IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: Climate Change 2007
Climate Change 2007: Working Group II: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability

12.7 Conclusions: implications for sustainable development

The fraction of total plant growth or the net primary production appropriated by humans (HANPP) is a measure widely used to assess the ‘human domination of Earth’s ecosystems’ (Haberl et al., 2002). Currently, HANPP in western Europe (WE) amounts to 2.86 tonnes carbon/capita/yr, which is 72.2% of its terrestrial net primary production. This exceeds, by far, the global average of 20% (Imhoff et al., 2004). The ‘ecological footprint’ (EF) is an estimate of the territory required to provide resources consumed by a given population (Wackernagel et al., 2002). In 2001, the EF of central and eastern Europe (CEE) was 3.8 ha/capita, and of WE 5.1 ha/capita (WWF, 2004). These values also far exceed the global average of 2.2 ha/capita (WWF, 2004). WE is one of the largest ‘importers’ of land, an expression of the net trade balance for agricultural products (van Vuuren and Bouwman, 2005). Globally, by 2050 the total EF is very likely to increase by between 70% (B2 scenario) and 300% (A1B scenario), thus placing an additional burden on a planet which some consider is already at an unsustainable level (Wackernagel et al., 2002; Wilson, 2002). Large changes in demand for land in regions with high population growth and changing consumption habits are expected, which is likely to result in a (need to) decrease WE imports (van Vuuren and Bouwman, 2005). The per capita EF of WE and CEE is projected to converge by the middle of this century, at which time values for WE become slightly lower (B2 scenario) or larger (A1B scenario) than current ones, and those of CEE increase to reach those of WE. In any case, European EF is very likely to remain much higher than the global average (van Vuuren and Bouwman, 2005).

Climate change in Europe is likely to have some positive effects (e.g., increased forest area, increased crop yield in northern Europe), or offer new opportunities (e.g., ‘surplus land’). However, many changes are very likely to increase vulnerability due to reduced supply of ecosystem services (declining water availability, climate regulation potential or biodiversity), increase of climate-related hazards and disruption in productive sectors, among others (Schröter et al., 2005; Metzger et al., 2006) (Table 12.4). Therefore, additional pressures are very likely to be exerted upon Europe’s environment, which is already subject to substantial pressures (EEA, 2003), and social and economic systems. Furthermore, climate change is likely to magnify regional differences in terms of Europe’s natural resources and assets since impacts are likely to be unevenly distributed geographically, with the most negative impacts occurring in the south and east (Table 12.4). Adaptive capacity is high, although it varies greatly between countries (higher in the north than in the south and east) due to their different socio-economic systems (Yohe and Tol, 2002). Adaptive capacity is expected to increase in the future, yet, differences among countries will persist (Metzger et al., 2004, 2006). Hence, climate change is likely to create additional imbalances since negative impacts are likely to be largest where adaptive capacity is lowest.

The integration of sustainability goals into other sectoral policy areas is progressing, for instance, through national, regional and local sustainable development strategies and plans. However, these have not yet had a decisive effect on policies (EEA, 2003). Although climate change and sustainable development policies have strong linkages, they have evolved in parallel, at times they even compete with one another. Climate change is very likely to challenge established sustainability goals. Tools, such as integrated modelling approaches (Holman et al., 2005; Berry et al., 2006), integration frameworks (Tschakert and Olsson, 2005) and scenario build-up (Wiek et al., 2006) can help bridge the gap in the limited understanding we have on how climate change will ultimately affect sustainability. Pursuit of sustainable development goals might be a better avenue for achieving climate change policy goals than climate change policies themselves (Robinson et al., 2006).

Table 12.4. Summary of the main expected impacts of climate change in Europe during the 21st century, assuming no adaptation.

Sectors and       Area     
Systems Impact North Atlantic Central Mediterr. East  
Water resources Floods      
Water availability ↑↑ ↑↑    
Water stress ↑↑ ↑↑    
Coastal and marine systems Beach, dune: low-lying coast erosional ‘coastal squeeze’   na   
SLR- and surge-driven flooding   na   
River sediment supply to estuaries and deltas   na   
Saltwater intrusion to aquifers   na   
Northward migration of marine biota  ↑↑↑ na   
Rising SSTs, eutrophication and stress on biosystems    na   
Development of ICZM ↑↑ ↑↑ na ↑↑  
Deepening and larger inshore waters ↑↑  na  ↑↑ 
Mountains, cryosphere Glacier retreat      
Duration of snow cover      
Permafrost retreat    na  
Tree line upward shift ↑↑↑ ↑↑↑ ↑↑↑  ↑↑↑ 
Nival species losses      
Forest, shrublands and grasslands Forest NPP ↑↑↑ ↑↑  to    to  
Northward/inland shift of tree species ↑↑↑ ↑↑ ↑↑  to   
Stability of forest ecosystems      
Shrublands NPP ↑↑↑ ↑↑↑    
Natural disturbances (e.g., fire, pests, wind-storm)      
Grasslands NPP ↑↑↑ ↑↑  to    
Wetlands and aquatic ecosystems Drying/transformation of wetlands       
Species diversity  to   ??   
Disturbance of drained peatlands    na  
Biodiversity Plants   (Mt)   
Amphibians     (SW)   
↑↑ ↑↑(SE) ↑↑↑ 
Reptiles     (SW)   
↑↑ ↑↑↑(SE) ↑↑↑ 
Marine mammals  ?? na  ?? 
Low-lying coastal birds   na  ?? 
Freshwater biodiversity  to  ?? ??  ?? 
Agriculture and fisheries  Suitable cropping area  ↑↑↑ ↑↑    
Agricultural land area       
Summer crops (maize, sunflower) ↑↑↑ ↑↑    
Winter crops (winter wheat) ↑↑↑ ↑↑  to    
Irrigation needs na  to     
Energy crops ↑↑↑ ↑↑    
Livestock  to      
Marine fisheries ↑↑  na  na 
Energy and transport Energy supply and distribution  ↑↑    
Winter energy demand ↑↑ ↑↑  ↑↑  
Summer energy demand      
Tourism Winter (including ski) tourism ↑↑   ↑↑↑  
Summer tourism  ↑↑    
Property insurance Flooding claims ??   ?? ?? 
Storms claims    ?? ?? 
Human health Heat-related mortality/morbidity      
Cold-related mortality/morbidity  ↑↑ ↑↑  ↑↑↑ 
Health effects of flooding      
Vector-borne diseases      
Food safety/Water-borne diseases      
Atopic diseases, due to aeroallergens      

Scoring has taken into account: a) geographical extent of impact/number of people exposed; b) intensity and severity of impact. The projected magnitude of impact increases with the number of arrows (one to three). Type of impact: positive (upward, blue); negative (downward, red); a change in the type of impact during the course of the century is marked with ‘to’ between arrows. na=not applicable; ??=insufficient information; North=boreal and Arctic; Central, Atlantic and Mediterranean as in Figure 12.3, including their mountains; East=steppic Russia, the Caucasus and the Caspian Sea; Mt=Mountains; SW=Southwest; SE=Southeast; SLR=Sea-Level Rise; ICZM=Integrated Coastal Zone Management; SST=Sea-Surface Temperature; NPP=Net Primary Productivity.