NEWS

Future spells heat, drought and desertification

By the end of the 21st century, Greece’s climate will be more similar to Africa’s today due to the rapid climatic changes that are threatening the Earth’s equilibrium. In this changed environment, summers will be two to three months longer than they are now, but the Aegean Islands will no longer be attractive as holiday destinations. Rainfall reservoirs will not be able to contain the rare but catastrophic downpours. There will be drastic reductions in farming. Predictions for central and eastern Europe are just as bleak, with frequent extreme climatic conditions, according to scientists from eight European countries participating in the MICE (Modeling the Impact of Climate Extremes) EU program on climatic change in Europe from 2070-2099. Five degrees hotter According to the survey, the average temperature in Earth will rise by up to 5 degrees Celsius, average rainfall will decrease and phenomena such as the Katrina and Rita hurricanes will be more frequent. The MICE scientists expect many catastrophic floods in central Europe between 2070 and 2099, similar to or worse than those that killed over 100 people in Germany, Austria and Russia in 2002 and forced more than 200,000 Czechs to abandon their homes. And, although average annual rainfall may decline, cities will be assailed by extreme conditions such as sudden torrential downpours, erosion and unstable soil. In southern Europe, in Greece, Spain, southern France, and Italy, the landscape will become more barren, with droughts of up to a year’s duration. Local governments will be faced with problems such as dried-up water reserves, lower farm production and reduced tourism. Europe’s average temperature will increase by 0.3 to 0.7C per decade, and southern summers will last up to two months longer. Winters will be considerably shorter and nights with below-zero temperatures will be reduced by up to one third, according to the researchers, who referred to the summer of 2002 when over 14,000 people in France lost their lives. «The reduction in the annual rainfall and rising temperatures in the south will have intolerable consequences for the farming industry. Flowering and fruit-bearing seasons will be shorter, resulting in reduced crop quantities,» said Christos Yiannakopoulos, researcher at the National Observatory of Athens and head of the MICE program in Greece, adding that cereal production in the hot summer of 2003 was down by 23 megatons. Meanwhile rising temperatures will bring about a 35 percent reduction in electrical energy consumption during winter months, but a 55 percent increase during the summer, although a survey in Britain has shown that an average temperature increase of 2C would result in annual fuel savings of over 688 million pounds (in 1995 prices). Also interesting are the possible effects of longer summers on Europe’s tourism industry. Changing weather patterns are bad news for lovers of winter sports, since snow depths will be reduced by 30 percent in 2020; every average temperature increase of one degree Celsius means 14 fewer skiing days per winter. For the Mediterranean, rising heat, drought and desertification will force holidaymakers to look elsewhere.