Executive Summary

This assessment identifies 36 climate risks with potentially severe consequences across Europe. The risks are evaluated in the contexts of risk severity, policy horizon (lead time and decision horizon), policy readiness and risk ownership. It further identifies priorities for EU policy action, based on a structured risk assessment united with qualitative aspects, such as considering social justice

 

 

 

 

 

Cover photo: Antonio Tedim, Well with nature/EEA copyright

 

Key takeaways

• Human-induced climate change is affecting the planet; globally,
2023 was the warmest year on record, and the average global
temperature in the 12-month period between February 2023 and
January 2024 exceeded pre-industrial levels by 1.5°C.

• Europe is the fastest-warming continent in the world. 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.

• These events, combined with environmental and social risk
drivers, pose major challenges throughout Europe. Specifically,
they compromise food and water security, energy security and
financial stability, and the health of the general population and of
outdoor workers; in turn, this affects social cohesion and stability.
In tandem, climate change is impacting terrestrial, freshwater and
marine ecosystems.

• Climate change is a risk multiplier that can exacerbate existing risks
and crises. Climate risks can cascade from one system or region to
another, including from the outside world to Europe. Cascading climate
risks can lead to system-wide challenges affecting whole societies,
with vulnerable social groups particularly affected. Examples include
mega-droughts leading to water and food insecurity, disruptions of
critical infrastructure, and threats to financial markets and stability.

• When applying the scales of severity used in the European climate
risk assessment, several climate risks have already reached critical
levels. If decisive action is not taken now, most climate risks identified
could reach critical or catastrophic levels by the end of this century.
Hundreds of thousands of people would die from heatwaves, and
economic losses from coastal floods alone could exceed EUR 1 trillion
per year.

• Climate risks to ecosystems, people and the economy depend on
non-climatic risk drivers as much as on the climate-related hazards
themselves. Effective policies and action at European and national
levels can therefore help reduce these risks to a very significant
degree. The extent to which we can avoid damages will largely depend
on how quickly we can reduce global greenhouse gas emissions, and
how fast and effectively we can prepare our societies and adapt to the
unavoidable impacts of climate change.

• The EU and its Member States have made considerable progress in
understanding the climate risks they are facing and preparing for them.
National climate risk assessments are increasingly used to inform
adaptation policy development. However, societal preparedness is
still low, as policy implementation is lagging substantially behind
quickly-increasing risk levels. Most of the climate risks are co-owned
by the EU and its Member States; therefore, coordinated and urgent
additional action is required at all governance levels.

• Most policies and actions to strengthen Europe’s resilience to climate
change are made for the long term, and some actions have long lead
times. 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. We must prevent locking ourselves into
maladaptive pathways and avoid potentially catastrophic risks.

• Adaptation policies can both support and conflict with other
environmental, social and economic policy objectives. Thus, an
integrated policy approach considering multiple policy objectives is
essential for ensuring efficient adaptation.

 

 

 

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