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Europe is not prepared for rapidly growing climate risks

11 March 2024
Europe is the fastest warming continent in the world, and climate risks are are a serious threat to, among other things, energy and food security, ecosystems and public health. According to the European Environment Agency’s (EEA) assessment, many of these risks have already reached critical levels and could become catastrophic without urgent and decisive action. Environmental researchers from VU Amsterdam contributed to the report.

According to the assessment, Europe’s policies and adaptation actions are not keeping pace with the rapidly growing risks. In many cases, incremental adaptation will not be sufficient and, as many measures to improve climate resilience require a long time, urgent action may be needed even on risks that are not yet critical. 

Hotspots for climate risks
Some regions in Europe are hotspots for multiple climate risks. Southern Europe is particularly at risk from wildfires and impacts of heat and water scarcity on agricultural production, outdoor work, and human health. Flooding, erosion and saltwater intrusion threaten Europe’s low-lying coastal regions, including many densely populated cities. 
The assessment identifies 36 major climate risks for Europe within five broad clusters: ecosystems, food, health, infrastructure, and economy and finance. More than half of the major climate risks identified in the report demand more action now and eight of them are particularly urgent, mainly to conserve ecosystems, protect people against heat, protect people and infrastructure from floods and wildfires, and to secure the viability of European solidarity mechanisms, such as the EU Solidarity Fund. 

Making the right decisions on time
Several scientists from the Institute for Environmental Studies (IVM) of the VU contributed to the report. For example, Elco Koks, Jan Brusselaers, Jeroen Aerts, Kees van Ginkel, Philip Ward, Sanne Muis en Wouter Botzen focused on the chapters on large-scale flooding, critical infrastructure and financial crisis and instability.

“The first European Climate Risk Assessment highlights the urgency to act now", says Koks. "Much of Europe’s critical infrastructure is already ageing and not designed for severe climate extremes already happening right now. Moreover, new infrastructure is built for decades to come and should be prepared to withstand the uncertain future ahead of us. The report emphasizes that we must ensure that we make the right decisions in time, and to not get locked in maladaptive pathways that may cause even greater impacts.”
Closer cooperation is crucial 
The EU and its Member States have made considerable progress in understanding the climate risks they face and in preparing for them. National climate risk assessments are increasingly used to inform adaptation policy development. However, societal preparedness is insufficient as policy implementation is lagging behind the rapid increase in risk levels. 

Most major climate risks identified in the report are considered ‘co-owned’ by the EU, its Member States or other government levels. To address and reduce climate risks in Europe, the EEA assessment stresses that the EU and its Member States need to work together and also involve regional and local levels, when urgent and coordinated action is required.  

Read more on the EEA website

Contact the VU Press Office