Southern Europe ‘to become climate change hotspot’

The early impacts of a warming climate already experienced in Europe are set to magnify in coming years, with Southern EU countries bearing the brunt of global warming, a major UN report has warned.

The IPCC report assessing the impacts of climate change worldwide said that developing countries would be hardest hit (see related story) – but also pointed to Southern Europe as a region likely to suffer more than others.

“Having just experienced the warmest winter on record, Europeans can clearly see that their climate is changing, and changing rapidly,” said Achim Steiner, executive director of the UN Environment Programme. He pointed to effects such as the killer heat waves of 2003 and melting alpine glaciers as consequences of climate change.

The effects of rising temperatures on Europe will be unequally distributed, with the South hardest hit, according to the report produced by experts from 100 countries which includes a chapter on the implications of climate change for Europeans.

Europe’s sensitivity to climate change has a “distinct north-south gradient,” the UN said quoting the IPCC report. Farmers across Spain, Italy and other south-European countries will suffer drought and large areas of forest will be destroyed by drought and fires.

Europe’s low-lying areas, such as the Netherlands, will also be hard-hit by rising sea levels, which threaten up to 2.5 million extra people each year.

In Northern Europe flooding is expected to be a major concern as precipitation and run-off increase. More coastal corrosion and glacial melt is also expected as temperatures rise.

On the positive side, the North will see expanding forests and increased agricultural productivity, while in the South both forests and productivity suffer, the report predicts.

Goska Romanowicz

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