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Impacts, risks and vulnerabilities

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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 appropriate information from past observations and future scenarios of climate change, environmental conditions and socio-economic factors.

Europe is experiencing wide-ranging changes in average climate and in weather extremes. 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 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 recently 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). In early 2018, C3S has published the first edition of 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. Furthermore, in many countries climate services are being developed and implemented (see the country pages).

The impacts of climate change will vary between regions, from sector to sector and even within sectors. Understanding the specific vulnerability 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 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.

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 latest 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.

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