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Environment challenges

Research on future scenarios predict climate change will have a dramatic effect on natural environments, plants and animals, leading to acceleration in biodiversity loss in some areas. The impacts will have knock-on effects for many communities and sectors that depend on natural resources, including agriculture, fisheries, energy, tourism and water.

 

Soils

Climate change may aggravate erosion, decline in organic matter, salinization, soil biodiversity loss, landslides, desertification and flooding. The effect of climate change on soil carbon storage can be related to changing atmospheric CO2 concentrations, increased temperatures and changing precipitation patterns. Extreme precipitation events, fast melting of snow or ice, high river discharges and increased droughts are all climate-related events which influence soil degradation. Deforestation and other human activities (agriculture, skiing) also play a role. Saline soils are expected to increase in coastal areas as a result of salt water intrusion from the seaside because of rising sea levels and (periodically) low river discharges.

Biodiversity

Forested landscape fading into hazy hills © Ingram Publishing

Climate change has both direct and indirect impacts on species and ecosystems. There is clear evidence to show that biodiversity is already responding to climate change and will continue to do so. Direct impacts include changes in phenology, species abundance and distribution, community composition, habitat structure and ecosystem processes.

Climate change is also leading to indirect impacts on biodiversity through changes in the use of land and other resources. These may be more damaging than the direct impacts due to their scale, scope and speed and include: habitat fragmentation and loss; over-exploitation; pollution of air, water and soil; and spread of invasive species. They will further reduce the resilience of ecosystems to climate change and their capacity to deliver essential services, such as climate regulation, food, clean air and water, and control of floods or erosion.

Inland water

Fisheries © iStockphoto

Climate change is predicted to lead to major changes in water availability across Europe, due to less predictable rainfall patterns and more intense storms. This will result in increased water scarcity, especially in southern and south-eastern Europe, and an increased risk of flooding throughout much of the continent. The resulting changes will affect many land and marine regions and many different natural environments and species.

Water temperature is one of the central parameters that determine the overall health of aquatic ecosystems because aquatic organisms have a specific range of temperatures they can tolerate. The changes in climate have increased water temperatures of rivers and lakes, decreased ice cover, thereby affecting water quality and freshwater ecosystems.

Marine environment

The impacts of climate change, such as increasing sea surface temperatures, ocean acidification and shifts in currents and wind patterns will significantly alter the physical and biological make-up of the oceans. Changes in temperatures and ocean circulation have the potential to change geographical fish distribution. An increasing sea temperature might also enable alien species to expand into regions where they previously could not survive. Ocean acidification for example will have an impact on various calcium carbonate-secreting organisms. These changes will have unavoidable impacts on coastal and marine ecosystems, resulting in major socio-economic consequences for many regions.