Extreme weather events on the rise, European scientists warn

A flooded mosque is seen near Shkoder, Albania, 20 March 2018, caused by heavy rains that hit the country in previous days. [ EPA-EFE/MALTON DIBRA]

Extreme weather events are on the rise due to man-made climate change, according to a consensus report by Europe’s scientific academies, which called for urgent action to make sure infrastructure and society itself is ready to adapt to the new climate.

The European Academic Science Advisory Council (EASAC), an umbrella organisation bringing together the national science academies of the 28 EU member states, Norway and Switzerland, has called for increased action on climate change adaptation.

Fooding and other hydrological events have quadrupled worldwide since 1980 and doubled since 2004, according to an update for a 2013 report by EASAC.

Climatological and meteorological events like droughts and storms have also doubled since 1980, said the report, which compiled fresh data to update its conclusions.

EASAC warned that extreme rainfall has increased the frequency of inland flooding and rising sea-levels mean coastal flooding is also on the up.

Croatia declared a state of emergency on Sunday (18 March) after the River Sava exceeded its highest ever recorded level by four inches thanks to melting snow and rainfall. Montenegrin and Albanian emergency services also continue to battle flooding and landslides this week.

It continues a trend of freak weather events. Record heatwaves in Europe last summer were made “at least ten times more likely” due to climate change, according to a study by the World Weather Attribution coalition of scientists.

In August, a heatwave dubbed “Lucifer” meant afternoon temperatures exceeded 40 degrees Celsius in countries like Italy and Croatia. Some climate models have predicted that this could be the norm by 2050 if greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase.

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Freak weather events are also associated with massive economic costs. Hurricane Katrina, which hit the southeast cost of the US in 2005, has been branded the costliest natural disaster in the history of insurance. The industry has paid out $45.1 billion across six states to date.

EASAC’S updated report reveals that thunderstorm losses in the US have doubled from under $10 billion in 1980 to almost $20 billion in 2015.

However, in Europe, despite an increase in flooding frequency, losses from river floods have remained static. The report suggests that this might indicate that protection measures may be doing their job.

Losses from thunderstorms in North America (L) and river flooding in Europe (R). [EASAC]


In the updated version of its Extreme weather events in Europe report, EASAC reiterated its 2013 recommendations, which include boosting information gathering, sharing best practices on flood defences and providing better guidance for farmers.

EASAC’s environment programme director, Professor Michael Norton, insisted that the updated report “supports our original conclusions: there has been and continues to be a significant increase in the frequency of extreme weather events, making climate proofing all the more urgent.”

Norton also said that adaptation and mitigation should remain the “cornerstones” of tackling climate change, adding the report is timely given the European Commission plans to evaluate its climate strategy this year.

That will form part of a process that aims to update the EU’s energy laws for the next decade. Trilateral talks between the bloc’s institutions aim to hammer out compromises on renewable energy, efficiency and market reform, with a 40% reduction in emissions as the overarching goal for 2030.

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The UN published its annual emission gap report on Tuesday (31 October), highlighting a dismal record:  ahead of COP23, countries fall two-thirds short of what is needed to reach the agreed reduction in emissions.

Gulf Stream down

One of the most significant effects of climate change could be its effect on the Gulf Stream, an ocean current originating in the Gulf of Mexico that brings warm water across the ocean to Western Europe.

Although there is still a lack of scientific consensus, experts are worried that increased rainfall and melting icecaps will have an impact on the current and cause it to decline or even “switch off” completely, with potentially dire consequences for Europe’s climate.

EASAC acknowledged that recent data shows the current has indeed weakened but said oceanographic monitoring must continue, noting that there is also evidence to suggest a link between Arctic warming, extreme cold events in Europe and a weakened jet stream.

The United Nations’ main expert on Arctic affairs, Jan Dusík, recently told EURACTIV in an interview that climate change is not happening at a linear rate but is actually accelerating.

Dusík, a former Czech environment minister, said humanity will have to adapt to the changing conditions and suggested that studying their effects on the Arctic could be a “litmus test” for what will happen in other parts of the world.

UN Arctic chief: ‘Climate change isn’t linear – it’s accelerating’

Climate change is most evident in the Polar Regions and its impact will serve as a litmus test for what happens to the rest of the planet, the UN’s chief Arctic adviser told EURACTIV in an interview.


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