Adapting to climate change: the European Union must prepare for the impacts to come
European Commission - IP/09/519 01/04/2009
Brussels, 1 April 2009
The European Commission presented today a White Paper outlining actions needed to strengthen the Union's resilience in coping with a changing climate. Recent findings indicate that the impacts of climate change will be swifter and more severe than indicated by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in their 2007 report. Europe will not escape these effects and must therefore prepare to cope with them. The impact of climate change will have varying regional implications meaning that most adaptation measures will need to be taken nationally and regionally. The framework presented by the Commission sets out a two-phase strategic approach to adapting to the impacts of climate change in the EU which complements actions taken by Member States through an integrated and coordinated approach.
European Commissioner for the Environment Stavros Dimas said: "The seriousness of climate change is becoming greater and more disturbing with each passing year. We must work hard to reduce carbon emissions, but even with the emission reductions we are committed to achieving, some amount of climate change is inevitable. It is therefore essential that we start work now with governments, business, and communities to develop a comprehensive adaptation strategy for the EU and to ensure that adaptation is integrated into key EU policies."
Agriculture Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel said: "European agriculture will feel the full force of climate change. I want to give farmers a clear understanding of the challenges they will face, and I want to launch discussions about specific steps to help our farmers to adapt. In particular, I want to see us take "no regret" measures which will bring economic and environmental dividends no matter how the climate develops. These are the key elements of the paper on agriculture and climate change that has been adopted today in support to the White Paper"
Health Commissioner Androula Vassiliou said: "With changing climate patterns, particular attention needs to be paid to the strengthening of human, animal and plant health surveillance. In addition, integrating extreme weather health action plans into the preparedness planning of health authorities is crucial. We also need to ensure that the effects of climate change on vulnerable social groups are assessed. International collaboration is vital in achieving these aims."
Maritime and fisheries affairs Commissioner Joe Borg said: "Europe's coasts and marine areas are in the frontline of climate change. We need to get ready to face coming challenges such as rising sea-levels, coastal flooding, the impact on coastal tourism and on ports and shipping, and also on fisheries. We cannot deny the importance of coastal ecosystems to our economy. Today, around 50% of the European population lives in coastal areas, therefore efforts to adapt to climate change are crucial and urgent".
A framework for action
Over the next 50 years climate change is likely to have profound effects on important economic sectors such as agriculture, energy, transport, ecosystems, tourism and health. It will also affect households and businesses and certain sectors of society, notably the elderly, the disabled and low-income households.
The White Paper presents a framework within which the European Union and its Member States can prepare for the impacts of climate change. A first phase of the strategy will run until 2012 and will lay the groundwork for preparing a comprehensive EU adaptation strategy from 2013 and beyond. It will focus on increasing our understanding of climate change and possible adaptation measures and how adaptation can be embedded in key EU policies. Decisions on how best to adapt must be based on solid scientific and economic analysis, yet information content and availability differs widely across regions. The paper outlines the need for a Clearing House Mechanism in which to exchange information on climate change risks, impacts and best practices.
Impacts of climate change will vary by region, with coastal and mountain areas and flood plains particularly vulnerable. It is for this reason that most adaptation measures will be carried out nationally or regionally. The role of the European Union will be to support these efforts through an integrated and coordinated approach, particularly in cross-border issues and policies which are highly integrated at EU level. Naturally, climate change adaptation will need to be at the heart of all EU policies. Adaptation must also feature prominently in the Union's external policies to assist those countries most affected and cooperate on international adaptation issues with partner countries.
The Commission is also presenting today three discussion papers on water, coasts and marine, agricultural and health issues based on the framework set out in the White Paper.
Adapting and mitigating, two sides of the same coin
The European Union is determined to take swift action to reduce its greenhouse emissions. But mitigating climate change by curbing greenhouse gas emissions is not enough. It needs a complementary response in the shorter term. The consequences of climate change are expected to be more substantial than expected and will occur regardless of the mitigation measures that are implemented.
Europe must deal with these effects. It needs measures to increase the resilience of natural and human systems to impacts of climate change. Adaptation policies are being carried out in the EU, but are often implemented in a piecemeal fashion and only in a few Member States.
Commission webpage on climate change adaptation
Commission webpage on agriculture and climate change
EEA Report No 4/2008: Impacts of Europe's changing climate – 2008 indicator-based assessment