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Reports Say Europe Is Warming Faster

September 29, 2008

A study showed on Monday that Europe is warming faster than the world average and governments need to invest to adapt to a changing climate set to turn the Mediterranean region arid and the north ever wetter.

The report by the European Environment Agency and branches of the World Health Organization and the European Commission said Europe’s mountains, coasts, the Mediterranean and the Arctic were most at risk from global warming.

“Global average temperature has increased almost 0.8 C (1.4 F) above pre-industrial levels, with even higher temperature increases in Europe and northern latitudes,” it said.

Europe had warmed by 1.0 C.

Based on trends already under way, it said Northern Europe would get wetter this century while more of Europe’s Mediterranean region might turn to desert. European heat waves like in 2003, during which 70,000 people died, could be more frequent.

“Annual precipitation changes are worsening differences between a wet northern part of Europe and a dry south,” it said, creating a need to review everything from irrigation to the ability of southern rivers to help cool nuclear power plants.

Seas were rising in a threat to coasts, some fish stocks had moved 1,000 km north in the past 40 years — pushing cod not caught by trawlers away from the North Sea — and two-thirds of Alpine glaciers had vanished since 1850.

A few in Europe were getting benefits, such as northern farmers with longer growing seasons for crops.

The experts urge Europe to do more to adapt to the impacts of climate change, such as protecting people from insect-borne diseases or safeguarding coasts from higher seas. So far, most adaptation has focused on easing more river floods.

“Implementation of adaptation actions has only just started,” said Jacqueline McGlade, head of the Denmark-based European Environment Agency.

McGlade said, “We need to intensify such actions and improve information exchange on data, effectiveness and costs.”

Europe has a moral obligation to help people in developing nations adapt to a changing climate, the report said.

The world’s governments have agreed to work by the end of 2009 a new treaty to fight climate change. But financial turmoil and economic slowdown may dampen willingness to invest in billion-dollar climate projects.

According to the U.N. Climate Panel, seas are likely to rise by 18 to 59 cms (7 to 23 inches) by 2100 and could keep rising for centuries if ice sheets of Greenland or Antarctica thaw.

The report said in Europe, 4 million people and 2 trillion euros ($2.9 billion) in assets would be at risk from flooding from higher seas by 2100, from the Baltic states to Greece.

It said recent estimates indicated that losses from rising seas could total up to 18 billion euros a year by 2080 but spending of 1 billion a year — on everything from dikes to raising beach levels — could cut losses to about 1 billion a year.

In the United States, Hurricane Katrina caused about $80 billion in losses in 2005.

The European Union aims to cut greenhouse gas emissions, mainly from burning fossil fuels, by 20 percent below 1990 levels by 2020, or by 30 percent if other big economies join in.

The report suggested setting up a new European Clearing House to help distribute information on impacts, vulnerability and impacts of climate change.

Image Caption: Northwestern Europe. Courtesy Jacques Descloitres, MODIS Rapid Response Team, NASA/GSFC

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