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Sectors affected

Infrastructure and buildings

The impacts of climate change are particularly pertinent to infrastructure and buildings given their long life span and their high initial cost, as well as their essential role in the functioning of our societies and economies.

Buildings and infrastructure can be vulnerable to climate change because of their design (low resistance to storms) or location (e.g. in flood-prone areas, landslides, avalanches). Indeed they can be damaged or rendered unfit for use by any changing climatic condition or extreme weather event: rising of sea level, extreme precipitation and floods, occurrences of extreme low or high temperatures , heavy snowfalls, strong winds…

Consequences of climate change for buildings and infrastructure will differ from region to region. In given areas, some beneficial impacts could also be expected: reduced snow falls can improve traffic conditions.

Power Lines © iStockphoto

Energy

Climate threats for the European energy system already exist and are projected to increase. Climate change is expected to reduce demand for heating in northern and north-western Europe and to strongly increase energy demand for cooling in southern Europe, which may further exacerbate peaks in electricity supply in the summer.

More intense and frequent heat waves will shift energy supply and demand patterns, often in opposite directions. Further increases in temperature and droughts may limit the availability of cooling water for thermal power generation in summer (lowering energy supply), whereas demand for air conditioning will increase.

Moreover, greater magnitude and frequency of extreme weather events will cause threats for physical energy infrastructure (explicitly overhead transmission/distribution, but also substations or transformers.

Climate change also brings increased uncertainty in weather patterns across Europe. This has a direct negative impact in the long term on the production of renewable energy. Some immediate examples would be less sun or wind in areas where there is usually more or heat and droughts affecting the crops intended for the production of energy from biomass.

Agriculture and forestry

Climate change and climate variability are projected to have a substantial effect on agricultural production both in terms of crop yields and the location where different crops can be grown. The crop season has lengthened and is projected to increase further due to earlier onset of growth in spring and longer growing season in autumn. This would allow a northward expansion of warm-season crops to areas that were not previously suitable.

Southern regions will be hit hardest, expecting an overall negative impact on agriculture. High temperatures, water shortage and extreme weather events may cause lower yields, higher yield variability and, in the long term, a reduction in suitable areas for cultivation. The impacts will depend on precipitation patterns and the crops considered.

Corn and Wheat Fields © iStockphoto

Northern parts of Europe could expect some positive effects on agriculture through the introduction of new crop varieties, higher yields and expansion of suitable areas for crop cultivation. These are due to longer crop seasons, more frost-free periods and fewer cold spells. Negative impacts are also expected, however, mainly through increased pests and diseases, nutrient leaching and reduced soil organic matter.

Effects on forestry due to climate change include increased risk of droughts, storms and fires (abiotic) and pests and diseases (biotic) – all leading to disturbances to forest health.

The impact of fire events is particularly strong on already degraded ecosystems in southern Europe, and is projected to worsen in the future, with longer and more severe fire seasons projected in this area.

Forest growth is projected to decrease in southern Europe and to increase in northern Europe. However the biodiversity of forests is expected to change across Europe, with changing tree species and increasing threats for specialised plant communities. The limited diversity of tree species in boreal forests is expected to enhance the risk of significant pest and diseaseimpacts.

Insurance

The frequency and intensity of most types of extreme event is expected to change significantly as a result of climate change (IPCC, 2012). In the short term, as long as due allowance is made for the underlying trend, premiums would rise gradually and the insurance market would absorb such changes without disruption. However, risk knowledge often advances in ‘steps’, which can lead to jumps in the price over a short period. In the longer term, particularly in most vulnerable sectors or areas, climate change could indirectly increase social disparities as insurance premiums become unaffordable for a fringe of the population.

Blanes © iStockphoto

Tourism

Economic consequences for regions where tourism is important can be substantial, but this is also influenced by non-climatic factors, such as the ability of tourists to adjust the timing of their holidays. The suitability of southern Europe for tourism is projected to decline markedly during the key summer months but improve in other seasons. Central Europe is projected to increase its tourism appeal throughout the year. Projected reductions in snow cover will negatively affect the winter sports industry in many regions.

Cross-cutting issues for businesses

Climate change will have a range of impacts on businesses. Impacts are expected to fall disproportionately on SMEs including disrupting business operations, property damage, disruption to supply chains and infrastructure leading to increased costs of maintenance and materials, and raising prices. In other cases, climate change may also offer new business opportunities for products and services that would help people to adapt  in the form of expanding market share and creating wealth in communities (innovation and job creation) and accessing new finance streams (increased public funding and financial products and services).