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Urban areas and human health

Urban areas face specific climate change challenges which differ from those likely to be experienced in the surrounding rural region. These include exacerbated heat waves, floods and water scarcity problems. While urban areas will generally be exposed to the same regional climate as the surrounding area, the physical form and socio-economic activity of the city can alter the effect of exposure on a local scale. Human health impacts are concentrated in, but not limited to urban areas.

Built-up areas in the cities create unique microclimates due to the replacement of natural vegetation with artificial surfaces. This causes changes in wind direction and affects precipitation patterns and the urban heat island effect and drainage floods are typical urban climate challenges. Demography, urban production and consumption practices, and population lifestyles also alter the impacts of climate change in cities. The vulnerability of urban areas to current climate variability and future climate change is dependant on the degree of public sensitivity to the issue. High public water demand on a relatively small area already poses water scarcity challenges in some cities, particularly in southern Europe. Climate change will only exacerbate this problem.

Europe-wide observations and scenarios specifically addressing urban climate change do not exist, but other information is relevant for assessing urban vulnerability. Eurostat's Urban Audit collects comparable statistics and indicators for European cities. It currently focuses on 321 cities in the 27 countries of the European Union, along with 36 additional cities in Norway, Switzerland and Turkey. 


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