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Radio France Internationale
Radio France Internationale
Jan van der Made

Europe unprepared for 'catastrophic' climate risks: EU agency

A tactical firefighter set fires to burn a plot of land as firefighters attempt to prevent the wild fire from spreading due to wind change, as they fight a forest fire near Louchats in Gironde, southwestern France on July 17, 2022. AFP - THIBAUD MORITZ

A European Climate Risk Assessment report published Tuesday reveals that Europe is desperatedly unprepared for the dangers of climate change, specifically vulnerable to wilfires, water shortages, flooding and erosion.

A new EU study has stated that Europe could suffer "catastrophic" consequences from climate change if it fails to take urgent and decisive action to adapt to risks.

The massive, 425-page European Climate Risk Assessment (Eucra) is the first of its kind and identifies 36 climate dangers – including fires, water shortages and their effects on agricultural production – while low-lying coastal regions face threats of flooding, erosion and saltwater intrusion.

"Many of these risks have already reached critical levels and could become catastrophic without urgent and decisive action," according to the report.

"Eucra identifies three hotspot regions," Julie Berckmans, a European climate risk expert with the European Environment Agency (EEA) told RFI. These include:

1. Southern Europe

Southern Europe, faces increasing heat and droughts – affecting outdoor workers in the agricultural sector – and tourism, which is hit by brutal wildfires in forest areas.

2. Low-lying coastal regions

Low-lying coastal regions may face flooding and coastal erosion, "especially due to sea level rise," she says, while a third "hotspot" is identified in the "outermost regions" of the EU, which face particular risk because they are isolated and have weak infrastructure.

3. Outermost regions

"The extreme heat, drought, wildfires, and flooding – as experienced in recent years – will worsen in Europe even under optimistic global warming scenarios and affect living conditions throughout the continent," the EEA warned.

Fastest warming continent in the world

According to Eucra, 2023 was the warmest year on record, and the average global temperature in the 12-month period between February 2023 and January 2024 "exceeded pre-industrial levels by 1.5C.

" Europe," the report says, "is the fastest-warming continent in the world."

Europe is warming twice as fast at the global average.


REMARK by Julie Berckmans, Expert European Climate Risk with the EEA

Jan van der Made

"We used data from the Copernicus climate change service," says Berckmans, which shows that "Europe is warming twice as fast at the global average.

"The Arctic is warming even faster," she says, adding "it is also losing a lot of snow, a lot of ice cover."

She adds that changing ocean currents are affecting Europe's climate, while thermal warming and the increased number of heat waves on the continent are driven by air circulation patterns in the atmosphere, which cause more stable, yet hotter weather conditions.

But climate warriors face an uphill battle.

Europe-wide farmer protests demonstrate unhappiness about increasingly tight environmental regulations, and this may slow down the EU decision making process on climate change.

French farmers block the A64 highway with their tractors to protest over price pressures, taxes and green regulation, grievances shared by farmers across Europe, in Carbonne, south of Toulouse, France January 26, 2024. REUTERS - NACHO DOCE

"It is important to acknowledge these concerns," says Berckmans. "We also need to remember that people have diverse needs and means to deal with the change.

"It's very critical to consider social justice," but she points out that it is the agricultural sector which is at high risk due to climate change.

Final wake-up call?

Meanwhile, France's Cour des Comptes (State Audit Court) recently published its yearly assessment for 2024, focusing on climate change.

The 725-page report echoes the concerns of Eucra, pointing out that generally climate change-induced health risk is “still insufficiently controlled,” housing is not protected enough against heat, flooding and drought.

It added that cities adaptation to climate change has come "too late".

The report adds that France's rail network is too vulnerable to weather events, the protection of French coasts is insufficient against floods, and nuclear power plants – France's major source of energy– and electricity transmission networks are too fragile in the face of the increasingly volatile weather conditions.

In general, says Berckmans, EU member states don't do enough.

"Policy readiness is low, meaning that the will to adapt is low," while climate action of different EU states lacks coherence.

"Many of the risks are co-owned," she says, "so there is shared responsibility between the EU and member states."

Eucra's report serves as a "wake-up call," she says, as decades of discussion about global warming and climate change has led to "climate fatigue" among a larger public, but "there is a strong need to make this call.

"There is no scenario where we cannot do anything. There is only one scenario: to act now. And this really is the final wake-up call," she concludes.

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