– The EU’s failure to adopt climate adaptation measures could prove catastrophic –

On 11 March, the European Environment Agency published its first Climate Risk Assessment (EUCRA) report – a document that has been prepared to help support the identification of policy priorities related to climate change adaptation and policy development in climate-sensitive sectors during the 2024-2029 EU policy cycle.

The report is alarming. The EU is not ready to deal with current and future climate risks, and the consequences of inaction could be catastrophic.

Unprecedented Challenges: Climate Risks and Cascading Effects

To begin, according to the report, 2023 was the warmest year on record over more than 100,000 years globally. In addition, Europe is the fastest-warming continent. Since the 1980s, Europe has been warming at twice the global rate. 

The report identifies 36 climate risks with potentially severe consequences, and groups them into 5 broad clusters: ecosystems, food, health, infrastructure, and economy and finance. Of these 36 risks, 21 of them require EU action now, and 8 of these necessitate urgent action.

The report dives into the troubling concept of cascading risks. Essentially, climate risks can cascade into broader, non-climate crises. For instance, mega droughts can lead to food insecurity, which can disrupt financial markets and entire economies. Heightened temperatures also mean that southern Europe is now warm enough for the spread of tropical diseases such as dengue. 

Beyond Ideology: EUCRA Report Highlights Economic Imperatives for Climate Action

The EUCRA makes several policy recommendations for each of the 5 clusters. These include recommendations for the agricultural sector. According to the report, the status quo cannot be maintained. Farming methods must become more sustainable, and Europeans should reduce their reliance on animal-based diets, which are more resource intensive than plant based alternatives. 

Such policy options in recent years have sparked a significant amount of backlash from right-of-centre movements. Climate action and efforts to increase the sustainability and circularity of Europe’s economy have been dismissed as an ideological ploy aimed at disrupting the traditional way of life. Yet the findings of the EEA’s report, which are after all based on scientific evidence, suggest the need for greater commitment to climate change adaptation on economic grounds – not ethical considerations. The report estimates that, by the end of the century, a failure to address the ongoing threat of climate change can result in coastal floods that would require €1 trillion a year to repair. Can these findings be ignored? 

What role for science in an increasingly climate-sceptic political landscape?

The worrisome conclusions of the EUCRA report have been published amid increasing concerns that the next EU policy cycle will be less enthused about climate action. Ursula von der Leyen, has been the face of the Green Deal for the past 5 years, yet as the EU elections approach, the EPP is increasingly veering away from its commitment to a green agenda – a contradiction that has been pointed out by Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton. The question remains: will scientific input play a role in EU policy in the next 5 years?