change Will Transform
The Face Of Europe
By Michael McCarthy
& Stephen Castle
11 January 2007
the richest and most fertile continent and the model for the modern
world, will be devastated by climate change, the European Union predicts
The ecosystems that have
underpinned all European societies from Ancient Greece and Rome to present-day
Britain and France, and which helped European civilisation gain global
pre-eminence, will be disabled by remorselessly rising temperatures,
EU scientists forecast in a remarkable report which is as ominous as
it is detailed.
Much of the continent's age-old
fertility, which gave the world the vine and the olive and now produces
mountains of grain and dairy products, will not survive the climate
change forecast for the coming century, the scientists say, and its
wildlife will be devastated.
Europe's modern lifestyles,
from summer package tours to winter skiing trips, will go the same way,
they say, as the Mediterranean becomes too hot for holidays and snow
and ice disappear from mountain ranges such as the Alps - with enormous
economic consequences. The social consequences will also be felt as
heat-related deaths rise and extreme weather events, such as storms
and floods, become more violent.
The report, stark and uncompromising,
marks a step change in Europe's own role in pushing for international
action to combat climate change, as it will be used in a bid to commit
the EU to ambitious new targets for cutting emissions of greenhouse
The European Commission wants
to hold back the rise in global temperatures to 2C above the pre-industrial
level (at present, the level is 0.6C). To do that, it wants member states
to commit to cutting back emissions of carbon dioxide, the principal
greenhouse gas, to 30 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020, as long as
other developed countries agree to do the same.
Failing that, the EU would
observe a unilateral target of a 20 per cent cut.
The Commission president,
José Manuel Barroso, gave US President George Bush a preview
of the new policy during a visit to the White House this week.
The force of today's report
lies in its setting out of the scale of the continent-wide threat to
Europe's "ecosystem services".
That is a relatively new
but powerful concept, which recognises essential elements of civilised
life - such as food, water, wood and fuel - which may generally be taken
for granted, are all ultimately dependent on the proper functioning
of ecosystems in the natural world. Historians have recognised that
Europe was particularly lucky in this respect from the start, compared
to Africa or pre-Columbian America - and this was a major reason for
Europe's rise to global pre-eminence.
"Climate change will
alter the supply of European ecosystem services over the next century,"
the report says. "While it will result in enhancement of some ecosystem
services, a large portion will be adversely impacted because of drought,
reduced soil fertility, fire, and other climate change-driven factors.
"Europe can expect a
decline in arable land, a decline in Mediterranean forest areas, a decline
in the terrestrial carbon sink and soil fertility, and an increase in
the number of basins with water scarcity. It will increase the loss
The report predicts there
will be some European "winners" from climate change, at least
initially. In the north of the continent, agricultural yields will increase
with a lengthened growing season and a longer frost-free period. Tourism
may become more popular on the beaches of the North Sea and the Baltic
as the Mediterranean becomes too hot, and deaths and diseases related
to winter cold will fall.
But the negative effects
will far outweigh the advantages. Take tourism. The report says "the
zone with excellent weather conditions, currently located around the
Mediterranean (in particular for beach tourism) will shift towards the
north". And it spells out the consequences.
"The annual migration
of northern Europeans to the countries of the Mediterranean in search
of the traditional summer 'sun, sand and sea' holiday is the single
largest flow of tourists across the globe, accounting for one-sixth
of all tourist trips in 2000. This large group of tourists, totalling
about 100 million per annum, spends an estimated €100bn (£67bn)
per year. Any climate-induced change in these flows of tourists and
money would have very large implications for the destinations involved."
While they are losing their
tourists, the countries of the Med may also be losing their agriculture.
Crop yields may drop sharply as drought conditions, exacerbated by more
frequent forest fires, make farming ever more difficult. And that is
not the only threat to Europe's food supplies. Some stocks of coldwater
fish in areas such as the North Sea will move northwards as the water
There are many more direct
threats, the report says. The cost of taking action to cope with sea-level
rise will run into billions of euros. Furthermore, "for the coming
decades, it is predicted the magnitude and frequency of extreme weather
events will increase, and floods will likely be more frequent and severe
in many areas across Europe."
The number of people affected
by severe flooding in the Upper Danube area is projected to increase
by 242,000 in a more extreme 3C temperature rise scenario, and by 135,000
in the case of a 2.2C rise. The total cost of damage would rise from
€47.5bn to €66bn in the event of a 3C increase.
Although fewer people would
die of cold in the north, that would be more than offset by increased
mortality in the south. Under the more extreme scenario of a 3C increase
in 2071-2100 relative to 1961-1990, there would be 86,000 additional
© 2006 Independent News and Media Limited
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