What are the consequences of climate change?
The first consequences of climate change can already be seen in Europe and worldwide, and these impacts are predicted to intensify in the coming decades. Temperatures are rising, rainfall patterns are shifting, glaciers are melting, sea levels are getting higher and extreme weather resulting in hazards such as floods and droughts is becoming more common.
These changes pose a serious threat to human lives, to economic development and to the natural world on which much of our prosperity depends. Society therefore needs to take measures to adapt to these unavoidable impacts while taking action to cut the greenhouse gas emissions that are almost certainly causing climate change.
Melting ice and rising seas
The warming of the world's oceans is expanding their volume, while polar ice sheets have started to melt and glaciers around the world are shrinking. The combination of these changes is increasing sea levels, which in time will threaten low-lying land areas and islands.
Extreme weather, shifting rainfall
As the climate changes, extreme weather events like heat waves, droughts, heavy rain and snow, storms and floods are becoming more frequent or more intense. Southern and central Europe have seen more frequent heat waves, forest fires and droughts.
Rainfall patterns are also changing. In Europe the Mediterranean area is becoming drier, making it even more vulnerable to drought and wildfires. Northern Europe, meanwhile, is getting significantly wetter, and winter floods could become common. Climate change is expected to cause significant changes in the quality and availability of water resources.
Vulnerability to climate change varies widely across regions. Many poor developing countries are among the most vulnerable to climate change but also have the least resources to cope with it.
All EU countries are exposed to climate change, but some regions are more at risk than others. The Mediterranean basin, mountain areas, densely populated floodplains, coastal zones, outermost regions and the Arctic are particularly vulnerable.
In addition, three quarters of the population of Europe live in urban areas, which are often ill-equipped for adapting to climate change and are exposed to heat waves, flooding or rising sea levels.
Consequences for human health, the economy and wildlife
Extreme weather events pose a direct risk to the health and safety of people, with the very young, the elderly, the disabled and low-income households particularly vulnerable.
Damage to property and infrastructure imposes heavy costs on society and the economy. Flooding in the EU killed more than 2 500 people and affected more than 5.5 million over the period 1980-2011, causing direct economic losses of more than €90 billion.
Sectors that rely strongly on certain temperatures and precipitation levels, such as agriculture, forestry, energy and tourism, will be particularly affected by climate change.
Climate change is happening so fast that many plant and animal species will struggle to cope. Warming of 1.5º C-2.5º C beyond today's levels would put as many as 20-30% of plant and animal species at increased risk of extinction.