• 13 July 2023

How are climate extremes in Europe changing and what are the implications for climate adaptation?

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The launch of the WMO report ‘State of the Climate in Europe 2022’ – revealing that Europe is warming at twice the rate of the rest of the world – on the eve of ECCA2023, put climate extremes front and centre of the conference topics. Flooding, heatwaves, drought and storms featured in sessions across the conference, from a wide range of projects and countries, drawing on examples of devastating impacts across Europe. 

In a side event in the library of the Royal Irish Academy, Prof Len Shaffrey, of the University of Reading and the National Centre for Atmospheric Science (NCAS), chaired a European-wide discussion on changing climate extremes in Europe and the implications for climate adaptation. 

Kristin Aunan, of Norway’s leading institute for climate research, CICERO, leads EXHAUSTION – a Horizon2020 project with 14 partners from 10 countries exploring climate extremes from a health point of view. Discussing the ‘greening’ and ‘greying’ of European cities, Kristin Aunan presented a correlation between cities that are ‘greying’ – losing green spaces – and cities that are warming at a faster rate than those that are ‘greening’, based on satellite data.  

Data was also presented showing that increasing numbers of and extent of wildfires is making it harder for cities to reach their air quality targets, especially cities in Eastern Europe. Data also shows a link between poorer air quality and increasing mortality rates, especially as a result of lung disease. 

Keith Lambkin, Head of the Climate Services Division of Ireland’s National Meteorology Service Met Éireann, highlighted the challenge for decision-makers in knowing which climate data and which platforms on which to base policy strategies and climate actions. He warned of the dangers of ‘using different climate data across different sectors, especially when making trans-sector decisions.’ 

He also highlighted Met Éireann’s TRANSLATE Project – an Irish collaboration to produce standardised future climate projections for Ireland and develop climate services that meet the needs of decision makers. It will establish a new suite of tools for Irish stakeholders and policy-makers to enable climate-smart decisions. Lambkin said these were particularly important for planning and strategies to support vulnerable facilities in communities, such as schools and hospitals, as well as for infrastructure impacted by the knock-on effects of extreme weather such as Ireland’s road network and drainage systems, and in turn the emergency services that are called out to respond. He said: “Climate models are giving us the benefit of hindsight to make decisions now that allow us to adapt to climate extremes of the future.” 

Susanne Hanger-Kopp, of the International Institute of Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA), discussed the value of a local and systems-based approach – engaging with stakeholders and local communities – for sustainable water management, highlighting what she considers to be a gap between the Green Deal and the ambition of the Common Agricultural Policy. 

The session moved into a panel discussion, led by Sissi Knispel de Acosta, Executive Secretary of the European Climate Research Alliance (ECRA), to identify knowledge gaps that are hindering adaptation. 

Conor Murphy, of Maynooth University, Ireland, injected a note of optimism, saying: “We are in a golden age for climate science and understanding extremes,” but he added: “I think the big gap is in communicating. As scientists there is important work we can do to make it clear where climate extreme vulnerabilities exist and how they are likely to change.” 

Lambkin added that to drive uptake of adaptation measures ‘We need to show evidence of success and return on investment’. 

Other similar sessions on climate extremes were for instance “Extreme Events: Tools for Climate Resilience” where Hasse Goosen, of Climate Adaptation Services, mentioned that transformational adaptation requires transformative tools. The session “Heat stress, urban cooling: solutions and inequities” shared how heat stress events are increasing in urban areas. European case studies, mitigation strategies, methodologies and indicators related to the urban heat island effect and heat stress risks were mentioned. Stephanie Erwin, of Amsterdam University of Applied Science, presented strategies on how to tackle urban heat stress vulnerabilities through co-creation in combination with meteorological, social and environmental indicators to identify and prioritize projects at a local level.  

The session on “Scaling Up Social Protection for Climate Change Adaptation: What Can Europe Learn from Past Crises?” reflected on how the social protection system helps to prevent poverty, safeguard vulnerable populations and be used to adapt to climate change and extreme events. 

 

Other sessions about Preparing for More Frequent and Severe Climate Extremes can be found on the programmes from Tuesday 20th and Wednesday 21st June.  

Watch the ECCA2023 early key messages in the closing ceremony: ECCA2023- Wednesday, 21st June, 2023 

 

Author: Sally Stevens and Monserrat Budding-Polo Ballinas.

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