Preparing Europe for climate change: Coordination is key to reduce risks posed by extreme weather
Building stronger links between climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction experts is more important than ever in wake of recent devastating and extreme weather events across Europe and elsewhere. Closer cooperation, including better policy alignment, will be crucial to reduce the impacts of weather- and climate-related hazards like floods, heatwaves, forest fires, or storm surges. Increasing coherence in actions and using innovative methods can improve the handling of these events, according to a report by the European Environment Agency (EEA) published recently.
"The extent of devastation in the wake of forest fires, floods, storm surges not only in Europe and elsewhere has shown that the costs of not acting on climate change, as well as adaptation and prevention are extremely high. Mitigation is crucial as is ensuring effective action before, during and after a disaster." - Hans Bruyninckx, Executive Director of the European Environment Agency.
The EEA report 'Climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction in Europe — enhancing coherence of the knowledge base, policies and practices' not only assesses current practices and level of know-how, but also highlights emerging innovative tools national, regional and local authorities are using to tackle the impacts of weather- and climate-related hazards.
"The extent of devastation in the wake of forest fires, floods, storm surges not only in Europe and elsewhere has shown that the costs of not acting on climate change, as well as adaptation and prevention are extremely high. Mitigation is crucial as is ensuring effective action before, during and after a disaster. Our report shows that European countries have started preparing, but there is still much to gain from better coherence to improve resilience and reducing the risks. This should be the main goal for experts working in the adaptation and disaster risk reduction fields," said Hans Bruyninckx, Executive Director of the European Environment Agency.
Extreme weather becoming more frequent, costly
Reducing the impacts of dangerous weather- and climate-related events and at the same time adapting to a changing climate have become top priorities for the European Union. The report presents 10 key natural hazards in Europe, including heatwaves, heavy precipitation, river floods, windstorms, landslides, droughts, forest fires, avalanches, hail and storm surges. These events have large impacts on human health, the economy and ecosystems and they can be made more damaging by other changes like increases in soil sealing, building in risk-prone areas, ageing population or ecosystem degradation.
Climate projections show that most of these hazards will increase in frequency and severity in the next decades across Europe.
The total reported economic losses caused by weather- and climate-related extremes in the 33 EEA member countries over the 1980–2016 period amounted to over EUR 450 billion. The largest share of the economic impacts was caused by floods (approximately 40 %), followed by storms (25 %), droughts (approximately 10 %) and heat waves (approximately 5 %). The insurance coverage of all these hazards is overall about 35 %. A large share of the total losses has been caused by a small number of events. Regarding impacts on human health, heat waves are the deadliest especially for vulnerable groups such as the elderly, due, for example, to worsening of respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, aggravated by air pollution. Flooding, landslides and forest fires also cause fatalities, but less than heat waves.
Innovation and collaboration is key to success
The report showcases new models of governance between national and local levels and across sectors in Europe. These touch on spatial planning and risk prevention policies and technical measures such as raising dikes, insurance schemes and long-term financing as well as 'nature-based' solutions. If carried out properly, such projects can be highly efficient and cost-effective and have multiple benefits. Projects can include, for example, providing room for rivers to reduce flooding, agro-forestry projects to reduce soil erosion, and building parks and water elements that cool cities in the summer and hold run-off from heavy rainfall. Such efforts can also boost biodiversity and human well-being.
Cooperation between actors is key to success, the report argues. In the Netherlands, for example, the national government, water boards, provinces and municipalities work closely together to climate proof water management in the Delta Programme. Insurers can also help to strengthen resilience, as shown by examples from Spain, France and the United Kingdom, by creating incentives for risk prevention and by helping to improve understanding of climate risks among citizens. Also city networks, working at global and EU level, are important as they foster capacity building for both disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation actions.
More action needed
- To further strengthen resilience, national climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction strategies could be better integrated.
- More countries could perform and update comprehensive national climate change vulnerability and risk assessments.
- Climate services that provide climate data and projections (like Copernicus), can be better aligned with knowledge for disaster risk prevention. Improved knowledge of the economic costs of natural hazards is also important. National web-based knowledge platforms and multi-stakeholder coordination platforms can also help improve communication and in sharing information.
- Monitoring, reporting and evaluation of policies and actions are increasing, but more can be done and learning can be enhanced across climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction policy areas.
- EU funding for actions is available but access to and use of such funding, such as for nature-based solutions, can be enhanced.
The EU's climate change adaptation strategy aims to mainstream climate change into other EU policies including disaster risk prevention. The EU civil protection mechanism puts emphasis on the prevention of natural and technological hazards and also aims to mainstream disaster risk management into other EU policies.
The data on economic, human health and ecosystem impacts of past disasters is fragmented and incomplete. Countries are increasingly setting up national databases on impacts of disasters, which will in future lead to more comparable and consistent data, and contribute to improving policies and actions.