Europe is not prepared to face the rapid increase in climate risks

The extreme heat, drought, forest fires and floods experienced in recent years will worsen in Europe, even under optimistic global warming scenarios, and will affect living conditions across the continent.

Oliver Thansan
Oliver Thansan
10 March 2024 Sunday 17:35
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Europe is not prepared to face the rapid increase in climate risks

The extreme heat, drought, forest fires and floods experienced in recent years will worsen in Europe, even under optimistic global warming scenarios, and will affect living conditions across the continent. The European Environment Agency (EEA) publishes for the first time the European Climate Risk Assessment (Eucra), a report that aims to "contribute to the identification of political priorities for adaptation to climate change and for sectors sensitive to climate change".

The new report highlights that the adaptation policies and measures adopted in Europe do not keep pace with the rapidly increasing risks. In many cases, incremental adaptation will not be enough. Since many of the measures implemented to improve climate resilience are long-term, urgent action may be necessary, even in the face of risks that are not yet critical.

Certain regions of Europe are at the center of multiple climate risks. Southern Europe is especially threatened by forest fires and the effects of heat and water shortages on agriculture, outdoor work and human health. Flooding, erosion and salt intrusion threaten Europe's low-lying coastal regions, particularly many densely populated cities.

The new European assessment identifies 36 important climate risks, divided into five large groups: ecosystems, food, health, infrastructure and economy and finance. More than half of the main climate risks identified in the report require immediate additional action, and eight are particularly urgent, mainly to conserve ecosystems, protect people from heat, protect people and infrastructure from floods and wildfires , and to guarantee the viability of European solidarity mechanisms, such as the European Union Solidarity Fund.


Almost all risks included in the ecosystem group require urgent or greater action, and risks to marine and coastal ecosystems are considered especially serious. The EEA report recalls that ecosystems provide multiple services to people and, therefore, these risks have a high potential to cascade to other areas, such as food, health, infrastructure and the economy.


Risks to crops from heat and drought have already reached a critical level in southern Europe and central European countries are also at risk. In particular, prolonged droughts affecting large geographic areas pose a significant threat to crops, food security and drinking water supplies. As part of the solution, a partial replacement of animal-based proteins with sustainably grown plant-based proteins would reduce water consumption in agriculture and dependence on imported feed.


Heat is the most serious and urgent climate risk factor for human health. The population at greatest risk are specific groups such as outdoor workers exposed to extreme heat, older people and people living in substandard housing, in areas with a strong urban heat island effect or with inadequate access to refrigeration. Many tools aimed at reducing climate health risks lie outside the scope of traditional health policies, such as urban planning, building regulations and labor laws.


More frequent and extreme weather events increase risks to Europe's built-up environment and critical services such as energy, water and transport. Although coastal flood risks have been relatively well managed in Europe, rising sea levels and changes in storm patterns can have devastating impacts on people, infrastructure and economic activities. In southern Europe, heat and droughts pose significant risks to energy production, transmission and demand. Residential buildings must also adapt to rising temperatures.

Economy and Finance

Europe's economy and financial system face many climate risks. For example, extreme weather events can cause insurance premiums to rise, put real estate assets and mortgage payments at risk, and increase government spending and borrowing costs. The viability of the EU Solidarity Fund is already seriously threatened due to the cost of floods and forest fires in recent years. Worsening climate impacts may also increase the differentials that private insurance must cover and contribute to making low-income households more vulnerable.

The European Union as a whole and its member states, each in turn, have made "considerable progress in understanding the climate risks they face and in their preparation to confront them," indicates the evaluation commissioned by . National climate risk assessments are increasingly used to inform the development of adaptation policies. However, the preparation of societies is insufficient, as the implementation of policies lags behind the rapid increase in risk levels.

Most of the main climate risks identified in the report are considered to be "co-owned" by the EU, its Member States or other levels of government. In order to address and reduce climate risks in Europe, the EEA assessment underlines that the EU and its Member States must work together and also ensure the involvement of regional and local administrations, especially where urgent action is required. and coordinated.

There remain numerous gaps in knowledge of the main climate risks identified in the EEA report. "The EU can play a key role in improving knowledge about climate risks and risk ownership, and how to address them through legislation, appropriate governance structures, monitoring, financing and technical support," according to stated in the report. This new knowledge would also constitute a fundamental contribution to follow up on the European Climate Risk Assessment.