Southern Europe at risk

GENEVA – Southern Europe will suffer more than the north from climate change, with farmers there struggling to keep crops alive because of lack of rain, UN experts said. Although countries in the north will have milder winters and warmer summers, they will also face much more frequent flooding and erosion of their coasts, according to a detailed scientific report on the continent’s climatic future. The United Nations environmental agency UNEP said the report «finds that Europe’s sensitivity to future climate change has a distinct north-south gradient… that Southern Europe will be more severely affected than Northern Europe.» The report, part of a gloomy global UN outlook issued in Brussels last Friday, said, «Climate change is likely to magnify regional differences of Europe’s natural resources and assets.» Crop productivity, if current trends to global warming continue unabated, «is likely to increase in Northern Europe and decrease along the Mediterranean and in Southeastern Europe,» the document declared. Shortages of water, largely due to much drier summers and the disappearance of glaciers feeding south-running rivers, will bedevil Southern Europe, with its already semi-arid climate, threatening farms and forests. «Agriculture will have to cope with increasing water demand for irrigation in Southern Europe,» it said. The global report, from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), said the speed of global warming – widely seen as largely a product of human activity – threatened disaster to wide areas of the world, especially poorer states. The European section indicated that the continent was likely to avoid the worst devastation predicted for parts of Africa and Asia if governments fail to take strong action to slow warming. But in an echo of the overall report’s warning that small island countries would disappear in the Pacific region as sea levels rise from ice melts in the Arctic and Antarctic, the latest document suggested menace loomed along European shores. Vast reaches of low-lying and heavily populated coast are vulnerable to rising seas, it said, meaning that by 2080 millions of people around the Mediterranean, Western and Northern Europe could face coastal flooding. Even the Netherlands’ elaborate system of coastal protection was unlikely to be able to cope if current scenarios played out, Swiss scientists Andreas Fischlin, a lead author of the IPCC report, told a news conference. Warming would also threaten extinction of many European plants, reptiles, and other animals, and bring regular summer heat waves – like the one which killed thousands of people in parts of Western Europe in 2003 – in more northerly areas. Because of extreme heat, tourism would drop in the Mediterranean in the summer and increase in spring and autumn, while winter skiing holidays in Alpine regions were likely to become a thing of the past. Europe’s energy demands would see radical changes. Winter heating is likely to be required less but summer cooling will be needed more, switching peak energy demand in some areas from winter to summer, the report said.

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