EU urged to adapt to global warming


Forest fires, heat waves, population displacements, disease proliferation and increased water scarcity for agriculture are some of the inevitable consequences of climate change that EU countries need to prepare for, the European Commission has warned in a new Green Paper published on 29 June.

Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas introduced the Green Paper, Adaptation to Climate Change, saying that adaptation is “no subsitute for mitigation”, in reference to CO2-emission reduction targets set by EU leaders in March 2007.

But he added that some consequences were inevitable and that member states needed to be able to respond.

  • Stormy clouds

Eight out of nine glaciers in the alps are expected to melt by 2050, increasing water scarcity in southern Europe, while northern Europe is expected to witness increased rain and snowfall, according to the Commission. Species loss is expected to be considerable, and climate change will also have an impact on human health through increased heatwaves, food and water scarcity. During a 29 June press conference, D

imas also spoke about the proliferation of new diseases in northern countries, such as the cattle disease Bluetongue, that are normally confined to southern Europe (EURACTIV 21/08/06).

  • EU response

The Green Paper does not propose specific policy measures, but rather opens a wide-ranging public debate over what the EU should do to help countries adapt.

Climate change is likely to impact on a number of EU policies, particularly those dealing with agriculture, fisheries, water, energy networks and infrastructures, and the Commission intends to develop “new policy responses” and to consider adaptation in all existing and new policy areas where relevant. 

The Water Framework Directive, for example, does not take climate change directly into account, and the challenge, according to the green paper, will be to “incorporate measures to cope with climate change as part of its implementation, starting with the first planning cycle for 2009”. 

Part of the response is tied in with the Commission’s new energy policy, in particular the use of renewables and the role of energy efficient technologies, which will be detailed in a future European Strategic Energy Technology Plan (SET Plan). 

The Green Paper also argues for greater international co-operation (including development), research and information exchange, and the setting up of a European advisory group on adaptation to climate change.

  • Who does what

Arguing that: “Adaptation is largely a question of political coherence, forward planning and consistent and coordinated action,” the Green Paper places EU-level action as complementary to national measures such as crisis response, regional spatial planning and local level land-management strategies.

  • The costs of adaptation

Costs are expected to vary from inexpensive measures, such as awareness raising and using drought-resistant crops, to expensive measures such as building new dikes and power stations “because of failing hydropower stations”.

Because of the lack of resources and uncertainty in the predictions of how climate change will play out, the Commission assumes that “market forces alone are unlikely to lead to efficient adaptation”. 

Hurricane Katrina was cited by the Commission as an example of how preventative measures, such as better flood protection, may be initially costly but are ultimately much less expensive than rebuilding after disaster strikes.

  • EU funding for adaptation  

“Climate proofing” of new buildings and infrastructure built with EU funds is recommended by the Green Paper, which states that the Commission will examine how funds can better be spent to prevent damage to roads, bridges, electricity grids and other critical infrastructure.

  • The ‘bright’ side

Despite the fallout from climate change, the Commission also expects new markets, opportunities and jobs in the field of adaptation, including in the insurance sector. Financial market instruments such as “weather derivatives” and “catastrophe bonds” are also expected to become more prevalent.

The European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) welcomed the Green Paper's focus on the social aspect of climate change. "Even on the optimistic assumption of global warming being limited to 2°C", according to the organisation's secretary, "large numbers of jobs will come under threat in Europe, particularly in the rural areas of the south or in mountainous regions. The impact will be all the stronger given that these regions offer few alternative sources of employment."

The NGO CEE Bankwatch has argued, in a recent report, that climate-change considerations are not taken properly into account in EU spending programmes, saying: "EU funds have subsidised an energy-intensive type of development and the danger is that the same pattern will be repeated in central and eastern Europe in the 2007-2013 period".

The Green Paper acknowledges the scientific consensus that the effects of man-made climate change are real and potentially very severe. 

The 2003 summer heatwave, the forest fires currently raging in Greece, droughts, floods and mass displacement of peoples from environmental disasters have pushed the question of how best to adapt to changing climatic conditions to the forefront of public debate (see EURACTIV 13/06/07 and 10/04/07).

Power plants, roads, buildings and other critical infrastructure are also considered to be particularly vulnerable to climate-change fallout. 

  • July 2007: Report on outcome of consultation on European Strategic Energy Technology Plan
  • Mid 2007: Communication on water scarcity and drought
  • November 2007: Deadline for response to questions laid out in green paper
  • 2008: Communication on impact of climate change on human and animal health

Subscribe to our newsletters