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Europe is not prepared for rapidly growing climate risks, EEA finds

According to the first European climate risk assessment report, many of these risks have already reached critical levels and could become catastrophic without urgent and decisive action.

Europe is the fastest-warming continent in the world. Extreme heat, drought, wildfires, and flooding, as experienced in recent years, will worsen even under optimistic global warming scenarios and affect living conditions throughout the continent. The European Environment Agency (EEA) has published the first ever European Climate Risk Assessment (EUCRA) to help identify policy priorities for climate change adaptation and for climate-sensitive sectors.

The assessment identifies 36 major climate risks for Europe within five broad clusters: ecosystems, food, health, infrastructure, and economy and finance. More than half of the major climate risks identified in the report demand more action now and eight of them are particularly urgent, mainly to conserve ecosystems, protect people against heat, protect people and infrastructure from floods and wildfires, and to secure the viability of European solidarity mechanisms, such as the EU Solidarity Fund. Moreover, the report also warns of “cascading and compounding” risks, which it says current stress tests in the financial sector are likely to underestimate.

Extreme heat, once relatively rare, is becoming more frequent while precipitation patterns are changing. Downpours and other precipitation extremes are increasing in severity, and recent years have seen catastrophic floods in various regions. At the same time, southern Europe can expect considerable declines in overall rainfall and more severe droughts. Southern Europe is particularly at risk from wildfires and impacts of heat and water scarcity on agricultural production, outdoor work, and human health. Flooding, erosion and saltwater intrusion threaten Europe’s low-lying coastal regions, including many densely populated cities.

Economy and finance are facing multiple, climate-related risks. Risks to European solidarity mechanisms are already at critical levels and require urgent action. Three other financial risks (public finances, property and insurance markets, population/economy due to water scarcity) are evaluated as “more action needed”, and all of them could reach catastrophic risk levels in the late century without proper action. More in detail, the European property and insurance markets are facing substantial risks from climate change. Intensifying climate impacts can further increase insurance premia, widen the existing protection gap, amplify economic losses, and exacerbate vulnerability among low-income households and other disadvantaged groups.

The EU and its member States have made considerable progress in understanding the climate risks they face and in preparing for them. National climate risk assessments are increasingly used to inform adaptation policy development. However, Europe’s policies and adaptation actions are not keeping pace with the rapidly growing risks. In many cases, incremental adaptation will not be sufficient and, as many measures to improve climate resilience require a long time, urgent action may be needed even on risks that are not yet critical. Urgent action is needed now to prevent rigid choices that are not fit for the future in a changing climate, such as in land-use planning and long-lived infrastructure.

Tags :
climate risk assessment,insurance
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