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Impacts, risks and vulnerabilities

Image credits: Chris Gallagher on Unsplash

The global climate system will continue to change for centuries because of both past and future emissions of greenhouse gases. Heat waves, floods and other impacts on ecosystems, human health and economy are likely to become more severe in the coming decades. Climate impact, risks and vulnerability assessments are used to identify the nature and magnitude of these impacts for natural systems and human society. Assessments vary widely depending on the aim of the assessment, the geographic area and the target sector or system. Consequently, a wide range of methods and tools are applied, supported by relevant information from past observations and future scenarios of climate change, environmental conditions and socio-economic factors.  The Adaptation Support Tool (AST) and the Urban Adaptation Support Tool (UAST) provide guidance on assessing risks and vulnerabilities.

Assessment and planning

The impacts of climate change will vary between regions, from sector to sector and even within sectors. Understanding the specific vulnerabilities and risks is essential for planning and implementing adaptation actions at the regional level. Climate change is a key driver of climate-related risks, but it is not the only one.

The magnitude and pace of global climate change in the future depends on the development of society and economies on a global scale. These changes are captured in global socio-economic and climate scenarios. Socio-economic scenarios provide plausible descriptions of possible future states of the world based on the choices made by society – they are not predictions. Global socio-economic scenarios inform greenhouse gas emissions scenarios, which are used by global climate models to provide projections of future climate change at a global scale. These projections can be downscaled, using regional climate models or statistical downscaling techniques, to calculate more detailed climate projections for Europe.

The regional impacts of climate change also depend on the development of environmental, socio-economic, political and technological conditions at the regional scale. For example, humans can increase their vulnerability by urbanisation of coastal flood plains, by deforestation of hill slopes or by constructing buildings in risk-prone areas. On the other hand, they can decrease their vulnerability by building institutional and technical capacity to address climatic hazards. 

The IPCC AR6 WG II report Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability provides an overview of climate change impacts, risks and vulnerabilities identified across sectors and regions, including a focus on Europe

Vulnerability and risk assessment is compulsory in order to plan and implement adaptation measures, and to prioritize resources. They identify which regions, sectors or system components are particularly affected by climate change, and where there is an urgent need to adapt.

The EEA has regularly published reports on ‘Climate change, impacts and vulnerability in Europe’ since 2004. The last edition (2017) assesses the trends and projections on climate change and its impacts across Europe based on 35 indicators. It also reviews the development of adaptation policies at European, transnational and national levels as well as the development of the underlying knowledge base. The European Climate Data Explorer in Collaboration with the Copernicus Climate Change Service gives an updated version of the several climatic drivers and indicators. Under the EU Mission on Adaptation to Climate Change EEA has developed the Adaptation Dashboard which provides overview of hazards, impacts, exposure, vulnerabilities and adaptation actions on subnational level.

DG CLIMA and the EEA in 2022 initiated the preparation of the first European Climate Risk Assessment (EUCRA) to assess current and future climate change impacts and risks relating to the environment, economy and wider society in Europe.

The Destination Earth (DestinE), a flagship initiative of the EC to develop a highly accurate digital model of the Earth on a global scale, will monitor, simulate and predict the interaction between natural phenomena and human activities. The purpose of the Digital twins will be to help us be better prepared to respond to major natural disasters, adapt to climate change and predict the socioeconomic impact. 

The DRMKC - Risk Data Hub is a GIS web platform that supports planners and decision-makers in addressing the impacts of climate change. It provides several dashboards with data on risk, vulnerability, economic damages and human losses across Europe from hazardous events. The DRMKC Risk Data Hub’s Risk Estimation Dashboard provides the risk level for various assets and hazards at country, NUTS 2 and NUTS3 level. The Vulnerability Dashboard provides an index of four dimensions of vulnerability that captures the systemic vulnerability to disasters at country, NUTS2 and NUTS3 level. The Losses and Damages Dashboard, finally, provides losses as a result of a range of hazards, by year and in total, both in terms of economic impact and people affected.

Guidance on how to assess risks and vulnerabilities can be found in the Adaptation Support Tool (AST) and in the Urban Adaptation Support Tool (UAST), particularly step 2 Assessing climate change risks and vulnerabilities.

 

Climate services

The Global Framework for Climate Services enables better management of the risks of climate variability and change through the development of science-based climate information and prediction, and its incorporation into planning, policy and practice on the global, regional and national scale. In Europe, the Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S) gives access to data and information on past and future climate change in support of climate change adaptation and mitigation. The C3S has made available a Climate Data Store, which provides quality-assured information about Earth’s past, present and future climate. Targeted climate information for specific sectors and policy areas is increasingly being made available through the C3S Sectoral Information System (C3S SIS).  The Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS) provides regularly updated estimates of daily CO2 emissions for all EU countries based on activity data for six sectors. Every year since early 2018, C3S has published the European State of the Climate report, which gives an overview of the annual and seasonal climate of the year and of the key trends over the last decades. In 2022, this report was produced jointly with the World Meteorological Organization. Furthermore, in many countries climate services are being developed and implemented (see the country pages).

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