Europe warms fast: Med drier, north ever wetter

OSLO Sun Sep 28, 2008 7:11pm EDT

Dry land emerges from the shallow waters of the Ticino river under the ''Old Bridge'' in Pavia, northern Italy, in this file photo from July 1, 2005. REUTERS/Daniele La Monaca DLM/SA

Dry land emerges from the shallow waters of the Ticino river under the ''Old Bridge'' in Pavia, northern Italy, in this file photo from July 1, 2005.

Credit: Reuters/Daniele La Monaca DLM/SA

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OSLO (Reuters) - Europe is warming faster than the world average and governments need to invest to adapt to a changing climate set to turn the Mediterranean region arid and the north ever wetter, a study showed on Monday.

Europe's mountains, coasts, the Mediterranean and the Arctic were most at risk from global warming, according to the report by the European Environment Agency and branches of the World Health Organization and the European Commission.

"Global average temperature has increased almost 0.8 C (1.4 F) above pre-industrial levels, with even higher temperature increases in Europe and northern latitudes," it said.

Europe had warmed by 1.0 C.

Northern Europe would get wetter this century while more of Europe's Mediterranean region might turn to desert, based on trends already under way, it said. European heatwaves like in 2003, during which 70,000 people died, could be more frequent.

"Annual precipitation changes are worsening differences between a wet northern part of Europe and a dry south," it said.

That meant a need to review everything from irrigation to the ability of southern rivers to help cool nuclear power plants.

Among other impacts, seas were rising in a threat to coasts, some fish stocks had moved 1,000 km north in the past 40 years -- pushing cod not caught by trawlers away from the North Sea -- and two-thirds of Alpine glaciers had vanished since 1850.

A few in Europe were getting benefits, such as northern farmers with longer growing seasons for crops.

The report urged Europe to do more to adapt to the impacts of climate change, such as protecting people from insect-borne diseases or safeguarding coasts from higher seas. So far, most adaptation has focused on easing more river floods.

"Implementation of adaptation actions has only just started," said Jacqueline McGlade, head of the Denmark-based European Environment Agency.

"We need to intensify such actions and improve information exchange on data, effectiveness and costs," McGlade said.

The report also said that Europe had a moral obligation to help people in developing nations adapt to a changing climate.

The world's governments have agreed to work by the end of 2009 a new treaty to fight climate change. But financial turmoil and economic slowdown may dampen willingness to invest in billion-dollar climate projects.

RISING SEAS

Seas are likely to rise by 18 to 59 cms (7 to 23 inches) by 2100, according to the U.N. Climate Panel, and could keep rising for centuries if ice sheets of Greenland or Antarctica thaw.

In Europe, 4 million people and 2 trillion euros ($2.9 billion) in assets would be at risk from flooding from higher seas by 2100, from the Baltic states to Greece, the report said.

Recent estimates indicated that losses from rising seas could total up to 18 billion euros a year by 2080 but spending of 1 billion a year -- on everything from dikes to raising beach levels -- could cut losses to about 1 billion a year, it said.

Hurricane Katrina in the United States in 2005 caused about $80 billion in losses.

The European Union aims to cut greenhouse gas emissions, mainly from burning fossil fuels, by 20 percent below 1990 levels by 2020, or by 30 percent if other big economies join in.

The report suggested setting up a new European Clearing House to help distribute information on impacts, vulnerability and impacts of climate change.

-- For Reuters latest environment blogs click on:

blogs.reuters.com/environment/

(Editing by Angus MacSwan)

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