• Lei Nguyen

What do floods say about European climate change?

Photo credit: Boris Roessler/dpa/picturealliance

Many European countries have recorded their worst wildfires in decades, including hundreds of fires across the Mediterranean. At the same time, parts of Europe were affected heavily by flooding. What are the lessons learned from those disasters for European climate change? This contribution will give some insights into the trajectory of the climate policy field.

Why are the European floods situation so severe?

In the south of France, according to Al Jazeera radio, at least two people were killed on August 18 in the most severe wildfire the country has faced this summer. In Italy, firefighters have so far battled more than 500 fires in the regions of Sicily and Calabria. In the north, Italian emergency services are being deployed to deal with floods and storms. After a flood in July that wreaked havoc on multiple European countries and killed at least 165 people, Italy has a reason to be concerned.

Extreme weather events like these are likely to occur more frequently in the context of rising global temperatures. Sky News channel quoted European Union (EU) data as saying that fires in the Northern Hemisphere this summer have released a huge amount of CO2. According to experts, climate change is increasing extreme wildfires and vice versa, fires are emitting large amounts of greenhouse gases that threaten to warm the earth. William Baldwin-Cantello of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), describes wildfires and climate change as "a powerfully destructive combination".

According to many experts, this record of weather changes is a clear sign of global warming. Hayley Fowler, professor of climate change at the University of Newcastle, said that global warming causes water to evaporate quickly, increasing both the humidity and the ability of the air to hold water. Thereby, the rains will be both heavy and more frequent. Specifically, rainfall will increase by 7% for every 1 degree Celsius increase in temperature.

As long as the atmosphere is congested with CO2, the intensity and frequency of floods, heatwaves, and droughts will continue, according to Antonio Navarra, president of the Euro-Mediterranean Center on Climate Change. That means either humans are slowing down global warming, or these extreme weather events will happen more frequently, and more severely. Once again, the picture of climate change is no longer a fantasy, prompting the European Union (EU) to be more aggressive in its policies to deal with this issue. The EU has made a specific commitment that by 2030, it will cut greenhouse gas emissions by 55% from the levels recorded in 1990.

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Speaking to the world, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said that these are necessary steps to help the bloc achieve its goal of becoming a zero-carbon area by 2030: “Europe has now become the first continent in the world to publish a comprehensive architecture to meet ambitious climate goals. We have a goal and now we publish the roadmap to get there. This blueprint will combine emissions reductions with measures to protect nature, and put jobs and social balance at the heart of that transition.”

Ms. Leyen called on member states and MPs in Brussels to adopt the measures in a special plenary session with members of the European Parliament in March 2020, adding that the bloc's climate pledges require some type of law. Specific goals include increasing the bloc's carbon emissions from 40% to "at least 50%" by 2030, with a goal of 55%; strengthening renewable energy sources and rapidly phasing out coal; reducing or eliminating aviation and marine fuel tax exemptions, and establishing a 100 billion euro fund to promote green investment.

However, according to analysts, if the measures in the above plan are implemented for a long time, it may cause fuel prices to rise, causing difficulties for both households and the transportation, energy, and construction industry. This plan can also cause controversy among airlines around measures to tax fuel on flights within Europe. In addition, it will also face resistance in the face of fierce lobbying from business circles, from poorer member states that want to prevent a rise in the cost of living, and from polluted countries that are facing an economic transition in the midst of COVID-19 pandemic.

A future warning for the world from historic floods in Europe

Speaking at a press conference, European Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans also acknowledged this issue: “As the President of the European Commission mentioned, the implementation of the plan in practice will not be easy, even still difficult. However, this is an obligation. Because if we do not fulfill our obligations to help people live in harmony with nature, we ourselves will fail and we will also fail to fulfill our obligations to our descendants. In my view, if we do not protect nature, we will still face a long battle for water and food in the future. The blueprint is the foundation of our efforts.” To be implemented in practice, the plan needs to be approved by the 27 member states and the European Parliament. In the immediate future, this document will be discussed within this block for at least 2 years before reaching a general agreement.

Lockdown measures to prevent the spread of COVD-19 have caused global CO2 emissions to decrease in 2021 compared to recent years. However, 2021, together with 2016, has been determined to be the two hottest years on record, showing the need to further accelerate measures to cut emissions to avoid being stuck in the global climate's catastrophic future.

The carbon emission fund - the number of emissions that countries can still produce until the world's temperature rises by 2 degrees Celsius - will only last until 2028, according to experts. Therefore, countries must immediately devise measures to decarbonize their economies, particularly in the aftermath of the COVID-19 epidemic in order to lengthen this period. Now is the time for the entire globe to join hands and take decisive action for the future impact of green recovery and long-term development. Proclaiming a Green Deal is a strong commitment shown by the European Union, for finding solutions to climate change.

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