“The 2 °C warming target has mainly been decided among nations as a limit not to exceed in order to avoid possibly dangerous climate change,” Robert Vautard of the Institut Pierre-Simon Laplace, France, told environmentalresearchweb. “However, the consequences of such a warming, at the scale of a continent like Europe, were not yet quantified. Even for such an ambitious target as +2 °C, changes in European climate are significant and will lead to impacts…adaptation measures must be considered.”

Northeastern and eastern Europe look set to warm relatively strongly – up to 3° – in winter, while southern Europe will see greater warming in summer, again possibly as much as 3°, the researchers found. Only in northwestern areas such as the British Isles and Iceland was the regional warming less than the global warming year-round, perhaps indicating the moderating influence of the North Atlantic. In summer, the regional warming near the North Sea and the Baltic Sea was also relatively low.

The researchers believe their study reveals important distributions in the pattern of likely impacts across Europe. The increased summer temperatures around the Mediterranean and Iberian Peninsula will “compound existing temperature-related impacts such as energy use for cooling”, the team writes in Environmental Research Letters (ERL). “However, the higher winter warming in Northern Europe will have a mix of positive as well as negative effects, including reduced winter heating.”

Northern Europe is likely to see more rain in both winter and summer. Central Europe will receive more rain in winter but less in summer, while southern Europe could see summer rainfall decrease by as much as a fifth. This could exacerbate existing water-management issues across Europe, for example by increasing water deficits in the south in summer.

Extremes will also change, according to the analysis. The hottest temperature expected within a 20-year period in summer is projected to increase by 4° in some regions. In Spain, Portugal, France and the Balkans, which currently see the hottest extremes, this will bring the 20-year return value well above 40°C. “As increases in summer extreme heat are linked to health impacts in the form of temperature-related mortality, the pattern of changes projected under 2°C is likely to have important health impacts in the more vulnerable regions of Europe,” write the researchers. “Conversely, the extremes of daily minimum temperatures are reduced most notably in Northern and Eastern areas of Europe, which will have benefits in reducing current winter cold extremes and cold-related mortality as well as winter heating costs, though there would also be negative impacts, such as on winter tourism and ecosystems.”

Cold daily minima in Scandinavia and Russia in winter could see an 8° rise, the team found. And heavy rainfall, which can bring flood risk, is likely to increase almost everywhere year-round, except for southern Europe in summer. The trend is particularly marked over Eastern Europe and Scandinavia in summer and over southern Europe in winter. “Floods are among the most important weather-related loss events in Europe and can have large economic consequences,” writes the team. “The projected increase in Eastern Europe is a particular concern because this is one of the existing flood hotspots.”

To come up with their projections, Vautard and colleagues used 15 of the 22 ENSEMBLES regional simulations. These regional climate models were driven by six different global climate models using the A1B emissions scenario. The global climate models reached 2° of warming around the year 2045.

Now the team will continue their work in two directions – looking at higher-resolution simulations, such as those of the new EURO-CORDEX project, and looking at pan-European impacts of such a climate change and the adaptation options.

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