Europe facing ‘unprecedented’ flood damage from climate change

17th August 2018

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Duncan Oswald

Extreme sea level rises driven by global warming could see annual flood damage in Europe increase from just €1.25bn (£1.1bn) today to nearly €1trn by the end of the century.

That is according to two studies from the EU’s Joint Research Centre (JRC), which predict that coastal floods could impact 3.65 million people every year by that time, up from around 102,000 today.

In order for Europe to keep flood losses relative to the size of its economy, the researchers conclude that defence structures must be installed to withstand sea level rises ranging from 0.5 to 2.5 metres.

“Climate change is the main driver of the projected rise in costs from coastal flooding, with the importance of coastward migration, urbanisation and rising asset values rapidly declining,” the researchers said.

“This is a change from the current situation globally, where rising risk has primarily been driven by socioeconomic development.”

After considering a business-as-usual scenario, and one with moderate policy efforts to mitigate climate change, it was concluded that flood damage could reach between €93bn and €962bn by 2100.

One in three EU citizens currently live within 50km of the coast and face a direct threat from rising sea levels, which are increasing largely because of a process know as “thermal expansion”.

Another major contributing factor is 'ice mass loss' – ice melting from glaciers and ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica.

This comes after the Environment Agency warned that intense bouts of flooding in the UK have increased substantially this century, and are set to rise even further as a result of climate change.

Along with rising sea levels, the agency highlighted Met Office data showing that there have been 17 record-breaking rainfall months and seasons since 1910 – nine of which have occurred since 2000

“Floods destroy lives, livelihoods, and property,” Environment Agency chief executive, Sir James Bevan, said. “Our flood defences reduce the risk, but climate change is likely to mean more frequent and intense flooding.”

Image credit: iStock


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