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Climate change impacts on European cities

Climate change is happening here and now. According to IPCC, in 2017, human-induced warming reached approximately 1°C above pre-industrial levels, increasing at 0.2°C per decade. Climate change has already resulted in increased frequency of heatwaves in most world regions and heavy precipitation events, which may contribute to flooding. The global warming and associated changes in temperature, precipitation patterns and sea levels are projected to continue throughout the 21st century, even if the greenhouse gases emissions are drastically reduced. Settlements in Europe face the increasing risks of high temperatures, flooding, water scarcity and wildfires. The actual risks depend on the location of the city or town and its specific characteristics. In all urbanised areas sealed surfaces and concentrations of people and assets increase risks from climate and weather events compared to other areas.

In Europe, land and sea temperatures are increasing; precipitation patterns are changing, generally making wet regions in Europe wetter, particularly in winter, and dry regions drier, particularly in summer; sea ice extent, glacier volume and snow cover are decreasing; sea levels are rising; and climate-related extremes such as heat waves, heavy precipitation and droughts are increasing in frequency and intensity in many regions. New record levels of temperatures and decline of polar ice sheets have been established in recent years. Global climate change has substantially increased the probability of various recent extreme weather and climate events (heat waves, droughts, wildfires and flooding) in Europe.

Climate change is affecting all regions in Europe, but the impacts are not uniform (see Figure). South-eastern and southern Europe are projected to be hotspot regions, having the highest numbers of severely affected sectors and domains. Coastal areas and floodplains in the western parts of Europe are also multi-sectoral hotspots. The Alps and the Iberian Peninsula are additional hotspots for ecosystems and their services. Ecosystems and human activities in the Arctic will be strongly affected owing to the particularly fast increase in air and sea temperatures and the associated melting of land and sea ice.

EEA 2017

Key observed and projected climate change and impacts for the main biogeographical regions in Europe (EEA, 2017).

 

Three-quarters of the population of Europe live in urban areas and this number is increasing. Therefore, urban settings face greater damage risks from climate change than rural areas due to high concentration of population, economic activities, assets and critical infrastructure. 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’. See the  Urban Adaptation Map Viewer for information on climate impacts and vulnerabilities in European cities.

In the future, the aging population is likely to result in a higher number of vulnerable people across Europe, and the ongoing urbanisation may drive housing and infrastructure into flood-prone areas, further increase the surface sealing and cause fiercer competition for water between cities, agriculture and industry.

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