Climate Change Research Spotlight

The Benefits and Vulnerabilities of a Warming Europe

Scientists evaluate the economic and environmental impacts of a warmer climate on European countries, finding a range of effects on tourism, electricity demand, and ecosystem production.

Source: Earth's Future


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Europe is a continent with a wide range of ecosystems, climates, attractions, and different countries that draws tourists in both winter and summer seasons. Skiers enjoy winter sports in the Alps, and summer vacationers make their way to the Mediterranean coast. These tourist attractions are just some of the economic sectors that could be threatened in a warming and changing climate, prompting scientists around Europe to band together to evaluate the continent’s environmental vulnerabilities.

Scientists from seven research institutions collaborated to investigate how Europe would change with a rise in global surface temperatures of between 1.5°C and 2°C. Their results show a range of impacts that will influence human health, energy demands, and travel in the coming decades. In a new paper, Jacob et al. used a greenhouse gas concentration trajectory from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to complete impact studies on the effects of climate change. Impact studies were done in the areas of electricity demand, summer and winter tourism, and ecosystem production to help guide policy makers to set goals for mitigating climate change.

For the comfort of European residents and tourists, a warmer climate brings both advantages and disadvantages. Overall, the results show that the United Kingdom, Ireland, western Europe, and the Mediterranean region will experience an increased number of heat waves. Heat waves are already nearly twice as likely over southern Europe and the Mediterranean in a world just 1.5°C warmer.

The researchers project that the warmer summers could deter tourists in the southernmost regions of Spain, Greece, and Italy. The island of Cyprus could have an 8% drop in overnight stays due to uncomfortably warm weather. However, the evaluation also revealed that western Europe could see an uptick in summer tourism as the climate there becomes more favorable.

In Scandinavia and some other Mediterranean countries, heating demands would decrease as winter months get milder. However, winter tourism in Alpine countries is driven by annual snowfall, and the researchers found that winter tourism in Austria and Italy would decrease by almost 2% if the global climate warms 1.5°C. This economic impact is even worse with a 2°C increase.

The amount of rain and snowfall has a direct link to nearly all economic sectors: Changes in the water cycle affect resources for human consumption, hydropower, agriculture, and tourism. The researchers evaluated cycles in different environments across the continent and found that a warmer climate would result in precipitation increases in some regions but drastic decreases in others. In a climate 2°C warmer, they predict that northern Europe will see annual mean precipitation increase by as much as 15%. However, precipitation would decrease in the Mediterranean, particularly in southern Portugal, Spain, and France.

These results paint a dynamic picture of a possible future for the European continent in a changing climate. There are many environmental variables and economic sectors, such as agriculture and power generation, that were not a part of the study that the scientists hope to evaluate in the future. The results of this collaborative effort provide important data for policy discussions around climate change. (Earth’s Future, https://doi.org/10.1002/2017EF000710, 2018)

—Alexandra Branscombe, Freelance Writer

Citation: Branscombe, A. (2018), The benefits and vulnerabilities of a warming Europe, Eos, 99, https://doi.org/10.1029/2018EO096169. Published on 10 April 2018.
Text © 2018. The authors. CC BY-NC-ND 3.0
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