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29th Nov 2021

EU sets out plan to mitigate 'unavoidable' climate events

  • The heatwave that struck large parts of Europe in 2019 and killed 2,500 people was the deadliest natural disaster worldwide that year, according to the commission (Photo: European Commission)

The European Commission on Wednesday (24 February) unveiled its strategy to make the 27-nation bloc and its 14-trillion-euro economy more resilient to the unavoidable impacts of climate change - after the hottest decade in recorded history.

"The Covid-19 pandemic has been a stark reminder that insufficient preparation can have dire consequences," said the commission's executive vice-president for the Green Deal Frans Timmermans, arguing that "there is no vaccine against the climate crisis".

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"If we step up work on adaptation today, we can make the EU and the planet much better prepared for the unavoidable changes we will face tomorrow," he added.

The EU has committed to reducing 55 percent of greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, but the continent still faces the unavoidable effects of past emissions - from which Europe itself is responsible for a substantial part.

The new strategy, which contains no new legislation, seeks to promote better use of climate-risk data, stepping up adaptation planning in member states and monitoring the potential impact of climate change on public finances and fiscal frameworks.

Brussels also aims to reduce the so-called climate protection gap - the difference between insurance protection and total losses - which is widening due to more frequent extreme weather events.

"The climate protection gap across Europe is still high, and too often the financial burden of natural disasters falls on uninsured families and businesses or public finances," Timmermans warned.

Currently, only 35 percent of the climate-linked economic losses are insured on average, according to the commission. This figure, however, is as low as five percent in southern and eastern Europe.

The head of the EU Green Deal said that adaptation efforts could be promoted through reduced premiums in the insurance industry or investments in nature-based solutions, together with more tailored policies in all member states.

Additionally, the EU executive will establish a European climate and health observatory to measure the impact of hot and cold extremes and what it means for the spread of new diseases.

The cost of inaction? €170bn

The increase in heatwaves, floods, droughts, landslides, and other extreme climate-related events, already cost the EU's economy €12bn per year, plus thousands of lives.

The heatwave that struck large parts of Europe in 2019 and killed 2,500 people was the deadliest natural disaster worldwide of that year, according to the commission.

Temperatures remain on course to more than three degrees warming (above pre-industrial levels) by the end of the century - far away from the 1.5 degrees planned under the Paris Agreement.

But conservative estimates show that exposing the EU economy to those temperatures would result in an annual loss of at least €170bn, the commission said.

Earth's average temperature has already risen over one degree Celsius.

Meanwhile, sea-level rises pose a risk to 40 percent of the bloc's GDP generated in coastal areas, which is also where around 40 percent of the EU population live.

The new adaption strategy also extends to the international area, where climate change is expected to exacerbate existing tensions and instability.

The EU seeks to increase cooperation with third countries to promote climate change adaptation, focussing on Africa and small island developing states.

In sub-Saharan Africa, for example, climate change may trigger the migration of up to 70 million people by 2050, according to the World Bank.

"We need to put the money on the table for the emerging part of our planet to be able to take part in facing the climate crisis," said Timmermans.

International climate finance to developing countries will be a key aspect of the UN climate change conference in Glasgow, taking place in November.

EU leaders agree on 55% climate target for 2030

After hours of negotiations, EU leaders agreed to increase the bloc's emission-reduction target to 55 percent by 2030. But Poland and Hungary made sure that member states give the final green light to future climate legislation by unanimity.

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