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Urgent Need To Slash Emissions, New Map Series Shows How Climate Crisis Could Impact Europe

A new project by an E.U. agency includes maps of projected rise in relative sea level by the late 21st century for low- and high-emissions scenarios, compared with the period 1981–2010. (Images: European Environment Agency)

A new map series released Monday by a European Union agency shows how the human-caused climate crisis could impact certain portions of Europe in the future, underscoring the importance of the international community working together to cut planet-heating emissions.

The European Environment Agency (EEA) compiled existing maps based on different greenhouse gas emissions scenarios and climate models to illustrate how heatwaves, droughts, forest fires, windstorms, heavy rain, flooding, storm surges, and sea level rise are expected to affect select regions and cities of the continent.

An onslaught of extreme weather and climate-related hazards "will lead to adverse impacts on ecosystems, economic sectors, and human health and well-being," EEA noted. "Therefore, minimizing the risks from global climate change requires targeted actions to adapt to the impacts of climate change, in addition to actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions."

Specific threats spotlighted in the project include droughts in the Iberian Peninsula; heavy rains and flash floods in central Europe; forest fires in Scandinavia; storm surges in Brittany, France; and coastal flooding in Venice as well as all other communities across the continent that border rivers and seas.

"All coastal regions in Europe have experienced an increase in absolute sea level, and most regions have experienced an increase in sea level relative to land," the agency explained. "The increase in sea level and coastal flood levels is threatening coastal ecosystems, water resources, settlements, infrastructure, and human lives."

The story map, according to EEA, "stresses the important role of limiting climate change to avoid the worst impacts as well as the key role of adaptation and resilience amid new E.U. plans under the European Green Deal to present for a new, more ambitious E.U. adaptation strategy."

The European Commission, the E.U.'s executive branch, unveiled its green deal proposal in mid-December 2019, less than two weeks after members of the European Parliament declared a climate emergency—a symbolic move that campaigners said must be met with equally ambitious action.

Critics of European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen's green deal, such as Greenpeace E.U. spokesperson Franziska Achterberg, called its targets "too little, too late." Achterberg's group detailed some of the plan's most "troublesome" proposals.

Greenpeace was among the groups that highlighted reporting about the EEA's story map on social media Monday:

While some advocacy groups remain critical of the European Green Deal, activists and E.U. leaders agree on the need to swiftly pursue policies to reduce emissions. Experts at the Copenhagen-based EEA hope the story map will help E.U. policymakers and governments understand what is at stake.

As Blaž Kurnik, an EEA expert in climate change impacts and adaptation, told the Guardian Monday: "It's very urgent and we need to act now." Kurnik emphasized that countries will need to adapt even if the world achieves 2015 Paris climate accord goal of keeping global temperature rise within this century to well below 2°C.

"The number of extreme events and sea level rise will still continue to increase for the next decades to a century," Kurnik warned. "Sea level rise, especially, can be problematic, because it is still increasing because of past emissions and the current concentration of greenhouse gases."

"Adaptation is crucial in the next decades of the century," he added.

Greenpeace's People vs. Oil campaign shared the Guardian's report on Twitter and emphasized the need to phase out fossil fuels and invest in 100% renewable energy on a global scale.

Meanwhile, British politicians and activists suggested Brexit could make responding to the climate crisis "much harder" and reiterated calls for a Green New Deal in the United Kingdom.

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