On Tuesday, the European Commission published its plan for managing risks exacerbated by climate change, such as floods and wildfires. 

The strategy aims to strengthen the bloc’s ability to adapt to the climate crisis and build resilience against the increased risk of climate-related problems such as “droughts, floods, forest fires, diseases, crop failures or heatwaves”, a Commission press release said.

Rather than mitigating climate change, the plan “is about the far-less talked about part of climate action, which is adaptation”, said EU climate commissioner Wopke Hoekstra. “What we are talking about here is building climate-resilient societies and economies,” he said at a press conference in Strasbourg on Tuesday. Hoekstra pointed to recent disasters in the EU – wildfires in Greece, flooding in Slovenia and a storm in Scandinavia – to underline the urgency. 

European Commission Executive Vice-President for the European Green Deal, Maroš Šefčovič, said that “we will be very much focusing on how to use our climate, diplomacy and outreach to all the countries in need of… help and assistance and technology-sharing… but also to the biggest polluters who could do more”. 

Brussels calls on Member States to strengthen governance and coordination, better analyse the interconnections between different risks, adapt infrastructure planning and improve public and private financing. In general, it calls on them to develop proactive management of adaptation to the climate crisis.

The Commission’s plan came after the first ever climate risk assessment by the European Environment Agency (EEA), published on Monday, which said the EU is inadequately prepared. The report warned of “catastrophic” consequences if Europe failed to take urgent action to adapt to risks posed by climate change.

The EEA assessment called on EU member states to work together at a regional and local level to tackle climate change risks with precautionary measures. According to the EEA report, “Europe is the fastest-warming continent in the world”.

The south is on fire

The dangers include fires, water shortages and their effects on agricultural production, while low-lying coastal regions face threats of flooding, erosion and saltwater intrusion.

Areas in southern Europe are most at risk, the EEA report said. “Some regions of Europe are hotspots for multiple climate risks. Southern Europe is particularly exposed to the risk of forest fires and the impacts of heat and water scarcity on agricultural production, outdoor work and human health,” it added.

The report, which identifies 36 climate risks in the EU, states that “heat-related risks have already reached critical levels in southern Europe”, given the “more frequent and more intense” high temperatures in this region. This includes countries such as Portugal, Spain, Italy and Greece. 

The high temperatures have already led to dangerous forest fires in Portugal. One of the most lethal events was the forest fire in Pedrógão Grande in central Portugal in June 2017, which caused 64 deaths and around 200 people to be displaced. The fires entered several cities, towns and villages and ended up destroying dozens of houses and industries.

Smoke and flames rise from buring trees in Asklipio village, on Rhodes Island. 
Large fires have broken out on the Greek islands of Rhodes and Corfu and in numerous other regions of Greece, which has been suffering a prolonged drought.
Smoke and flames rise from burning trees in Asklipio village, on Rhodes Island, Greece. Photo: Aristidis Vafeiadakis/ZUMA Press Wire/dpa

The EEA risk assessment said that while some regions face increased flooding, “southern Europe can expect considerable declines in overall rainfall and more severe droughts”.

Furthermore, “food supply in the EU is increasingly exposed to climate risks, from agricultural production notably in Southern Europe, fisheries and aquaculture, to food processing and international supply chains”. The report found that increased drought and rising heat not only endanger crop production in southern Europe but place central European countries at risk too.

However, the assessment does not mean that northern Europe is spared the negative impact of climate change, as floods in Germany and forest fires in Sweden, for example, have shown in recent years.

Water supplies: a source of conflict?

The European Commission’s plans presented on Tuesday dedicated a section to water, “a vital resource that is already under pressure in many parts of Europe due to structural mismanagement, unsustainable land use, hydro-morphological changes and pollution”.

The Commission warned that there is a risk of “increased competition over water resources across sectors and uses, including potential risk of conflicts within and among the member states over transboundary water resources”.

In Bulgaria, for example, water resources are expected to decline as a result of climate change. This could exacerbate the risk of water scarcity in vulnerable areas and, in years with particularly adverse conditions, elsewhere, said Associate Professor Emil Gachev from the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences’ Climate, Atmosphere and Water Research Institute, at a forum about Bulgaria’s water resources, held in Sofia on Tuesday. The forum was organised by the Bulgarian climate science media platform Climateka on the occasion of World Water Day, which takes place on March 22.

According to Gachev, one-third of the world’s population is experiencing water scarcity, water resources remain scarce and this problem will worsen due to the growing population. He specified that the water resources are decreasing due to poor water management and pollution. According to Dr. Valentin Simeonov, a researcher with the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, Switzerland, the change in ocean circulation and in particular the slowing down or stopping of the Gulf Stream will lead to a serious reduction in rainfall in Bulgaria.

Stormclouds gather over EU’s Green Deal

The EU’s Green Deal – once a core mission in Brussels’ fight against the climate crisis – is also looking increasingly under threat in the bloc’s upcoming elections as resistance grows to its costs and consequences.

Farmers’ protests, consumer cost-of-living worries and some countries’ hesitation are already undercutting the ambitious plan to make the EU carbon-neutral by 2050. The climate crisis is becoming “a real identity politics issue” caught up in the farmers” protests, said Susi Dennison, senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations.

A Belgian farmer on Wednesday sued French oil and gas giant TotalEnergies, demanding compensation for damage to his farm caused by climate change. “Climate change is having a tangible impact on my work and life: yield losses, extra work, and the stress that comes from dealing with a disrupted crop calendar,” farmer Hugues Falys said in a statement.

Many of the Green Deal’s laws have been adopted: an end to selling internal-combustion engine cars by 2035; a border carbon tax; rules against importing goods from deforested zones. But momentum stalled last year with legislation to reduce chemical pesticides and to restore wilderness ecosystems – opposed on grounds they could undermine food production in the bloc.

The European Environment Agency’s document should serve to guide the necessary actions necessary to mitigate the negative consequences of climate change. The European Commission’s plans on climate resilience were the last major climate and Green Deal initiatives before the June elections.

Fact check: False claims challenge the existence of climate change

The European Union’s Earth observation programme Copernicus recently recorded the warmest January on record, with an average temperature of 13 degrees Celsius. False claims on social networks argued that there was no climate change because temperatures of up to 15 degrees had been recorded in Germany as far back as January 1974.

The fact checking team of the German Press Agency (dpa) debunked these claims, saying that to make a statement about the climate, it is not enough to look at the weather on individual days – you have to look at the weather over a longer period of time.

Read the full fact check here: https://dpa-factchecking.com/germany/240214-99-987537/ 

This article is published weekly. The content is based on news by agencies participating in the enr.