As a herald of European climate change, the 2022 summer requires us to accelerate the identification and sharing of good solutions in Europe

Olivier ABULI, advice and analyses consultant

September 5, 2022

This ending summer is bound to be a marker in European populations, politicians and socio-economic actor's minds.

While we were almost exclusively focussing on securing energy supplies and curbing inflation during spring, the most feared harbingers of global warming have been increasing throughout the continent since late June :

• at high altitude : with the deadly collapse of the Marmolada glacier in Italy on July 3rd, then the vertiginous fall of the historic Fourche refuge in the Mont Blanc massif on the 24th of August ;

• in the forest massifs, with the burning down of nearly 700,000 hectares by mid-August ; from Spain to France via Rumania with megafires, but also equally critical outbreaks in Germany, Austria, the Czech Republic and Denmark ;

• concerning infrastructures : with a shrinking of the dried clay soils that makes the dykes of the Dutch polders more fragile, but also for a lot of engineering structures and millions of individual houses across Europe ;

• regarding the economic activities that rely on the regularity of the river flows : tourism (i.e. outdoor activities in rivers, violent storms), logistics (i.e. the tonnage of river transportation on the Rhine has been limited to 25% of the usual load since July because of its low draught), agriculture (i.e. forecasts of a drop in yields of summer crops ranging from 12 to 16% for 2022 concerning EU as a whole), energy (i.e. hydroelectricity and nuclear power plants), industry... ;

• for biodiversity : with changes in the behavior and loss of markers for a lot of marine and migratory species, as illustrated by the intrusion of a killer whale in May and a beluga this summer into the Seine river as far as Paris.

The picture is dark. The trajectory it illuminates and the mechanical sequence of natural calamities it has brought about must be taken very seriously into account. However a general public awareness seems to have emerged.

But what will we remember if these critical episodes turn out to be less frequent or more localized in the next three or four years ? For instance, in France, the 2021 average rainfall was in line with historical averages... but with a 50% rainfall surplus in June and July…

Europe is getting warmer much faster than other regions located at the same latitudes

It is a bitter observation indeed : only by proxy have we, collectively, for a long time grasped global warming through the point of view of its most visible and distant manifestations : i.e. atolls threatened with submersion, extreme and deadly monsoons in Asia, sub-Saharan migrations...

As a matter of fact, climate change is a long process that is most of the time barely perceptible and erratic. And we are discovering that, according to scientists, Western Europe is also a geographical area that is particularly vulnerable to risks of heat waves and droughts.

This is precisely what the second part of the IPCC report higlighted at the end of February. This is also confirmed by a paper published by Nature at the beginning of July : our subcontinent is warming up 3 to 4 times faster than regions located at similar latitudes !

This is definitely the message that Valérie Masson-Delmotte, a paleoclimatologist and IPCC member, delivered to the members of the French government during an awareness-raising session about climate issues that was held for them on August 31st.

Four major threats are pressing on the European Union countries :

1. Increasingly frequent and extreme heat waves, weighing on populations and ecosystems ;

2. declining global agricultural yields, with the prospect of a collapse in production in the southern countries of the continent ;

3. recurrent flooding risks caused by the occurrence of sudden and torrential rains on dried out or artificial soils ;

4. regular water shortages, with worrying social and economic implications.

Is water availability the alpha and omega ?

This major item is undoubtedly systemic as it concerns our ability to successfully transform our business models by decarbonizing them, relocating and recovering strategic self-sufficiency.

Whether it is a question of food sovereignty, planned and reasoned exploitation of biomass or prospects for large-scale production of energies as an alternative to fossil fuels (i.e. hydrogen, partial transition through nuclear power), the preservation and constant availability of sufficient water resources is a prerequisite.

Solutions do exist ! « They are within reach ». This is what the IPCC experts have forcefully stated in the third part of their latest report in a salutary burst of optimism.

Simple « adaptation » is already a thing of the past, and the calendar of « transitions » cannot be postponed forever. The time seems to be ripe for the validation and mobilization of solutions for faster, more effective, and even radical « transformations ».

From the supranational to the local level, each layer of decision making, each organization holds a share of responsibility, has a role to play and will find an interest in getting involved.

But this market of innovation and transformation will obviously find its coherence, its prospects and its maturity on a European scale. solutions to decarbonise, (re)locate & digitise.