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Europe Heats Up

Jennifer Macey (ncy) August 19, 2004

According to a new report by Europe's leading Environment Agency, the continent only has 50 years to adapt to changing weather conditions with three-quarters of Europe's glaciers expected to melt.

The future is likely to bring more sunbaths on mountain topsImage: AP

Europe's summer has again been hit by freak weather conditions, with heavy thunderstorms affecting several European countries. In Cornwall, on Britain's western coast, floods caused buildings to collapse, while in southern France four people drowned after a sudden change in the weather led to powerful winds and massive waves. And these types of weather events are expected to increase in frequency and intensity as the climate continues to change, according to a report published Wednesday by the European Environment Agency (EEA).

"It's saying that we still need to have action according to (the Kyoto Protocol), we still need to have action at the national and European level," Professor Jacqueline McGlade, EEA executive director told DW-RADIO. "We're saying we now know enough to be able to act, and act we must," she warned.

The report says that as a result of climate change Europe is warming faster than the global average. Scientists say global warming, which is due to the increased emissions of greenhouses gases, like carbon dioxide, into the atmosphere, leads to an increase in extreme weather events like the devastating heat wave across Europe last summer and the mass flooding the summer before that.

Europe must adapt

While the agency strongly supports international moves to mitigate global warming like the Kyoto Protocol, it is now for the first time calling on countries to adapt to extreme weather events like flooding at the same time as reducing their greenhouse gas emissions.

"It's not simply now a case of building flood defenses to meet an event that might have a one in 100 year chance of happening, Professor McGlade explained.

"These are now not only going to occur more frequently, but also perhaps come in a more intense way. That means we need a very coherent strategy, both across Europe and at regional and local levels, so that people can anticipate what to do under those conditions."

An integrated approach

The report also predicts that by 2050 three-quarters of the Europe's main glaciers in the Swiss Alps will melt. The European Environment Agency says that climate change will not have an isolated impact on one area of the continent and that countries will have to take a more integrated approach on how to both reduce greenhouse gas emissions as well as adapt to the impact of a warmer climate.

"When we talk about the transport infrastructure, we need to think about fuels -- in particular, what kind of transport, what kind of fuels -- and set ourselves targets for renewable energy, and within that creating a target for biomass or conversion to bio-fuels, " McGlade said. "We can't look in isolation at transport, (but also) where we place the transport infrastructure."

The floods in summer 2002 killed around 80 people and led to widespread damage. The heat wave the following summer led to over 20,000 deaths and caused severe crop failure. Combined, this cost European countries some €20 billion ($24.7 billion). The money that could be better spent if Europe acted sooner to prevent and adapt to climate change, said the European Environment Agency.