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Europe, warming faster than any other continent, faces escalating climate risks, with the European Environment Agency (EEA) sounding the alarm: the continent is not sufficiently prepared to face the growing challenges posed by climate change. The EEA’s newly published European Climate Risk Assessment (EUCRA) urgently calls for immediate and coordinated policy action.

Ecosystems, particularly marine and coastal, are in severe danger. Heatwaves are the most pressing threat to human health. Financial stability is at risk, with climate change impacting supply chains, insurance costs, and property values. The report demands rapid emission cuts and robust adaptation strategies to avoid catastrophic consequences.

Why this is important

Europe is the fastest-warming continent in the world. The higher frequency of extreme climate events—such as summer 2021 floodings in the Netherlands, Germany, and Belgium—is a wake-up call for implementing climate mitigation policies.

Assessment reveals 36 major climate risks

The EUCRA has identified 36 significant climate risks within five clusters: ecosystems, food, health, infrastructure, and economy and finance. More than half of these demand urgent action. Southern Europe is particularly vulnerable to heat and water scarcity, while low-lying coastal regions, such as the Dutch ones, face flooding and erosion threats. As Leena Ylä-Mononen of the EEA puts it, Europe’s societal preparedness is lagging behind the pace of these risks, necessitating immediate action from policymakers both at the European and national levels.

Almost all ecosystem-related risks require urgent or increased action, with marine and coastal ecosystems particularly at risk. The gravest immediate health risk comes from heat, with specific population groups, including the elderly and those with underlying health conditions, at greater risk. These findings call for rapid emission reductions and strong adaptation policies and actions to bolster societal resilience.

Financial stability in jeopardy

Climate change is not just an environmental issue but also a financial one. The EEA report highlights that financial risks associated with climate disasters are often underestimated. These include supply chain disruptions, increased insurance costs, devaluation of mortgage portfolios, and higher expenses from climate-related lawsuits. Robbert Biesbroek from Wageningen University, one of the study’s lead authors, points out to the NOS the disconnect between ambitious plans and actual implementation when it comes to adapting to these risks.

Policy implications and the road ahead

The EEA’s report serves as a clarion call to European policymakers, especially in light of the approaching European elections. With the potential for populist right-wing gains, there is a concern about the pressure that could be exerted on climate policies. Biesbroek highlights the non-partisan nature of climate change, underlining its implications for the economy, security, and international cooperation.

The EUCRA makes it clear that Europe could face catastrophic consequences without decisive and effective policy action. Besides, the report emphasizes the need for closer cooperation among EU Member States and the involvement of regional and local levels for urgent and coordinated action. The urgency is palpable, with the report pushing for more explicit and detailed policies to adapt to the rapidly changing climate. Europe’s future hinges on its ability to anticipate and mitigate these climate risks, calling for an all-hands-on-deck approach from governments, businesses, and individuals alike.