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0.2 How is the European climate changing and what are the consequences for urban areas?

There is scientific consensus, based on observations worldwide, that climate change is happening and will continue for centuries to come even if all greenhouse gas emissions (one of the main causes of climate change) would stop today. The different regions of the world are exposed to climate change impacts to varying degrees and the characteristics of those changes and impacts differ from location to location. Cities and towns worldwide and also in Europe will face specific climate change challenges characteristic only to urban areas. Therefore, local impact assessments need to be consulted to understand climate change impacts on a specific urban area. Nevertheless, European, regional, national or sub-national assessments can provide sufficient information for a range of potential impacts.

 

The extent to which the climate in Europe will change depends on the combination of development paths of society and economy and the associated greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) in the coming years. These changes are captured in different socio-economic and greenhouse gas emissions scenarios, which provide plausible descriptions of possible future states of the world based on the choices society makes. Climate models using these scenarios as well the current observations show that the climate in Europe is not and will not change uniformly; significant regional differences exist. While temperature is increasing all across Europe, the greatest increases in summer temperatures are projected in southern and south-eastern parts of Europe, with northern and north-western regions experiencing greater increases in winter temperatures. Northern Europe will likely see precipitation increase, especially in winter months, while rainfall is projected to decrease in the South and especially so in summer. Significant increases in the occurrence of very hot days (>35 C0) are projected for southern, southern-eastern and central Europe in the next decades. Extreme wind speeds are projected to occur more often in the North and decrease in the South. These and other changes will have secondary impacts on the frequency, duration and severity of such natural hazards and variables as floods, droughts, extreme precipitation events, storms, heat waves and cold spells, snow cover, ice and permafrost extent, sea level and waves, ocean temperature and acidity, which in turn affect various anthropogenic systems, activities and societies including economic activities, essential services, critical infrastructure, human-health and wellbeing.

Three quarters of the population of Europe live in urban areas. Socio-economic changes like on-going urbanisation and an ageing population exacerbate climate risks by increasing the share of people vulnerable to heat waves, increasing competition for water, reduction of the area available for natural flood management and increasing the number of homes and businesses in flood-prone areas. Moreover, the replacement of natural vegetation with artificial surfaces and buildings alters temperature, moisture, wind direction and rainfall patterns. Impervious surfaces prevent excessive amounts of rain water to drain into the ground and raise temperatures in cities compared to the surrounding region by storing heat and creating the so-called ‘urban heat-island effect’.

Urban settings face greater damage risks from climate change than rural areas due to high concentration of population, economic activity, assets, critical infrastructure and central nodes of essential services. Cities and towns located in such vulnerable areas as coastal zones and low-lying lands, river flood plains, arctic areas and mountainous regions are and will experience additional site-specific changes and impacts.

 

City-specific impact information

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European and international level impact information

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See also

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