Urgent action on ecosystem-based adaptation needed at EU level

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The release of the European Environment Agency’s first-ever “European Climate Risk Assessment” sends a clear warning that Europe is not doing enough to adapt to climate change, that urgent and additional action is needed immediately – and that EU policies need to increase in ambition, scope and implementation.

Wetlands International Europe welcomes the release of the European Environment Agency’s (EEA) European Climate Risk Assessment (EUCRA) report, which recognises that several climate risks have already reached critical levels, and urges the European Commission to act immediately on the findings. We call on the European Commission to immediately consider the EU Climate and Water Resilience Law policy proposals put forward by the Living Rivers Europe (LRE) coalition to focus on legally binding action for the protection and restoration of freshwater ecosystems.

The EUCRA report concludes that freshwater ecosystems require particular attention, not least because risks to them can easily cascade to other ecosystems and humans – leading to system-wide challenges affecting whole societies. It reinforces the findings of LRE that many freshwater and wetland ecosystems are already severely degraded from unsustainable land use and water management, and climate change is further aggravating the situation.

Chris Baker, Director of Wetlands International Europe, said: “Thanks to the EEA for the report and focusing us on the near-term climate risks. I hope the message is received by our decision makers and all corners of society. We face a common challenge that connects us all: cascading water-related disasters that within a few decades will profoundly affect our security and stability. To counter this imminent threat, we must work together immediately to bring back our wetlands, with a combination of bold new policies and better implementation of existing ones to create water and climate resilience. 

EUCRA sounds the alarm that societal preparedness is low and policy implementation is lagging on climate adaptation in Europe, but highlights that effective policies and actions at European and national levels can help reduce these risks – putting an emphasis on the need to quickly adapt.

The report examined the climate risks faced by Europe and noted at the outset that Europe is the fastest warming continent in the world, while precipitation extremes are also increasing, causing more floods and droughts. It found that more than half of the major climate risks identified require action now, and that even risk levels projected for later in the century depend on current adaptation policy decisions.

The report also found that most risks related to freshwater ecosystems are currently substantial, with the potential to reach critical levels mid-century and catastrophic levels later in the century. It found that non-climatic risk drivers such as unsustainable land use and water management, biodiversity loss, and pollution are increasing the vulnerability of ecosystems to climate hazards. This is significant as climate impacts on ecosystems can cascade to security, human health, infrastructure and the wider economy.