The European Environment Agency today (5 June) predicted a rise in extreme weather events due to climate change as floods caused deaths and widespread property damage in Central Europe.
Days of heavy rain over the past week have left parts of the Czech capital Prague, Austria and Germany under water, killing at least 11 people. More than 10,000 have been evacuated from their homes in Germany, with analysts predicting the spread of the floods to Slovakia and Hungary in the coming days.
But according to the EEA, this will not be a one off.
In a statement, “Flood risk in Europe: the long-term outlook”, the EU's environment body paints a picture of increased floods, storms and other hydro-meteorological events on the continent over the coming decades.
The EEA is clear about what it thinks the causes are.
“The observed increase in damage costs from extreme weather events is mainly due to land use change, increases in population, economic wealth and human activities in hazard-prone areas and to better reporting,” the EEA says.
The EEA sees this as part of a trajectory of ever-increasing extreme weather events and natural disasters since the 1980s. It refers to the growing costs associated with tackling extreme weather events caused by climate change.
Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, has already pledged €100 million in relief for victims of the current floods.
But the EU body concedes that it needs more and better data to be scientifically certain of the role climate change has played. “To confirm the exact role played by climate change in flooding trends in past decades, it would be necessary to have more reliable, long-time series data for rivers with a natural flow regime.”
The EEA also warned of inappropriate housing. About one-fifth of European cities with over 100,000 inhabitants is very vulnerable to river floods, it said in a report.
Hans Bruyninckx, the EEA’s executive director, said: “Considering flood risk in Europe, we can see climate change will be an increasingly important factor. But in many cases, flood risk is also the result of where, and how, we choose to live – increases in costs from flooding in recent decades can be partly attributed to more people living in flood-prone areas.”
Analysts predict that the rising global population will force more and more people into living in potentially unsafe regions prone to extreme weather events.
The EEA calls for EU countries to adapt to the current effects of climate change and anticipate future changes, by financing engineering projects and green infrastructure. In April 2013 the European Commission adopted an EU strategy on adaptation to climate change, aiming at shoring up the continent’s climate resilience.
Last year, an IPCC report found with “high confidence” that climate change had already made heat waves more severe in areas including southern Europe and the Mediterranean.
It predicted the costs associated with extreme weather conditions could amount to some €15 trillion if countries did not take significant steps to mitigate climate change.
Extreme weather events are rare, which means that statistics are not always available analyse them. But a 2012 extreme weather report by the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) found it probable that the incidence of heat waves and floods had increased in recent years, although there are strong regional variations.
A rise in extreme coastal high water related to increases in mean sea level was also rated at between 66%-90% probability.
The IPCC’s scientists also expressed confidence that droughts were becoming more intense and longer, particularly in southern Europe and West Africa, but in central North America and northwestern Australia the reverse seemed to be happening.
- By 2013: EU countries required to draw up flood risk maps
- By 2015: EU countries required to establish flood risk management plans focused on prevention, protection and preparedness
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