Even A Modest Warming Will Raise Europe’s Flood Risk

Even A Modest Warming Will Raise Europe’s Flood Risk

Floods in York, UK, in 2015. Image: By Symac/Sylvain Machefert, via Wikimedia Commons

Central and western Europe can expect a substantially higher flood risk in the future, even with ambitious cuts in temperature.

If you live in Europe, get ready not only for a warmer future, but for a decidedly wetter one as well – with the likelihood in many regions of more disruption and danger, as the flood risk rises sharply.

Much of the continent is expected to see a steep rise in flood risk in coming years, even under an optimistic climate change scenario of 1.5°C of warming compared with pre-industrial levels.

A study by the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC)  assesses the flood impacts for three scenarios – of 1.5°C, 2°C and 3°C warming.

It finds, elaborating the tenor of numerous previous studies, that many risks are growing. Most of central and western Europe will experience a substantial increase in flood risk at all warming levels: the higher the warming, the higher the risk.

The global treaty on tackling climate change, the 2015 Paris Agreement, set 2°C as the maximum tolerable increase in global average temperatures above their pre-industrial level, while urging countries to aim for the much more demanding 1.5°C. How realistic even the 2°C target may prove is hotly debated.

A considerable increase in risk is predicted, even under the most optimistic scenario

Damage from floods across Europe is projected to more than double, from a 113% average increase if warming is kept to 1.5°C, to 145% under the 3°C scenario. In terms of population affected, the projected increase ranges from 86% to 123%.

While the pattern for central and western Europe is one of a consistent increase in flood risk, the study also finds that the risk may actually decrease with warmer temperatures in some parts of eastern Europe, although those results also show a high degree of uncertainty.

Similarly, in Spain, Portugal and Greece, the initial increase in impacts at 1.5°C turns into more uncertain projections for higher warming levels, because of a substantial reduction in annual rainfall.

The JRC analysis, published in the open access journal Climate,  improves scientists’ understanding of future trends in river flood risk in Europe, as well as stressing the need to prepare effective adaptation plans for a probable increase in the severity and frequency of European floods.

Finding the cause

The study authors’ aim was to identify consistent trends, independent of the models used, in flood risk in Europe attributable to climate change, and to identify the reasons for both the differences and the similarities between projections of river flood risk.

The three studies cover a wide range of methods and climate-relevant datasets (including for example temperature and precipitation), hydrological and flood modelling, and impact assessment.

The comparison sheds light on the influence of the data applied and methods used to assess impact projections. Results from the three assessments confirm that climate projections are the main driver influencing future flood risk trends.

The scientists say other factors, such as correcting any bias in climate projections, the method for assessing the year of exceeding global warming levels, and the spatial resolution of the input data did influence the results, but only to a small degree, and without affecting the direction of the projected changes in the three scenarios.

Reliability essential

They also point out the importance of using accurate modelling of the extent of floods to achieve reliable impact estimates. At the moment, this is limited by the availability of high-resolution digital elevation models (DEMs – digital representations of ground surfaces) over large areas, where small-scale features can considerably influence the distribution of floodwaters.

The study confirms that global warming has a significant impact on river flood risk in Europe, though it can vary in magnitude from region to region.

Even if global warming is limited to the levels spelt out in the Paris Agreement, changes in regional temperatures (and therefore climate change impacts) can vary significantly from the global average.

The encouraging news is that the results of this study show that substantial worsening of flood risk can be avoided, by limiting global warming to lower temperature thresholds. But a considerable increase in risk is predicted, even under the most optimistic scenario. – Climate News Network

About the Author

Alex Kirby is a British journalistAlex Kirby is a British journalist specializing in environmental issues. He worked in various capacities at the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) for nearly 20 years and left the BBC in 1998 to work as a freelance journalist. He also provides media skills training to companies, universities and NGOs. He is also currently the environmental correspondent for BBC News Online, and hosted BBC Radio 4's environment series, Costing the Earth. He also writes for The Guardian and Climate News Network. He also writes a regular column for BBC Wildlife magazine.

Related Books:

The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History
Author: Elizabeth Kolbert
Binding: Paperback
Features:
  • The Sixth Extinction An Unnatural History

Publisher: Picador
List Price: $18.00
Offers - Buy New From: $6.04 Used From: $3.91 Collectible From: $13.99
Buy Now

The Politically Incorrect Guide to Climate Change (The Politically Incorrect Guides)
Author: Marc Morano
Binding: Paperback
Publisher: Regnery Publishing
List Price: $21.99
Offers - Buy New From: $14.95 Used From: $9.95
Buy Now

The Thinking Person's Guide to Climate Change
Author: Robert Henson
Binding: Paperback
Features:
  • American Meteorological Society

Publisher: American Meteorological Society
List Price: $30.00
Offers - Buy New From: $19.76 Used From: $19.16
Buy Now

enarfrhiitptrues

LATEST ARTICLES

How Geo-Engineered Crops May Help And Harm
by Tim Radford,Climate News Network
To cool the world and also boost plant growth, geo-engineered crops might do the trick. But if they work by dimming the…
Scientists Have Known Burning Coal Warms The Climate For A Long Time.
by Joe Romm, Think Progress
On August 14, 1912, a New Zealand newspaper’s “science notes and news” section ran a blurb headlined, “Coal consumption…
The Best Medicine for My Climate Grief
by Peter Kalmus
A climate scientist talks to a psychologist about coping with the crushing stress related to climate change. Here’s…
Climate Models Predict The World Will Be Anomalously Warm Until 2022
by Florian Sévellec
We developed a new prediction system we call PROCAST (PROabilistic foreCAST), and used it to predict the natural…
Holy Dog, It's "Hot As Spain!"
by Robert Jennings, InnerSelf.com
Now it's so hot in Europe that dogs are having to wear shoes. While a nice sunny day may seem like the perfect time for…
Why Forest Carbon Emissions Are Set To Grow
by Tim Radford, Climate News Network
The tropical forests could be at growing risk from climate change. And as they die, rising forest carbon emissions…
Is Climate Change Really To Blame For Slower Atlantic Circulation
by Hannah Hickey
Global warming isn’t the cause of slowdown in a huge circulation pattern in the Atlantic Ocean, which is, in fact, part…
Pantheism And How It Could Offer A New Approach To Preserving The Planet
by Tim Lomas
The scientists responsible for the “doomsday clock” moved it 30 seconds closer to midnight – the symbolic point of…