The fraction of total plant growth or the net primary production appropriated by humans (HANPP) is a measure widely used to assess the 'human domination of Earth's ecosystems' (Haberl et al., 2002). Currently, HANPP in western Europe (WE) amounts to 2.86 tonnes carbon/capita/yr, which is 72.2% of its terrestrial net primary production. This exceeds, by far, the global average of 20% (Imhoff et al., 2004). The 'ecological footprint' (EF) is an estimate of the territory required to provide resources consumed by a given population (Wackernagel et al., 2002). In 2001, the EF of central and eastern Europe (CEE) was 3.8 ha/capita, and of WE 5.1 ha/capita (WWF, 2004). These values also far exceed the global average of 2.2 ha/capita (WWF, 2004). WE is one of the largest 'importers' of land, an expression of the net trade balance for agricultural products (van Vuuren and Bouwman, 2005). Globally, by 2050 the total EF is very likely to increase by between 70% (B2 scenario) and 300% (A1B scenario), thus placing an additional burden on a planet which some consider is already at an unsustainable level (Wackernagel et al., 2002; Wilson, 2002). Large changes in demand for land in regions with high population growth and changing consumption habits are expected, which is likely to result in a (need to) decrease WE imports (van Vuuren and Bouwman, 2005). The per capita EF of WE and CEE is projected to converge by the middle of this century, at which time values for WE become slightly lower (B2 scenario) or larger (A1B scenario) than current ones, and those of CEE increase to reach those of WE. In any case, European EF is very likely to remain much higher than the global average (van Vuuren and Bouwman, 2005).
Table 12.3. Main types of impact for Europe following a rapid shut-down of the Meridional Overturning Circulation relative to the 'pre-industrial' climate (after: Arnell et al., 2005; Levermann et al., 2005; Vellinga and Wood, 2006).
• Reductions in runoff and water availability in southern Europe; major increase in snowmelt flooding in western Europe.
• Increased sea-level rise on western European and Mediterranean coasts.
• Reductions in crop production with consequent impacts on food prices.
• Changes in temperature affecting ecosystems in western Europe and the Mediterranean (e.g., affecting biodiversity, forest products and food production).
• Disruption to winter travel opportunities and increased icing of northern ports and seas.
• Changes in regional patterns of increases versus decreases in cold- and heat-related deaths and ill-health.
• Movement of populations to southern Europe and a shift in the centre of economic gravity.
• Requirement to refurbish infrastructure towards Scandinavian standards.
Climate change in Europe is likely to have some positive effects (e.g., increased forest area, increased crop yield in northern Europe), or offer new opportunities (e.g., 'surplus land'). However, many changes are very likely to increase vulnerability due to reduced supply of ecosystem services (declining water availability, climate regulation potential or biodiversity), increase of climate-related hazards and disruption in productive sectors, among others (Schröter et al., 2005; Metzger et al., 2006) (Table 12.4). Therefore, additional pressures are very likely to be exerted upon Europe's environment, which is already subject to substantial pressures (EEA, 2003), and social and economic systems. Furthermore, climate change is likely to magnify regional differences in terms of Europe's natural resources and assets since impacts are likely to be unevenly distributed geographically, with the most negative impacts occurring in the south and east (Table 12.4). Adaptive capacity is high, although it varies greatly between countries (higher in the north than in the south and east) due to their different socio-economic systems (Yohe and Tol, 2002). Adaptive capacity is expected to increase in the future, yet, differences among countries will persist (Metzger et al., 2004, 2006). Hence, climate change is likely to create additional imbalances since negative impacts are likely to be largest where adaptive capacity is lowest.
The integration of sustainability goals into other sectoral policy areas is progressing, for instance, through national, regional and local sustainable development strategies and plans. However, these have not yet had a decisive effect on policies (EEA, 2003). Although climate change and sustainable development policies have strong linkages, they have evolved in parallel, at times they even compete with one another. Climate change is very likely to challenge established sustainability goals. Tools, such as integrated modelling approaches (Holman et al., 2005; Berry et al., 2006), integration frameworks (Tschakert and Olsson, 2005) and scenario build-up (Wiek et al., 2006) can help bridge the gap in the limited understanding we have on how climate change will ultimately affect sustainability. Pursuit of sustainable development goals might be a better avenue for achieving climate change policy goals than climate change policies themselves (Robinson et al., 2006).
Was this article helpful?