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Study Points to More Severe Climate Impacts for European Cities

Jim McGee/Wikimedia Commons

Assailed by flooding, high temperatures, and drought, European cities will suffer far more serious climate change impacts than researchers previously believed, says a new study in the journal Environmental Research Letters.  

In a methodological first, and “in the largest study of its kind ever undertaken,” writes The Guardian, researchers from Newcastle University modelled the impacts of flooding, heat waves, and drought in 571 cities across Europe by 2050-2100.

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Although “the team produced results for three possible outcomes—low-, medium-, and high-impact scenarios,” the paper notes, “they found every outcome was worse than previously thought.” And compounding fears that the “level of change could be beyond breaking point,” especially in southern Europe, “most cities have considerable changes in more than one hazard,” said lead author Selma Guerreiro.

The study identifies Dublin, Helsinki, Riga, Vilnius, and Zagreb as the European capitals likely to suffer the worst flooding. “Under the high-impact scenario, several European cities saw more than 80% increases on peak river flows,” notes Guardian correspondent Tom White.

All cities get hotter in the study scenarios, with southern cities like Rome experiencing “the biggest increase in the number of heat wave days,” while central European capitals like Prague “saw the greatest increase in temperature during heat waves—ranging between 2.0 to 7.0°C for the low scenario and 8.0 to 14°C for the high scenario.”

Already no strangers to parching heat, Lisbon and Madrid will see more prolonged and more frequent droughts, say the Newcastle researchers, with “the high-impact scenario predict[ing] southern Europe experiencing droughts 14 times worse than today.”

Athens and Sofia are red-flagged as likely to experience the worst increases in both heat waves and drought. Co-author and earth systems engineering professor Richard Dawson said such calamitous scenarios highlight “the urgent need to design and adapt our cities to cope with these future conditions.”

While other recent research suggests [2] higher-impact projections based on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s RCP8.5 scenario are less likely to play out, even the Newcastle team’s low-impact future brings more serious impacts for European cities.