Current sensitivityvulnerability

12.2.1 Climate factors and trends

The warming trend throughout Europe is well established (+0.90°C for 1901 to 2005; updated from Jones and Moberg, 2003). However, the recent period shows a trend considerably higher than the mean trend (+0.41°C/decade for the period 1979 to 2005; updated from Jones and Moberg, 2003). For the 1977 to 2000 period, trends are higher in central and north-eastern Europe and in mountainous regions, while lower trends are found in the Mediterranean region (Böhm et al., 2001; Klein Tank, 2004). Temperatures are increasing more in winter than summer (Jones and Moberg, 2003). An increase of daily temperature variability is observed during the period 1977 to 2000 due to an increase in warm extremes, rather than a decrease of cold extremes (Klein Tank et al., 2002; Klein Tank and Können, 2003).

Precipitation trends are more spatially variable. Mean winter precipitation is increasing in most of Atlantic and northern Europe (Klein Tank et al., 2002). In the Mediterranean area, yearly precipitation trends are negative in the east, while they are non-significant in the west (Norrant and Douguedroit, 2006). An increase in mean precipitation per wet day is observed in most parts of the continent, even in some areas which are becoming drier (Frich et al., 2002; Klein Tank et al., 2002; Alexander et al., 2006). Some of the European systems and sectors have shown particular sensitivity to recent trends in temperature and (to a lesser extent) precipitation (Table 12.1).

12.2.2 Non-climate factors and trends

Europe has the highest population density (60 persons/km2) of any continent. Of the total European population, 73% lives in urban areas (UN, 2004), with 67% in southern Europe and 83% in northern Europe. The 25 countries belonging to the European Union (EU25) have stable economies, high productivity and integrated markets. Economic conditions among the non-EU countries are more varied. European income (as annual gross domestic product (GDP) per capita based on market exchange rate) ranges from US$1,760 in Moldova to US$55,500 in Luxembourg (World Bank, 2005). The EU25 cover 60% of the total European population, but only 17% of the total European land area and 36% of its agricultural area. In 2003, the European Union (EU) with its then 15 countries (EU15), contributed 20% of global GDP and 40% of global exports of goods and services (IMF, 2004). Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) plus European Russia constituted 16% of global GDP.

Since 1990, countries in CEE have undergone dramatic economic and political change towards a market economy and democracy and, for some countries, also integration in the EU. Annual GDP growth rates have exceeded 4% for all CEE countries and Russia, as compared to 2% in the EU (IMF, 2004).

Energy use in Europe constituted circa 30% of global energy consumption in 2003 (EEA, 2006a). More than 60% of this consumption occurred in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries (EEA, 2006a), whereas oil resources in Russia alone are more than four times higher than those of OECD Europe. Combustion of fossil fuels accounts for almost 80% of total energy consumption and 55% of electricity production in EU25 (EEA, 2006a). The large reliance on external fossil fuel resources has led to an increasing focus on renewable energy sources, including bioenergy (EEA, 2006a, b). In 2003, renewable energy contributed 6% and 13% to total energy and gross electricity consumption in EU25, respectively (EEA, 2006a).

The EU25 in 2002 had average greenhouse gas emissions of 11 tonnes CO2 per capita (EEA, 2004a) and this is projected to increase to 12 tonnes CO2 per capita in 2030 under baseline conditions (EEA, 2006a). Most European countries have ratified the Kyoto Protocol, and the EU15 countries have a common reduction target between 2008 and 2012 of 8% (Babiker and Eckaus, 2002). From 1990 to 2003 EU25 greenhouse gas emissions, excluding Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF), decreased by 5.5%, but emissions in the transport sector grew 23% in the EU15 (EEA, 2005).

The hydrological characteristics of Europe are very diverse, as well as its approaches to water use and management. Of the total withdrawals of 30 European countries (EU plus adjacent countries) 32% are for agriculture, 31% for cooling water in power stations, 24% for the domestic sector and 13% for manufacturing (Florke and Alcamo, 2005). Freshwater abstraction is stable or declining in northern Europe and growing slowly in southern Europe (Florke and Alcamo, 2005). There are many pressures on water quality and availability including those arising from agriculture, industry, urban areas, households and tourism (Lallana et al., 2001). Recent floods and droughts have placed additional stresses on water supplies and infrastructure (Estrela et al., 2001).

Europe is one of the world's largest and most productive suppliers of food and fibre (in 2004: 21% of global meat production and 20% of global cereal production). About 80% of this production occurred in the EU25. The productivity of European agriculture is generally high, in particular in western Europe: average cereal yields in the EU are more than 60% higher than the global average. During the last decade the EU Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) has been reformed to reduce overproduction, reduce environmental impacts and improve rural development. This is not expected to greatly affect agricultural production in the short term (OECD, 2004). However, agricultural reforms are expected to enhance the current process of structural adjustment leading to larger and fewer farms (Marsh, 2005).

The forested areas of Europe are increasing and annual fellings are considerably below sustainable levels (EEA, 2002). Forest policies have been modified during the past decade to promote multiple forest services at the expense of timber production (Kankaanpaa and Carter, 2004). European forests are a sink of atmospheric CO2 of about 380 Tg C/yr (mid 1990s) (Janssens et al., 2003). However, CO2 emissions from the agricultural and peat sectors reduce the net carbon uptake in Europe's terrestrial biosphere to between 135 and 205 Tg C/yr, equivalent to 7 to 12% of European anthropogenic emissions in 1995 (Janssens et al., 2003).

Despite policies to protect fish, over-fishing has put many fish stocks in European waters outside sustainable limits (62545

Table 12.1. Attribution of recent changes in natural and managed ecosystems to recent temperature and precipitation trends. See Chapter 1, Section 1.3 for additional data.


Observed change


Coastal and marine systems

North-east Atlantic, North Sea

Northward movement of plankton and fish

Brander and Blom, 2003; Edwards and Richardson, 2004; Perry et al., 2005

Terrestrial ecosystems


Upward shift of the tree line

Kullman, 2002; Camarero and Gutiérrez, 2004; Shiyatov et al., 2005; Walther et al., 2005a


Phenological changes (earlier onset of spring events and lengthening of the growing season);

increasing productivity and carbon sink during 1950 to 1999 of forests (in 30 countries)

Menzel et al., 2006a

Nabuurs et al., 2003, Shvidenko and Nilsson, 2003; Boisvenue and Running, 2006


Invasion of evergreen broad-leaved species in forests; upward shift of Viscum album

Walther, 2004; Dobbertin et al., 2005


Northward range expansion of Ilex aquifolium

Walter et al., 2005a

Fennoscandian mountains and sub-Artic

Disappearance of some types of wetlands

(palsa mires1) in Lapland; increased species richness and frequency at altitudinal margin of plant life

Klanderud and Birks, 2003; Luoto et al., 2004

High mountains

Change in high mountain vegetation types and new occurrence of alpine vegetation on high summits.

Grabherr et al., 2001; Kullman, 2001; Pauli et al., 2001; Klanderud and Birks, 2003; Peñuelas and Boada, 2003; Petriccione, 2003; Sanz Elorza and Dana, 2003; Walther et al., 2005a


Northern Europe

Increased crop stress during hotter, drier summers; increased risk to crops from hail

Viner et al., 2006

Britain, southern Scandinavia

Increased area of silage maize (more favourable conditions due to warmer summer temperatures)

Olesen and Bindi, 2004


Increases in growing season of grapevine; changes in wine quality

Jones and Davis, 2000; Duchene and Schneider, 2005


Advance in the beginning of growing season for fruit trees

Menzel, 2003; Chmielewski et al., 2004



Decrease in thickness and areal extent of permafrost and damages to infrastructure

Frauenfeld et al., 2004; Mazhitova et al., 2004


Decrease in seasonal snow cover (at lower elevation)

Laternser and Schneebeli, 2003; Martin and Etchevers, 2005


Decrease in glacier volume and area (except some glaciers in Norway)

Hoelzle et al., 2003


North, East

Movement of tick vectors northwards, and possibly to high altitudes

Lindgren and Gustafson, 2001; Randolph, 2002; Beran et al., 2004; Danielova et al., 2004; Izmerov, 2004; Daniel et al., 2005; Materna et al., 2005

Mediterranean, West, South

Northward movement of Visceral Leishmaniasis in dogs and humans [low confidence]

Molyneux, 2003; Kuhn et al., 2004; WHO, 2005; Lindgren and Naucke, 2006

Mediterranean, Atlantic, Central

Heatwave mortality

Fischer et al., 2004; Kosatsky, 2005; Nogueira et al., 2005, Pirard et al., 2005

Atlantic, Central, East, North

Earlier onset and extension of season for allergenic pollen

Huynen and Menne, 2003; van Vliet et al., 2003; Beggs, 2004 [Chapter]

92% of commercial fish stocks in north-eastern Atlantic, 100% in the western Irish Sea, 75% in the Baltic Sea, and 65-70% in the Mediterranean) (EEA, 2002; Gray and Hatchard, 2003). Aquaculture is increasing its share of the European fish market leading to possible adverse environmental impacts in coastal waters (Read and Fernandes, 2003).

Increasing urbanisation and tourism, as well as intensification of agriculture, have put large pressures on land resources (EEA, 2004a), yet there is increasing political attention given to the sustainable use of land and natural resources. Despite general reductions in the extent of air pollution in Europe over the last decades, significant problems still remain with acidification,

1 Palsa mire: a type of peatland typified by high mounds with permanently frozen cores and separated by wet depressions; they form where the ground surface is only frozen for part of the year.

terrestrial nitrogen deposition, ozone, particulate matter and heavy metals (WGE, 2004). Environmental protection in the EU has led to several directives such as the Emissions Ceilings Directive and the Water Framework Directive. The EU Species and Habitats Directive and the Wild Birds Directive have been integrated in the Natura 2000 network, which protects nature in over 18% of the EU territory. Awareness of environmental issues is also growing in CEE (TNS Opinion and Social, 2005).

12.2.3 Current adaptation and adaptive capacity

It is apparent that climate variability and change already affects features and functions of Europe's production systems (e.g., agriculture, forestry and fisheries), key economic sectors (e.g., tourism, energy) and its natural environment. Some of these effects are beneficial, but most are estimated to be negative (EEA, 2004b). European institutions have recognised the need to prepare for an intensification of these impacts even if greenhouse gas emissions are substantially reduced (e.g., EU Environmental Council meeting, December 2004).

The sensitivity of Europe to climate change has a distinct north-south gradient, with many studies indicating that southern Europe will be more severely affected than northern Europe (EEA, 2004b). The already hot and semi-arid climate of southern Europe is expected to become warmer and drier, and this will threaten its waterways, agricultural production and timber harvests (e.g., EEA, 2004b). Nevertheless, northern countries are also sensitive to climate change.

The Netherlands is an example of a country highly susceptible to both sea-level rise and river flooding because 55% of its territory is below sea level where 60% of its population lives and 65% of its Gross National Product (GNP) is produced. As in other regions, natural ecosystems in Europe are more vulnerable to climate change than managed systems such as agriculture and fisheries (Hitz and Smith, 2004). Natural ecosystems usually take decades or longer to become established and therefore adapt more slowly to climatic changes than managed systems. The expected rate of climate change in Europe is likely to exceed the current adaptive capacity of various non-cultivated plant species (Hitz and Smith, 2004). Sensitivity to climate variability and change also varies across different ecosystems. The most sensitive natural ecosystems in Europe are located in the Arctic, in mountain regions, in coastal zones (especially the Baltic wetlands) and in various parts of the Mediterranean (WBGU, 2003). Ecosystems in these regions are already affected by an increasing trend in temperature and decreasing precipitation in some areas and may be unable to cope with expected climate change.

The possible consequences of climate change in Europe have stimulated efforts by the EU, national governments, businesses, and Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) to develop adaptation strategies. The EU is supporting adaptation research at the pan-European level while Denmark, Finland, Hungary, Portugal, Slovakia, Spain and the UK are setting up national programmes for adapting to climate change. Plans for adaptation to climate change have been included in flood protection plans of the Czech Republic and coastal protection plans of the Netherlands and Norway.

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