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Climate change evident across Europe, confirming urgent need for adaptation

Posted on 25 November 2012 by John Hartz

This is a reprint of a news release posted by the European Environment Agency on Nov 21, 2012.

Climate change is affecting all regions in Europe, causing a wide range of impacts on society and the environment. Further impacts are expected in the future, potentially causing high damage costs, according to the latest assessment published by the European Environment Agency today (Nov 21, 2012).

Photo of Alpine Glacier

 Image © istockphoto

The report, Climate change, impacts and vulnerability in Europe 2012 finds that higher average temperatures have been observed across Europe as well as decreasing precipitation in southern regions and increasing precipitation in northern Europe. The Greenland ice sheet, Arctic sea ice and many glaciers across Europe are melting, snow cover has decreased and most permafrost soils have warmed.

Extreme weather events such as heat waves, floods and droughts have caused rising damage costs across Europe in recent years. While more evidence is needed to discern the part played by climate change in this trend, growing human activity in hazard-prone areas has been a key factor. Future climate change is expected to add to this vulnerability, as extreme weather events are expected to become more intense and frequent. If European societies do not adapt, damage costs are expected to continue to rise, according to the report.

Some regions will be less able to adapt to climate change than others, in part due to economic disparities across Europe, the report says. The effects of climate change could deepen these inequalities.

Jacqueline McGlade, EEA Executive Director said: “Climate change is a reality around the world, and the extent and speed of change is becoming ever more evident. This means that every part of the economy, including households, needs to adapt as well as reduce emissions.”

Observed climate change and future projections – some key findings

The last decade (2002–2011) was the warmest on record in Europe, with European land temperature 1.3° C warmer than the pre-industrial average. Various model projections show that Europe could be 2.5–4° C warmer in the later part of the 21st Century, compared to the 1961–1990 average.

Heat waves have increased in frequency and length, causing tens of thousands of deaths over the last decade. The projected increase in heat waves could increase the number of related deaths over the next decades, unless societies adapt, the report says. However, cold-related deaths are projected to decrease in many countries.

While precipitation is decreasing in southern regions, it is increasing in northern Europe, the report says. These trends are projected to continue. Climate change is projected to increase river flooding, particularly in northern Europe, as higher temperatures intensify the water cycle. However, it is difficult to discern the influence of climate change in flooding data records for the past.

River flow droughts appear to have become more severe and frequent in southern Europe. Minimum river flows are projected to decrease significantly in summer in southern Europe but also in many other parts of Europe to varying degrees.

The Arctic is warming faster than other regions. Record low sea ice was observed in the Arctic in 2007, 2011 and 2012, falling to roughly half the minimum extent seen in the 1980s. Melting of the Greenland ice sheet has doubled since the 1990s, losing an average of 250 billion tonnes of mass every year between 2005 and 2009. Glaciers in the Alps have lost approximately two thirds of their volume since 1850 and these trends are projected to continue.

Sea levels are rising, raising the risk of coastal flooding during storm events. Global average sea level has risen by 1.7mm a year in the 20th century, and by 3mm a year in recent decades. Future projections vary widely, but it is likely that 21st century sea-level rise will be greater than during the 20th century. However sea level rise at European coasts varies, for example due to local land movement.

Besides heat-related health impacts, other human health effects are also important, the report says. Climate change plays a part in the transmission of certain diseases. For example, it allows the tick species Ixodes ricinus to thrive further north, while further warming may make parts of Europe more suitable for disease-carrying mosquitos and sandflies. The pollen season is longer and arrives 10 days earlier than 50 years ago, also affecting human health.

Many studies have measured widespread changes in plant and animal characteristics. For example, plants are flowering earlier in the year, while in freshwater phytoplankton and zooplankton blooms are also appearing earlier. Other animals and plants are moving northward or uphill as their habitats warm. Since the migration rate of many species is insufficient to keep pace with the speed of climate change, they could be pushed towards extinction in the future.

While there may be less water available for agriculture in southern Europe, growing conditions may improve in other areas. The growing season for several crops in Europe has lengthened and this is projected to continue, alongside the expansion of warm-season crops into more northerly latitudes. However the yield is projected to fall for some crops due to heat waves and droughts in central and southern Europe.

As temperatures rise, demand for heating has also fallen, saving energy. However, this must be balanced against higher energy demands for cooling during hotter summers.


The report is intended to show the full extent of climate change impacts across Europe, also informing the European Commission’s European Adaptation Strategy to be published in March 2013. Moreover, the EEA will support the strategy with an assessment of a selection of adaptation actions across Europe, to be published in early 2013.

The website Climate-ADAPT includes a large amount of information intended to assist in developing and implementing climate change adaptation.

The report involved approximately 50 authors. Some parts were contributed by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.

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Comments 1 to 5:

  1. While this is a good report and I don't doubt it's findings the forward projections of adapting seem short sighted. Do we stop all building below 25 meters above sea level so we can focus our future resources on what will still be left. In order to be able to adapt I would have thought a move to directly ASAP ending fossil fuel use is needed. A bit more than just cutting back! Followed by moving towards those energy methods that put carbon back in the ground at least to some extent. Since the 2 degree C so called safety margin is being found to have less and less meaning as we are now headed towards well over 3 C. Also 1.5 degrees C increase over the pre industrial level (where we would get to if we stopped fossil fuel use now) looks more like the disaster point. The equilibrium sea level rise is more than the global economy can afford to adapt to. So logically this implies that prevention is now even more important than adaption. The focus towards adaption while pragmatic is still well short of pragmatic enough. The lameness about not (or giving up on) reducing CO2's rise to zero rise is more than a little "interesting".
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  2. Paul W @ 1If we stopped burning FF today, civilisation (in developed countries at least) would fall apart. If we continue burning FF unabated, projections tell us that global civilisation will fall apart.
    1. Is there a FF trajectory that will save civilisation in advanced nations, while allowing development of Third World nations?
    2. Is there any chance of developed nations adopting such a FF trajectory>
    The answer to 1. is "maybe". The answer to 2. is "in your dreams". If ever there was a time for Divine Intervention, that time is now.
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  3. Doug H @2 I think that you have correctly labeled the current politics in developed nations. We need to move towards crisis management of the situation at each available pretext as at these times what is considered possible is more up for grabs. As I see it the technical situation is a good deal better than the political one.
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  4. I note the article says, "Climate change is projected to increase river flooding [in N Europe]". In fact what's happening in the UK as I write this is pretty conclusive proof that this particular effect is already being observed, so much so that an insurance industry spokesperson on the BBC flagship morning news programme, 'Today', this morning stated that, "flooding is the biggest climate change threat facing UK". "The new normal." 2012 has been wetter than anyone here can remember, some villages seeing record flooding on three occasions over the last six months. The insurance implications are a time bomb for the government. The link to global warming, when finally accepted, is our best hope for finally defeating denial and making joe public and politicians alike face up to the need for real action to cut emissions.
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  5. Yes John, things are looking bleak but it seems that our elected remain in cloud cuckoo land juudging by this report from the BBC Energy Bill: Households to fund £7.6bn green investment which policy looks like a cynical attempt to make renewable energy even more unpopular with those who from either NIMBY or ideological precepts are already shouting against wind farms. Roger Harrabin in a side column wrote this:
    But beyond 2020 Mr Osborne has refused to commit. He doesn't think the UK should be taking a global lead on cutting emissions while competitor economies are not following. And he thinks gas may be a cheap power source in future. So he has rejected the plan for a 2030 target for cleaning up the electricity sector. This 2030 goal is not legally binding, but it is said to be needed if the UK has a reasonable chance of meeting long-term emission targets under the Climate Change Act.
    If Mr Osborne is relying on fracking to provide much onshore gas production then he is ignoring many of the dangers that are becoming clear from North American operations. This from contamination of water supplies, potable water will become more expensive than oil by orders of magnitude in the future if these methods continue, increased seismic instability, seepage of 'waste' methane from the ground across workings and the excavation of vast tracts of land to source the special sand used in the process. If the true costs of all those problems are factored in then I doubt very much if gas is a cheap option. There may also be an element pushing for import of Canadian tar-sands oil and even the production of gas from coal. I remember the gas-works with its gas holders storing 'town gas' and also the choking atmosphere of fogs laced with the gaseous effluents from these plants. I saw parts of a programme on TV the other evening which looked at some of the pristine Indian Ocean coastline of Western Australia where plans are afoot to create a vast mineral extraction enterprise and a port facility even larger than the one already on that coast. Madness. I understand that the GWPF has been active in 'advising' the chancellor, and others in our government and is it a coincidence that Peter Lilley was in the audience at Lindzen's Westminster (side room) presentation earlier this year.
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