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Assessing climate change risks and vulnerabilities

2.2 Understanding climate projections and future impacts

Adaptation to climate change needs to be based on the assessments of future impacts, associated with the changing climate conditions. Many future climate impacts are likely to be caused by more frequent and more extreme versions of the currently occurring extreme weather events (see Step 2.1). However, also new hazards and impacts may occur, such as flooding associated with sea level rise or water scarcity caused by changing rainfall patterns. To develop a long-term adaptation strategy, it is crucial to access and correctly interpret the information about the projected climate impacts.


Future climate and impact projections

At the European scale, the EEA produces numerous indicators of observed and projected climate change and its impacts, for example temperature, precipitation, droughts, wildfires or sea level rise. The EEA Report Climate change, impacts and vulnerability in Europe 2016 – an indicator-based assessment provides a useful overview of climate change and its impacts in Europe.

The Climate-ADAPT country pages provide links to national risk and vulnerability assessments of the individual countries, which tend to include climate change projections. Many of the EU-funded research and knowledge projects have been concerned with providing downscaled climate projections for a given location (see the list of resources below).

Developed specifically for the European cities, the Urban Adaptation Map Viewer presents spatially the observed and projected climate variables and climate impacts.

More information about the projected global climate changes and their impacts on cities can be found in the reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), for example IPCC Fifth Assessment Report or the IPCC Global Warming of 1.5°C report.


Interpreting the projections

The important elements of climate projections to consider are:

  • Spatial scale of the projections: the climate models use different spatial resolutions;
  • The baseline period, from which the change is modelled (e.g. relative to 1986-2005);
  • The projection timeline, usually expressed as a period (e.g. 2081-2100 or 2020 – 2052);
  • The underpinning greenhouse gases emissions or other scenarios. For example, in the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report, RCP stands for Representative Concentration Pathway and reflects the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, according to four different scenarios (of which RCP 2.6 represents the lowest and RCP 8.5 the highest concentrations);
  • How the projected change is represented. The climate change projections tend to state the probability of something happening in the future or outline a range of possible outcomes in terms of future temperatures, rainfall or sea level rise. This is because the future climate will be affected by the levels of greenhouse gases emissions and other socio-economic developments, as above. Also, climate projections are derived from various models (mathematical representations of the climate developed on global or regional scales), which are constantly improved but still cannot predict the future with an absolute certainty.

The uncertainty of the future climate may be difficult to understand, plan for, or communicate to others. Climate-ADAPT provides specific pages with uncertainty guidance, covering the following topics:

  1. What is meant by uncertainty?
  2. How are uncertainties communicated?
  3. How to factor in uncertainty?

Dealing with uncertainty in adaptation planning can be addressed by investing in flexible, low-regret adaptation actions (see Step 4.3), which also provide additional benefits, such as reduction of greenhouse gases emissions (see Step 5.4), and thus can be justified despite the uncertainty associated with future climate scenarios. Guidance on dealing with uncertainty and complexity is also provided by the RESIN project.