Europe is expected to see a considerable increase in flood risk in coming years, even under an optimistic climate change scenario of 1.5°C warming compared to pre-industrial levels.
A study assesses flood impacts for three scenarios – of 1.5°C, 2°C and 3°C warming – and finds that most of Central and Western Europe will experience substantial increase in flood risk at all warming levels, and the higher the warming, the higher the risk.
Damage from floods across Europe is projected to more than double, from a 113% average increase if warming is kept to 1.5°C, to 145% under the 3°C scenario.
In terms of population affected, the projected increase ranges from 86% to 123%.
While the pattern for Central and Western Europe was one of a consistent increase in flood risk, the study also found that flood risk may actually decrease with warmer temperatures in some countries in Eastern Europe, but those results also show a high degree of uncertainty.
Similarly, in some countries in Southern Europe (Spain, Portugal, Greece) the initial increase in impacts at 1.5°C turns into more uncertain projections for higher warming levels, due to a substantial reduction in annual rainfall.
Multi-model agreement of changes in population affected by river floods in European countries at different global warming levels: 1.5°C (left), 2°C (center), and 3°C (right). Colours depend on the number of cases predicting a positive or negative change. ©European Union.
These findings are the result of a JRC multi-model analysis, published in Climate (Open Access Climate Science Journal).
The study improves our understanding on future trends in river flood risk in Europe while also highlighting the need to prepare effective adaptation plans for a likely increase in the severity and frequency of floods in Europe.
In the framework of the HELIX FP7 Project, scientists analysed the differences in projected changes in flood risk at country scale under global warming scenarios of 1.5, 2 and 3 degrees from pre-industrial levels, and discussed reasons for the observed outcomes.