Fifty to 90% of Alpine glaciers are predicted to disappear by the end of the century, as well as Arctic species. The northern tundra belt will also retreat, the report says.

Some other important facts contained in the report are:

  • overall annual temperatures will rise between 0.1 and 0.4C every decade;
  • cold winters will become almost non-existent by the 2080;
  • by then, almost every summer will be hotter than the hottest summer experienced once a decade at the moment;
  • rain will increase in northern Europe by between 1% and 2% each decade, while southern Europe will experience rather smaller decreases;
  • global average sea rises by the 2050s will amount to somewhere between 13 and 68cm;
  • the mean annual temperature in Europe rose by about 0.8C during the 20th century, with 1990-99 the warmest decade recorded;
  • since 1900, rain over northern Europe has increased by 10% to 40%, while parts of the south have dried by up to 20%;
  • since the early 1960s, the average growing season has lengthened by about 10 days.

“Current EU policies in agriculture, fisheries and regional development need to be revised now to take advantage of climate change. Various Directives for protection of groundwater, biodiversity and natural habitats also need revision,” says the report, which makes almost 50 recommendations for policy and research.

British Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott called the report “a further wake-up call to the serious threat posed by climate change”. “The report underlines the need to make the forthcoming international negotiations in the Hague a success, working in partnership to achieve reductions in emissions and to develop global and domestic strategies to combat and adapt to climate change,” he said.

“This report is a spine-chilling account of the consequences of climate change for the whole of Europe in the next few decades,” commented Climate Campaigner Mark Johnston of the NGO Friends of the Earth.

The report was released just two weeks before the international climate summit on the Kyoto Protocol in The Hague. A copy can be obtained from the Secretary, at [email protected].

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