EU Climate Forecast Points to a Drier Future

The pain, again, is in Spain — and in much of southern Europe.

Europe projected change in water availability, 1961-1990 to 2071-2100

European Environment Agency
The projected change in water availability across southern Europe from 1961-1990 baseline to 2071-2100, using the A1B emissions scenario of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. This scenario envisions economic growth, a global population peak at mid-century, and energy-efficient technologies that use a mix of renewable and fossil fuels.

For a few years now, debt, bailouts and the threat of monetary collapse have stampeded across Europe. Analysts taking a longer view, however, should be worried about the continent’s natural capital, particularly its water resources.

The European Environment Agency, a European Union body, released two reports in the last week describing trends, projections and observed changes pertaining to climate change and water. Neither is particularly cheery, at least for southern Europe.

The map at the top is from the climate change report. It shows the projected changes in water availability in the 2071-2100 period, relative to the 1961-1990 average.

Even though those projections are many decades away, recent droughts give an idea of what might be in store. A 2004-05 drought in the Iberian Peninsula caused a 40 percent drop in cereals production. A longer drought in Spain’s Catalonia region from 2003 to 2007 resulted in a 40 percent decrease in hydropower generation. And in 2008, Catalonia and Cyprus resorted to importing drinking water in tanker ships because of low reservoirs.

Other energy sources are affected as well. Most of the nuclear plants in France are cooled using river water. When electricity demand soars and river levels drop, as happened in 2003, plant operators reduce output or even shut down.

A changing climate only exacerbates these problems. Other noteworthy graphics from the report include the loss of glacier mass that occurred in the last six decades:

Europe mass balance glaciers

European Environment Agency
The observed changes in mass balance for selected European glaciers from 1946 to 2010.

The projected decline in crop yields because of insufficient water:

Europe crop yields

European Environment Agency
The projected change in crop yields because of insufficient water.

And the projected change in annual and summer precipitation:

Europe precipitation

European Environment Agency
The projected change in annual and summer precipitation, from a 1961-1990 baseline to 2071-2100.

The second report, Water Resources in Europe in the Context of Vulnerability, looks what puts stress on water quantity: changes in land use, water withdrawals (mainly for agriculture), and climate change.

Among its many recommendations is connecting agricultural policy to water policy by tying subsidies to farmers under the EU’s Common Agriculture Policy to improvements in water quality and efficiency.

The report is one of three released this year to aid the European Commission’s water blueprint for Europe.

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