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Last Updated: Wednesday, 18 August, 2004, 07:34 GMT 08:34 UK
Europe 'must adapt on climate'
By Alex Kirby
BBC News Online environment correspondent

French glacier   PA
Alpine glaciers felt the heat in 2003
Europeans must learn how to live with a changing climate as well as seeking to limit its effects by cutting emissions, the European Environment Agency says.

An EEA report, Impacts of Europe's changing climate, says fewer than 50 years remain to act against the threat.

It says melting meant Europe's glaciers lost a tenth of their mass last year, and harvests fell by almost a third.

The EEA says the climate change under way now probably exceeds all natural climate variation for a thousand years.

Warmer in Europe

The report brings together existing knowledge about how the climate is changing, and highlights some pointers of particular concern to Europe.

If we go on as we are, we have less than 50 years before we encounter conditions which will be uncharted and potentially hazardous
Professor Jacqueline McGlade, EEA
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change suggests the global average temperature could on present trends be from 1.4 to 5.8C warmer in 2100 than in 1990.

The EEA says the comparable temperature increase for Europe is between 2 and 6.3C.

It says the 2003 heatwave caused melting which reduced the mass of the Alpine glaciers by 10%, and harvests in many southern countries were down by as much as 30%.

Woman stands in cloudburst   PA
Torrential rain will be more common in parts of Europe
The European Union says the world should act to try to prevent temperatures rising more than 2C above their 1990 level, an increase which it regards as the highest sustainable level.

The report says: "On present trends this target is likely to be exceeded around 2050."

The EEA's executive director, Professor Jacqueline McGlade, said: "This report pulls together a wealth of evidence that climate change is already happening and having widespread impacts, many of them with substantial economic costs, on people and ecosystems across Europe.

"Europe has to continue to lead worldwide efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but this report also underlines that strategies are needed, at European, regional, national and local level, to adapt to climate change."

The clock is ticking

Professor McGlade told BBC News Online: "This is the first time we've called specifically for Europe to adapt, but we're not minimising the Kyoto Protocol process. We remain committed to the need to cut emissions.

"What the report shows is that, if we go on as we are, we have less than 50 years before we encounter conditions which will be uncharted and potentially hazardous."

The report says:

  • by 2050, about 75% of the glaciers in the Swiss Alps will probably have disappeared
  • at sea, there has been a northward shift of zooplankton species over the last 30 years by up to 1,000km (625 miles)
  • projections suggest annual river discharge will decline strongly in southern and south-eastern Europe, but increase almost everywhere in the north and north-east of the continent
  • cases of encephalitis carried by ticks, and associated with a warming climate, increased from 1980 to 1995 in the Baltic region and central Europe, and remain high.
The report says human activities have raised the atmospheric concentration of one of the main greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide, to 34% above its pre-industrial level.

Up not down

To achieve the EU's goal of limiting the temperature rise to 2C by 2100, it says, global greenhouse emissions "need to be reduced substantially".

Boy dives into lake in heatwave   AP
We shall seek relief from the heat more often
But it says: "Due to ongoing emissions of greenhouse gases, the observed rise in global temperature is expected to continue and increase during the 21st Century."

The EEA underlines the very long time it would take to slow the rate of climate change, because of the longevity of many gases.

It says: "There is new and stronger evidence that most of the warming observed over the last 50 years is attributable to human activities.

"Even if society substantially reduces its emissions of greenhouse gases over the coming decades, the climate system would continue to change over the coming centuries."

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