Reports Warn Europe Is Nearing Irreversible Threat From Catastrophic Climate Change
November 23, 2012

Reports Warn Europe Is Nearing Irreversible Threat From Catastrophic Climate Change

Lawrence LeBlond for - Your Universe Online

A newly released report from the European Environment Agency (EEA) is warning that Europe is on the verge of catastrophic climate change if it does not act on commitments made to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. That report joins another from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) stating that the cuts needed to curb global warming has widened as there is now one-fifth more carbon in the atmosphere than there was in 2000.

The EEA announced in their report on Wednesday that the past decade was the warmest on record and continually rising temperatures could widen the gap between Europe´s rich and poor nations. This gap could deepen as poorer countries have struggled economically to cope with extreme natural disasters in recent years, according to the report.

"When impacts of climate change affect regions with low adaptive capacity, the consequences can be severe," the EEA report said. "An integrated assessment of European regions' vulnerability to climate change suggests that (it) may negatively affect the territorial cohesion."

"Every indicator we have in terms of giving us an early warning of climate change and increasing vulnerability is giving us a very strong signal," EEA executive director Jacqueline McGlade, told Mark Kinver of BBC News. “It is across the board, it is not just global temperatures.”

"It is in human health aspects, in forests, sea levels, agriculture, biodiversity - the signals are coming in from right across the environment," she said.

According to the UNEP report, which has drawn on the research from more than 50 scientists, the widening gap between climate plans and scientific estimates means that governments must step up their commitments to avoid even worse effects from global warming.

"The transition to a low-carbon, inclusive green economy is happening far too slowly and the opportunity for meeting [scientific advice on emissions targets] is narrowing annually," said Achim Steiner, executive director of UNEP.

The international policy on the climate maintains that in order to prevent warming of more than 3.6F above pre-industrial levels, commitments must be wide-reaching. Temperatures surging above this set limit will undoubtedly leave the world in the wake of irreversible catastrophic climate change. The 3.6F limit means the atmosphere can be contaminated with no more carbon than 450 parts per million. To ensure this, governments would need to limit carbon dioxide release to no more than 48.5 gigatons per year by 2020.

However, in the latest research by the UN, the Emissions Gap Report 2012, the current trends outlined show that carbon dioxide release will top 64 gigatons by the end of this decade. Under this scenario, Europe, and the rest of the world for that matter, will be facing more extreme weather including floods, droughts and fiercer storms.

Yet, even if countries manage to change their tune and meet the emissions targets they have committed to, the gap will still be large–about 9 gigatons by 2020. To meet this level, countries would have to agree to much bigger curbs than they have yet done–and there is little chance of that occurring at the Doha Summit next week.

"Time is running out, but the technical means and the policy tools to allow the world to stay below [3.6F of warming] are still available to governments and societies," said Christiana Figueres, the UN's top climate official, who will head next week's climate talks.

The EEA report–Climate Change, Impacts and Vulnerabilities in Europe 2012–reported an overall rise in temperature across the continent. “The average temperature over land in Europe in the last decade was 1.3 degrees Celsius (2.3 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer than in the pre-industrial level, which makes it the warmest period on record,” it said.

In this same period, rainfall increased in northern and northwestern Europe, while the south had decreased rainfall, extreme heat waves and forest fires. Also, Greenland´s ice sheet has been melting at an accelerated rate, with “exceptional melting” occurring in the summer of 2012, the report said. And furthermore, Arctic sea ice had also been decreasing much faster than previously believed.

The EEA said the costs of catastrophic climate change can be significantly reduced if governments can implement global policies in line with a UN-backed pledge to limit global warming to 3.6F.

The European Commission is expected to publish its European Adaptation Strategy in 2013, which will outline the measures it believes are needed to help nations deal with future climate change. Such measures include using water resources more efficiently, adapting building codes to withstand extreme weather events and building flood defenses.

McGlade said such measures are essential in order to climate-proof the EU.

"I think what the European Commission and other parts of the world are finding is that whilst it is important to understand what is happening at the global level, it is what is happening at the regional and local levels that will really determine how economies will weather the storm," she said.

The EEA report said the cost of damage caused by extreme weather events had increased from 11.6 billion dollars (US) in the 1980s to more than 16.5 billion dollars (US) in the 2000s.

"We know that the main increase in damage costs from natural disasters has not been from climate change, as such, but more as a result of an increase in wealth, people and infrastructure in risk areas,” said Andre Jol, head of the EEA's vulnerability and adaptation group, and one of the report authors.

"But one of the key messages from the report is that in the future, with projected increases in the frequency and intensity of extreme events, we know that climate change will contribute to the increase in the cost of damage from extreme events," he added.

“Climate change is a reality around the world, and the extent and speed of change is becoming ever more evident. This means that every part of the economy, including households, needs to adapt as well as reduce emissions,” McGlade noted.