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Europe’s vulnerability to climate change impacts occurring outside Europe

International trade, travel, telecommunications and other aspects of globalisation increase the likelihood that climate change impacts have consequences beyond the regions or nations in which they occur. Such consequences are referred as “cross-border effects” of climate change, or as “indirect effects”, “trans‑boundary effects” or “spill-over effects”. These effects may significantly influence the overall risk of climate change to regions, sectors and people. Therefore, they should be considered in the development and implementation of adaptation policies. The cross-border effects may be generated by a single extreme climate event that can cause a chain of reactions through impact pathways, for example, a temporary disruption of global supply chains due to damaged transport infrastructure, or determined by prolonged periods of extreme weather conditions or gradual climate change.

Chapter 6.4 of the EEA report Climate change, impacts and vulnerability in Europe 2016 analyses the cross‑border effects caused by climate change impacts occurring outside Europe, that have indirect cascading effects on European territory. It identifies six major pathways based on the available literature: (i) the trade of agricultural commodities, (ii) the trade of non‑agricultural commodities, (iii) infrastructure and transport, (iv) geopolitics and security risks, (v) human migration, and (vi) finance (see Figure 1).



Figure 1. Six major pathways of indirect impacts for Europe (EEA, 2017).

Source: EEA.
Note: The impact pathways have been placed arbitrarily on the map; therefore, the arrows do not indicate any predominant geographic direction from which these impacts might affect Europe (EEA report “Climate change, impacts and vulnerability in Europe 2016”).


As reported in Chapter 6.4 of the EEA report, the strongest evidence for Europe's sensitivity to cross-border impacts are the economic effects caused by climate‑induced global price volatilities; disruptions to transportation networks such as ports; and changes in the Arctic environment, such as new shipping routes.

The Mediterranean region of Europe has been identified as the most vulnerable to shocks in the flow of agricultural commodities, owing to a high dependency on imports from outside Europe. Recent climate extremes outside Europe have already had a negative impact on Europe. For instance, the Russian heat wave in 2010 destroyed about 30 % of Russia's grain harvest and contributed to an increase of 60–80 % in global wheat prices. The 2008 global rice crisis, during which the global market price of rice rose fourfold over a few months, was partly caused by a long drought in Australia, among other causes.

Low-income population groups in all parts of Europe are likely to be disproportionally more affected by food price volatilities.

The small, open and highly developed European economies are expected to be vulnerable primarily to shocks in the flow of non-agricultural commodities. Examples of such indirect effects are the shortage of hard drives and the associated increase in price levels caused by a severe flood event in Thailand in 2011 and the declines in coal exports and the increase in world market prices caused by extreme floods in eastern Australia in 2010/11.

The impacts of climate change and extreme events on transport infrastructure outside Europe (e.g., roads, pipelines, railways, bridges, ports, airports and tunnels) can have spill-over effects in Europe as well. For example, Hurricane Katrina in 2005 destroyed large parts of the port of New Orleans in the United States, causing a temporary shortage in global oil supply and a temporary increase in the global oil price.

Climate change in North Africa and the Middle East may increase geostrategic risks for Europe. Recent studies suggest that temperatures will exceed a threshold for human adaptability towards the end of 21st century in some of these regions. Furthermore, sea level rise is increasingly threatening populous coastal areas, such as the Nile Delta, where a large part of the Egyptian population and the agricultural land is concentrated. Unprecedented climate conditions, in combination with socio-economic and political factors, may further increase regional instability. This increase, in turn, may lead to a substantial increase in refugee and migration flows to Europe, with potential political and security impacts.

The financial pathway refers to those impacts of climate change that may disrupt the flow of public and private capital, such as overseas investments, remittances from migrant workers or international insurance, with repercussions for financial flows in various countries. For example, a substantial amount of the insurance costs from Hurricane Katrina in 2005 fell on the London stock markets. The projected increase in the occurrence and intensity of extreme weather events in many parts of the world will challenge insurance systems, determining increases in insurance premiums and decreases in coverage, but also providing new opportunities for European insurance companies to invest in the developing world.

According to several studies, European vulnerability to cross-border effects of climate change is expected to increase in the coming decades, but quantitative projections are not yet available.