October 27, 2005

Mediterranean to Suffer Most in Europe Due Warming

By Alister Doyle, Environment Correspondent

OSLO (Reuters) - The Mediterranean region will suffer most in Europe from global warming and changing land use this century, with more droughts damaging everything from farming to tourism, an international study said on Thursday.

Elsewhere in Europe, low-lying Alpine ski resorts were likely to go out of business, forests would expand, many species of animals and plants would be driven north and winter floods would worsen in rivers from the Rhine to the Rhone.

The report, by 16 European research institutes and published in the journal Science, is the most detailed forecast yet of the impact for west Europe of climate change by 2080, twinned with changes in land use linked to shifting populations and policies.

"Among all European regions, the Mediterranean appeared most vulnerable to global change," it said.

"The impacts included water shortages, increased risk of forest fires, northward shifts in the distribution of typical tree species and losses of agricultural potential," it said.

Mountain regions also seemed especially vulnerable because of a rise in the lower limit of snow cover, according to the report led by Germany's Potsdam Institute for Climate Change Impact Research and Wageningen University in the Netherlands.

In the Alps, reliable snow cover in winter would rise to 4,920-5,740 ft from 1,300 now, threatening the existence of many ski resorts and so undermining tourism.


The study projected less rain in south Europe and rising risks of heatwaves like in 2003 when 35,000 people died. By 2080, an extra 14-38 percent of the Mediterranean population would be living in areas with strain on water supplies.

And the areas in which typical Mediterranean trees thrive in Spain, France, Italy and Greece would shrink. Loss of trees like corks, holm oaks or aleppo pines could affect the cultural identity of Mediterranean coastlines.

Much of northern Europe, however, would get more rain and forests would expand overall, the report said.

"I wouldn't rule out the possibility that some regions would profit," Dagmar Schroeter, lead author from the Potsdam institute, told Reuters. "Some new farmers might be able to grow millet and maize. But it is hard to say."

More northerly soils might be unsuitable for new crops, while more frequent floods and shifts in the ranges of species were likely to be damaging overall, she said.

The study, focused on 15 western European Union nations as well as non-members Switzerland and Norway, projects that temperatures will rise by 3.8-7.9F by 2080.

Many scientists say that a build-up of heat-trapping gases from human burning of fossil fuels in power plants, factories and plants is pushing up world temperatures.

West Europe would escape a sharp rise in population likely to put pressure on resources in many other parts of the world. Populations would rise moderately, if at all, from a current 376 million.

Factors including improved yields would mean a 6.4-10.7 percent decline in areas planted for food crops. Areas sown for "bioenergy" crops burned for fuel -- fast-growing trees like poplars or stems of crops like corn or sunflowers -- would rise.

The EU is encouraging bioenergy and is a strong backer of the U.N.'s Kyoto protocol, which sets caps on emissions of heat-trapping carbon dioxide as a step toward braking temperature rises. The United States and Australia are the only two developed nations outside Kyoto.