Precipitation has increased by 10% to
40% in northern Europe while in the south drought has increased
by 20%. The sea level is rising while the ice is thinning
and glaciers are retreating. An increase in tidal waves, flooding,
storms, landslides and forest fires is foreseeable for the
European continent as a whole.
What are the possible consequences of global warming where
Europe is concerned? If we refuse to accept them, how can we prevent
them and adapt to them? On the basis of an analysis of scenarios
and probable socio?economic impacts in the light of the geographical
particularities of the main regions of the continent, the experts
involved in the Acacia project are confronting policymakers, industry
and society in general with realities which can no longer be ignored.
Although they do not have definitive proof,
many scientists consider that the Earth is warming up, and that
human activities are implicated. What scale is
this likely to reach over the next few years, what will the environmental
and socio-economic impact be, and how can society adapt? Forty or
so leading European specialists in the fields of climatology, environment
and human sciences have attempted to answer these three questions
in the context of the Acacia project.
Their first concern was to take stock of the climate. The average
temperature of the continent rose by nearly one degree in the course
of the 20th century, with a marked increase in the last decade.
The number of days of exceptional heat in the south of Italy rose
from 52 for the period 1950-1959 to 123 in the decade 1960-1969,
reaching 165 (1970-1989) and finally 230 in the years 1990-1999.
The temperature of the surface waters of the seas has risen by
several tenths of a degree. Precipitation has increased by 10% to
40% in Northern Europe, while drought has increased by 20% in the
south. The scale, speed and geographical distribution of these trends
has resulted in the retreat of glaciers, and a constant reduction
in the thickness of Arctic ice.
On the basis of projections made in 1999 by the IPPC(1),
the experts worked out four scenarios at European regional level
taking into account temperature rises of between 0.1°C and 0.4°C
per decade. According to Martin Parry, the coordinator of the Acacia
Project, 'Even though these projections contain uncertainties, we
have sufficient information to show that with the 0.4°C scenario
seasonal climate changes would be particularly significant.'
The phenomenon would extend well beyond Southern Europe, reaching
the Alps, the North Sea, Scandinavia and North West Russia. The
impact on the water cycle would be an average increase in winter
precipitation of up to 4% per decade for the continent as a whole,
while there would be worse drought in the summer in the Mediterranean
basin and an increase in rainfall (2% per decade) in the North.
While there is no reliable way of extrapolating between global
warming and the accumulation of extreme atmospheric events, in all
likelihood there will be an increase in the frequency of natural
disasters, such as tidal waves, flooding, storms, landslides and
forest fires, on the continent as a whole. Depending on the scenario
in question, the sea level could increase by 13-68 cm over the next
Choosing our future
On the basis of these scenarios, the researchers attempted to evaluate
the impacts of ecosystem changes on major sectors such as health,
transport, energy, industry, insurance, etc. and the main regions
of Europe. They then analysed how European society can formulate
realistic and proactive policies to enable it to adapt in preparation
for these changes. To establish a framework for analysing the interaction
between the socio-political functioning of society and climate change,
Acacia selected four types of scenarios that are conceivable for
the society of the future: 'world markets', 'provincial enterprise',
'global sustainability' and 'local stewardship'.
The organisation of society, economic growth, the balance between
sectors of activities and between regions, the technological dynamic
and, last but not least, ecosystem management will be very different
in each of the scenarios. The coordinator of the Acacia Project
concludes that 'This socio-political vision is very important. It
shows that our ability to adapt to environmental constraints depends
to a significant extent on our desire to organise ourselves. These
scenarios are of course theoretical, but they are necessary in order
to launch a debate in which all the stakeholders affected by climate
change should envisage their future.'
(1) In its Special Report
on Emission Scenarios, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
worked out a series of scenarios based on different trends in global
variables (world population, total emissions, atmospheric CO2 concentrations,
effect of abatement policies, etc.).