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Brussels, 29 June 2007

Climate change: Europe must take adaptation measures to lessen impacts of current and future warming

Climate change poses a double challenge: Europe must not only make deep cuts in its greenhouse gas emissions but also take measures to adapt to current and future climate change in order to lessen the adverse impacts of global warming on people, the economy and the environment. This is the key message of a Green Paper published by the European Commission today which sets out options for EU action to help the process of adaptation to climate change across Europe. Adaptation means taking action to cope with changing climatic conditions, for example by using scarce water resources more efficiently or ensuring the frail and elderly are properly cared for during heatwaves. The Green Paper aims to stimulate a broad public debate on adaptation in Europe, starting with a major stakeholder conference hosted by the Commission on 3 July in Brussels.

Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said: "People all over Europe will increasingly feel the threatening effects of climate change on their health, jobs and housing, and the most vulnerable members of society will be the hardest hit. We need to fight the battle against climate change on two fronts. We must sharply reduce global greenhouse gas emissions to prevent future climate change from reaching dangerous levels, but at the same time Europe must also adapt to the climate change that is already happening.”

He added: ""Unless the EU and its member states plan a coherent policy response in advance, we could be forced into taking sudden, unplanned adaptation measures to react to increasingly frequent crises and disasters. This would prove far more costly."."

Global and European impacts of climate change

The European Union's objective is to limit global warming to no more than 2°C above the pre-industrial level, since beyond that threshold the risks of irreversible and possibly catastrophic planetary changes greatly increase. Yet many parts of the world are already struggling with the adverse effects of a 0.76°C rise in the global average temperature, and on current trends the global temperature is likely to increase further by 1.8° to 4°C this century.

Even warming of 2°C will have significant impacts, and Europe will not be spared. Europe has already warmed by almost 1°C over the past century, faster than the global average, and the effects are clearly measurable. For example, glaciers are melting and low-lying ski-resorts are threatened with closure. Southern Europe is projected to dry out further and may become too hot for summer holidays. The summer 2003 heat wave caused an estimated 70,000 premature deaths. Further climate change will heavily affect

Europe's natural environment and nearly all sections of society and the economy, including agriculture, forestry, fisheries, tourism and healthcare. Coastal zones, low-lying deltas and densely populated river plains could be particularly affected by more frequent storms and floods. Climate change could also lead to major population shifts, including in neighbouring regions.

Benefits of adaptation

Given these current and future impacts, adapting to climate change is now an indispensable complement to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Early action to adapt to climate change could bring clear economic benefits and avoid social disruption by anticipating potential damage and minimising threats to ecosystems, human health, property and infrastructure. Adaptation could also create new economic opportunities, such as new markets for innovative products and services.

Options for EU-level action

All actors will need to be actively involved in adaptation to climate change and efficient coordination between measures in member states, regions and communities will be vital to keep the cost low. The European Union can play an important role in supporting adaptation efforts by adjusting relevant policies, filling knowledge gaps and coordinating strategies.

Certain sectors, such as agriculture, water management, biodiversity protection and fisheries, are largely integrated at EU level through the single market or common policies. It thus makes sense to integrate adaptation goals into these sectors, as well as into EU spending programmes, for instance on regional development, agriculture, fisheries, social, research and rural development.

The Green Paper[1] sets out four lines of priority actions to be considered:

  • Early action to develop adaptation strategies in areas where current knowledge is sufficient;
  • Integrating global adaptation needs into the EU’s external relations and building a new alliance with partners around the world;
  • Filling knowledge gaps on adaptation through EU-level research and exchange of information;
  • Setting up a European advisory group on adaptation to climate change to analyse coordinated strategies and actions.

Next steps

The 3 July conference at the Charlemagne Building will launch a broad public debate which will include an internet consultation lasting until November. The Green Paper is also addressed to the EU institutions and committees. The responses will feed into the development of a Communication on adaptation to climate change to be issued by the Commission by the end of 2008.

Further information:

[1] COM(2007) 354. Adapting to climate change in Europe – options for EU action. Green Paper from the Commission to the Council, the European Parliament, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions.

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