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Previously in ClimateChangePost

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In the Scheldt estuary, effective sea- level rise is up to 15 mm per year since 1930. This is a much higher rate than sea-level rise at the coast

In a warmer future climate, Western Europe will see larger impacts from severe Autumn storms. Not only their frequency will increase, but also their intensity and the area they affect.

How much sea level rise is to be expected at the upper limit of current IPCC scenarios? This question has been dealt with for northern Europe

The 10-year design storm intensity for urban drainage systems in Belgium can increase up to about 50% by the end of this century. Or, systems currently designed for a 20-year return period of flooding

Severe hurricane-force (> 32.6 m/s) storms can cause floods in west-European coastal regions and inflict large-scale damage on infrastructure and agriculture.

At extremely low water levels, the price per tonne for inland waterway transport in the river Rhine area will almost double. These increased transport prices result in welfare losses.

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I recommend

National plans/strategies for Belgium

  • Belgium's Sixth National Communication Climate Change under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (2014). Download.
  • Belgian National Climate Change Adaptation Strategy. Download.

Reports/papers that focus on important Belgian topics

  • Agriculture: Gabriëls ( 2005). Expected climate change, consequences for agriculture in Flanders (text in Dutch). Download.
  • Biodiversity: Van Ypersele and Marbaix (2004). Impact of climate change in Belgium (text in Dutch). Download.
  • Flood risk: d’Ieteren et al. (2003). Les effets du changement climatique en Belgique: Impacts potentiels sur les bassins hydrographiques et la côte maritime. Download.

Reports/papers that present a sound overview for Europe

  • Quante, M. and F. Colijn (eds), 2016. North Sea Region climate change assessment NOSCCA. Regional Climate Studies, Springer Nature, 555 pp. Download.
  • Eisenreich (2005). Climate change and the European water dimension. A report to the European water directors.
  • European Environment Agency (2005). Vulnerability and adaptation to climate change in Europe. Download.
  • European Environment Agency, JRC and WHO (2008). Impact of Europe’s changing climate – 2008 indicator-based assessment. Download.

Reports/papers that focus on specific topics, relevant for all of Europe

  • Agriculture: Rounsevell et al. (2005). Future scenarios of European agricultural land use II. Projecting changes in cropland and grassland. Download.
  • Agriculture: Fischer et al. (2005). Socio-economic and climate change impacts on agriculture: an integrated assessment, 1990–2080. Download.
  • Biodiversity: Thuiller et al. (2005). Climate change threats to plant diversity in Europe. Download.
  • Coastal erosion: Salman et al. (2004). Living with coastal erosion in Europe: sediment and space for sustainability. Download.
  • Droughts: Blenkinsop and Fowler (2007). Changes in European drought characteristics projected by the PRUDENCE regional climate models. Download.
  • Droughts: European Environment Agency (2009). Water resources across Europe – confronting water scarcity and drought. Download.
  • Forestry: Seppälä et al. (2009). Adaptation of forests and people to climate change. A global assessment report. Download.
  • Health: Kosatsky (2005). The 2003 European heat waves. Download.
  • Health: WHO (2008). Protecting health in Europe from climate change. Download.
  • Insurance and Business: Mills et al. (2005). Availability and affordability of insurance under climate change. A growing challenge for the U.S. Download.
  • Security and Crisis management: German Advisory Council on Global Change (2007). World in transition: Climate change as a security risk. Summary for policy-makers. Download.
  • Storms: Gardiner et al. (2010). Destructive storms in European forests: Past and forthcoming impacts. Download.
  • Storms: Pinto et al. (2007). Changing European storm loss potentials under modified climate conditions according to ensemble simulations of the ECHAM5/MPI-OM1 GCM. Download.
  • Tourism: Deutsche Bank Research (2008). Climate change and tourism: Where will the journey lead? Download.

EU funded Research Projects

Agriculture

Aquifers

Climate change scenarios

Climate change impacts and vulnerabilities

Coastal areas

Droughts and water scarcity

Floods

Forest fires

Forestry

Fresh water resources

Health

Infrastructure

Land use

Mitigation / adaptation options and costs

Security and Crisis management

Transport, Infrastructure and Building

Urban areas

Droughts Belgium

Vulnerabilities - Belgium

With regard to drought, a preliminary study (19) shows that the longest periods without significant recorded precipitation show no major change since the early 20th century.

Dry summers, with increased evaporation and possibly reduced precipitation, will probably reduce the groundwater level significantly (20). In contrast, increased winter precipitation will contribute to larger groundwater recharge. Changes to aquifer levels cancel each other out over a year or so and should therefore not be problematic.

Belgium has pointed out water scarcity situations in the Western part of Flanders. The imbalance between pumped amounts of groundwater and the limited recharge through the thick Ypresian clay layer has locally caused a great decline in piezometric heads in the aquifer of the primary rocks, cretaceous layers and landenian sands. Groundwater levels dropping up to 165 m were observed (17).

Transport

If a 1976 drought event occurred under current circumstances of water demand, navigation would be made impossible on the canal system during 115 days, resulting in a cost of 123 Mio €. The estimated damage is only based on the direct damage experienced by the sector itself and thus does not include a very important part of economic damages borne by all the industries depending on this mode of transport (17).

The definition of drought

Drought is a natural phenomenon defined as sustained and extensive occurrence of below average water availability. Drought should not be confused with aridity, which is a long-term average feature of a dry climate. It is also distinct from water scarcity, which constitutes an imbalance between water availability and demand (1).

Three general types of drought may be recognized (7):


  • meteorological droughts – defined on the basis of rainfall deficiency;
  • hydrological droughts – where accumulated shortfalls in river flows or groundwater replenishment are of primary importance;
  • agricultural droughts where the availability of soil water through the growing season is the critical factor.

During lengthy droughts, all three categories may combine to increase water stress. High temperatures are not a necessary component of drought conditions, dry winters can lead to water resources stress in the following summer.

Droughts might manifest themselves either as short but extreme single season droughts (such as the hot summer of 2003) or longer-term, multi-season droughts, and they might be local or widespread in nature (7).

Vulnerabilities in Europe

The European Commission has estimated that at least 11 % of Europe's population and 17 % of its territory have been affected by water scarcity to date and put the cost of droughts in Europe over the past thirty years at EUR 100 billion (1).The drought of 2003 caused a total economic cost of over €13 billion in around twenty European countries (2,7).

Vulnerabilities – European trends in the past

There is no clear evidence that a widespread change in droughts has occurred in Europe over the last century or over the last decades (6). There is no evidence that river flow droughts have become more severe or frequent over Europe in general in recent decades (3), nor is there conclusive proof of a general increase in summer dryness in Europe over the past 50 years due to reduced summer moisture availability (4). Strong increases in the area of combined severe dry and wet conditions in Europe over the last three decades have also been identified, though, and it has been suggested that without global warming droughts would have been smaller and less pervasive (13).


Regional differences

Despite the absence of a general trend in Europe, there have been distinct regional differences. In particular, more severe river flow droughts have been observed in Spain, the eastern part of eastern Europe and large parts of the United Kingdom (3). However, in the United Kingdom there is no evidence of a significant increase in the frequency of occurrence of low river flows (5).

Increasing drought deficits were observed in Spain, eastern Europe and large parts of central Europe with changes in precipitation cited as a major explanatory factor (11). Others (12) have indicated that the proportion of Europe experiencing extreme and/or moderate drought conditions has changed significantly during the twentieth century with fewer droughts over Scandinavia, Netherlands and the Ukraine and more in areas of eastern Europe and western Russia.

Water extraction

Water extraction as well as water management across catchments and changes in land use and management also make it very difficult to attribute changes in average water discharge, floods and droughts to climate-change forcing (8).

Changes in drought severity for western Europe have been attributed to a changing climate but for eastern European countries the increased extraction of water for economic expansion is also a significant factor (15). It has been suggested that the influence of increases in water consumption on future droughts may even be of the same magnitude as the projected impact of climate change (16).

Vulnerabilities – Future projections for Europe

River flow droughts are projected to increase in frequency and severity in southern and south‑eastern Europe, the United Kingdom, France, Benelux, and western parts of Germany over the coming decades. In snow-dominated regions, where droughts typically occur in winter, river flow droughts are projected to become less severe because a lower fraction of precipitation will fall as snow in warmer winters. In most of Europe, the projected decrease in summer precipitation, accompanied by rising temperatures which enhances evaporative demand, may lead to more frequent and intense summer droughts (9).


As a result of both climate change and increasing water withdrawals, more river basins will be affected by severe water stress, resulting in increased competition for water resources. The regions most prone to an increase in drought risk are the Mediterranean and south-eastern parts of Europe, which already suffer most from water stress (10).

According to research based on six regional climate models, there is not a simple north–south pattern of decreased–increased drought, with models projecting fewer events for parts of the Iberian Peninsula and parts of the Mediterranean. Considerable uncertainty exists at the regional scale. For example, for Britain and northern Spain, different models project both increases and decreases. … All models project longer and more severe droughts in the Mediterranean and shorter, less severe, events for Scandinavia with greater uncertainty as to the direction of change for the rest of Europe (14).

The use of six regional climate models has demonstrated the range of uncertainty in future projections of even mean precipitation across Europe, but also enables some generalizations to be made. Increases in precipitation are likely during winter and these are likely to be largest and most persistent for northern Europe. In contrast, large decreases in precipitation are likely during summer, these being largest in southern Europe (14).

For longer-duration droughts there is a clearer spatial pattern, which indicates fewer droughts in northern Europe due to larger increases in winter precipitation and more droughts of increasing severity in the south (14).

Biodiversity

Droughts may strongly affect biodiversity all across Europe. Some examples (8):

  • The environmental impacts of droughts can be exacerbated by unsustainable trends in water use. The worst combination appears when drought strikes freshwater ecosystems already weakened by excessive water withdrawals. For example, Lake Iliki, some 100 km northeast of Athens, has been reduced to a third of its original size, partly by a severe drought in 2000 but also as a result of increasing drinking water demand. Likewise, Lake Djoran, located between Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, is at risk of drying up, thus threatening one of the richest inland fishing stocks in Europe.
  • Wetlands are particularly vulnerable to drought. The drought that affected Spain in the first half of the 1990s reduced by 97 % the flooded area of the Natural Park of the ‘Tablas de Daimiel’, the most important wetland area in the interior of the Iberian peninsula. Here too, water withdrawals, in this case for agricultural purposes, contributed to the loss.
  • Droughts can cause the deterioration of water quality in rivers, lakes and reservoirs by exacerbating algal blooms that reduce the oxygen available for aquatic species. In the summer of 1999, for instance, these processes affected many lakes in Finland.
  • Droughts may also weaken the resistance of certain plant species to plagues and increase their susceptibility to forest fires, as happened in the Greek island of Samos in the summer of 2000.
  • Finally, drought can threaten the very survival of species in certain areas. The prolonged drought that affected southern Spain in the mid 1990s caused a high mortality rate among maritime pines and severely withered green oak and cork oak forests.

Soil erosion

Droughts may also trigger soil erosion, mainly in Mediterranean areas. One way this happens is through a reduction in vegetation cover caused by forest fires or by increased plant mortality due to water stress. In addition, when the soil is very dry, the water infiltration rate decreases. Consequently, if a period of drought is followed by heavy storms, erosion is triggered by surface runoff. The problem is especially acute in the arid and semi-arid Mediterranean areas where the process may lead to desertification (8).

Adaptation strategies

Pan-European

Europe should view 2003 as a wake-up call. The 2003 drought should be the catalyst for actions aimed at reducing drought impacts across all relevant sectors (7). Drought is not mentioned in European energy policies. Similarly European transport navigation policy makes no reference to low flow conditions, whereas health policies make few provisions for reduced water supplies and deteriorating water quality. Drought is one criterion for exemption to the requirements of the Water Framework Directive – an increasingly likely situation. It makes no provision for managing biodiversity protection during severe droughts (7).

In contrast to internal policy, drought is addressed as a real issue in EU development policies. Drought is seen as a threat to sustainable development, a humanitarian issue and a driver of mass migration and political instability (7).

EU policy orientations for future action

According to the EU, policy orientations for the way forward are (18):

  • Putting the right price tag on water;
  • Allocating water and water-related funding more efficiently: Improving land-use planning, and Financing water efficiency;
  • Improving drought risk management: Developing drought risk management plans, Developing an observatory and an early warning system on droughts, and Further optimising the use of the EU Solidarity Fund and European Mechanism for Civil Protection;
  • Considering additional water supply infrastructures;
  • Fostering water efficient technologies and practices;
  • Fostering the emergence of a water-saving culture in Europe;
  • Improve knowledge and data collection: A water scarcity and drought information system throughout Europe, and Research and technological development opportunities.

National

Adaptation activities currently seem to be focused on flood management and defence, while adaptation measures related to the management of water scarcity and drought, although recognized as equally damaging, do not yet seem to be widespread (2).

References

The references below are cited in full in a separate map 'References'. Please click here if you are looking for the full references for Belgium.

  1. EC (2007a), in: EEA (2009)
  2. Anderson (ed.) (2007)
  3. Hisdal et al. (2001), in:EEA, JRC and WHO (2008)
  4. Van der Schrier et al.(2006), in:EEA, JRC and WHO (2008)
  5. Hanneford and Marsh (2006), in:EEA, JRC and WHO (2008)
  6. Van Lanen et al. (2007), in: EEA (2009)
  7. Eisenreich (2005)
  8. EEA, JRC and WHO (2008)
  9. Douville et al. (2002); Lehner et al. (2006); Feyen and Dankers (2008), in:EEA, JRC and WHO (2008)
  10. Alcamo et al. (2003); Schröter et al. (2005), in: EEA, JRC and WHO (2008)
  11. Demuth and Stahl, 2001, in: Blenkinsop and Fowler (2007)
  12. Lloyd-Hughes and Saunders (2002), in: Blenkinsop and Fowler (2007)
  13. Dai et al. (2004), in: Blenkinsop and Fowler (2007)
  14. Blenkinsop and Fowler (2007)
  15. Lehner et al. (2006), in: Blenkinsop and Fowler (2007)
  16. Lehner and Döll (2001), in: Blenkinsop and Fowler (2007)
  17. European Commission (DG Environment) (2007)
  18. Commission of the European Communities (2007)
  19. Royal Meteorological Institute of Belgium (2009), in: National Climate Commission Belgium (2010)
  20. IRGT-KINT, CEESE/ECOLAS (2004), Smitz, J.S., et al. (2002), both in: National Climate Commission Belgium (2010)
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