Flash floods, wildfires and heatwaves brought on by climate change could test Europe’s ability to insure against and respond to natural disasters, a new report warns.
Flooding of the Nile Delta and further desertification of north Africa could also unleash a wave of migrants from Europe’s southern neighbours, said delegates at the launch of the European Union-backed ADAM report.
The European Union last year agreed to curb greenhouse gas emissions by roughly a fifth by 2020 and is now preparing for talks in December on a global deal.
The 27-country EU hopes to prevent global temperatures rising beyond 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial temperatures, but is also having to prepare for the repercussions of missing the target.
“Even if we aim for 2 degrees, the uncertainty in the climate system means significant risks of rises of 3 degrees or above,” said the ADAM project’s coordinator, Mike Hulme.
The report warned that flood risk in many eastern European states has exceeded 1 percent of gross domestic product.
“In some events, national authorities have had severe fiscal problems in financing the recovery process,” it said.
Even wealthier nations can struggle to cope with the huge cost, the report added, citing 2002 floods in Austria that led to a fiscal crisis that ultimately triggered new elections and a change in the balance of power.
The report warns of a 15 percent risk that Europe’s disaster compensation scheme — the EU Solidarity Fund — could become overwhelmed with claims above its annual resources of 1 billion euros (US$1.35 billion).
To counter that danger, the scheme could be altered to become a source of reinsurance or capital for national disaster insurance schemes, it recommended.
“What this report shows is that we had better get prepared by taking the political decisions, such as making sure the solidarity fund can provide help in the dimensions needed,” said ADAM project manager Henry Neufeldt.
Around 44 percent of calls on the solidarity fund are for floods and 27 percent for wildfires, he added. The fund has not previously covered drought damage.
Neufeldt said climate change would raise the risks of wildfires in the Mediterranean region — especially in southeastern countries such as Albania and Croatia — but good forest management could keep risks in check.
Other issues highlighted by the report include rising wages and return on capital in cities such as Madrid at the heart of drought-risk zones, and soaring power consumption in southern Europe for air-conditioning.
Speaking at the launch of the report, Jean-Pascal van Ypersele, vice chairman of the United Nations climate panel, warned that failure to act could ultimately lead to sea level rises of several metres, displacing millions from low-lying islands and deltas.
“The Nile delta is the closest to Europe, and that’s an area where 10 million people — equal to the population of Belgium — are living, cultivating and working at less than a metre above sea level,” Ypersele said.
“The pressure from sea level rise on this population will most likely induce a combination of relocation within the country, and migration out of it,” he added.