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Previously in ClimateChangePost


Already in the next decades highly populated urban areas in Central Europe will experience significantly more hot days, tropical nights, and extreme precipitation events.

Previous sea level rise projections may have underestimated the contribution of Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets. Recent studies lead to upward adjustment of estimated sea level rise in 2100.

Extreme weather events are frequently associated with the passage of large-scale fronts. The number of extremely strong fronts is increasing, and so are precipitation extremes.

Climate impacts in Europe are not necessarily all negative. They could be beneficial for many crops and areas of production.

More vegetation may be effective as an integral component of storm water adaptation measures to mitigate climate change-induced flooding. The extent varies from one urban area to another, however.

Poor and vulnerable people are insufficiently protected against floods. Investments in flood risk management are based on inadequate cost-benefit analyses with a too narrow focus on financial losses.

In November 2016 Science published an overview of climate change impacts on biodiversity: "The broad footprint of climate change from genes to biomes to people". This article presents a summary.

Organisms do not respond to climate change at the same pace. This has led to a mismatch between European migratory bird species and their insect food peak, and a decline in their population sizes.

Pollutant emissions spew from all corners of the planet and transport within the commercial and industrial sector especially bears no small degree of guilt.

Climate change will unavoidably affect the archaeological heritage, through temperature increases, changes in humidity cycles, and increased frequency and severity of extreme events.

So far, 2014 is Europe’s hottest year on record. Research shows that anthropogenic climate change has made Europe’s warm year of 2014 at least 500 times more likely.

Future trends in storm surge level changes along the European coastline show an increase for Northern Europe and small or no changes for Southern Europe.

Very hot summers will become the ‘new normal’ much faster than most people expect. A recent study describes a grim picture for the world’s population regarding high summer temperatures.

Novel ways to enhance society’s resilience to natural disasters such as floods, heat waves or wildfires, in a newly published book of the EU-funded research project ENHANCE.

Trends of increasing numbers of flash floods in, for instance, Spain agree with the IPCC hypothesis about the increase in both torrential events and people’s vulnerability and exposure to floods.

Whether a river’s catchment in winter is dominated by rainfall or snow determines the impact of climate change on its peak flows. The impact depends on how the ratio between rainfall and snow changes.

One of the benefits of climate change is the use of Arctic sea for trans-Arctic shipping routes. Less ice in summer creates a shortcut between Pacific and Atlantic ports.

There is no such thing as a European response to climate change. Regions with the same increase in temperature and precipitation will have different impacts of climate change.

Green water under a blue sky. Water in the canals of Delft (the Netherlands) turned green this summer, due to warm water and high nutrients input.

The impact of climate change will be felt especially in the cities during hot summers, due to the urban heat island effect. Several measures can be taken though to ‘beat the heat’.

Disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation in combination make societies more resilient to climate-fragility risks. Yet, a link between them has been more or less absent over the last years

Adverse environmental impacts associated with climate change can trigger displacement of an increased number of people. If people do migrate, this will mostly be internally within individual countries

Climate change may act as a threat multiplier for instability in some of the most volatile regions of the world. But there is no evidence of a strong relationship between warming and armed conflict.

Europe is surrounded by some of the most vulnerable regions to climate change. Migratory pressure at the European Union's borders and political instability and conflicts could increase in the future.

The changing climate may turn large parts of Europe into a suitable home for malarial mosquitoes. But a large-scale malaria epidemic is highly unlikely. The health infrastructure is too good for that.

Disease-transmitting ticks are expanding over Europe, consistent with observed warming trends. There is no evidence, however, of any associated changes in the distribution of tick-borne diseases.

Based on a presentation by Birgit Georgi (European Environment Agency) at the 4th Nordic Conference on Climate Change Adaptation in Bergen, Norway, August 2016.

Presented by Erik Kolstad (Uni Research Climate & Bjerknes Centre for Climate Research) at the 4th Nordic Conference on Climate Change Adaptation in Bergen, Norway, August 2016.

Based on a presentation by Per Sanderud and a discussion with Hege Hisdal and Christina Beisland of NVE at the 4th Nordic Conference on Climate Change Adaptation in Bergen, Norway, August 2016.

More heat-related deaths in summer may not balance less cold-related deaths in winter. In fact, higher winter temperature volatility and an ageing population may increase the number of winter deaths.

Current wildfire risk calls for more than well-equipped fire fighting units. Investments are needed in plane and satellite monitoring of forests, early warning, and more resilience to fires.

The world relies on the available surface water resources for electricity generation. How will global warming affect the potential for hydropower and cooling water?

Wildfire risk in northern Europe is much less than in the south. In northern Europe, wildfires are rare: the percentage of forestland burnt annually is less than 0.05%, compared with 0.55% for Spain.

The frequency of droughts will increase in the next several decades. In addition, population will grow. Both impacts have been assessed. The conclusion: climate change plays the primary role.

The impacts of climate change on natural hazards cast their shadows in the increasing numbers of wildfires. The causal connection is hard to deny.

The increase in intensity of heat waves in combination with high tropospheric ozone concentrations represents the greatest direct risk that climate change poses to people’s health in Europe.

50% of the deaths as a result of the European summer heat wave of 2003 may be associated with ozone exposure rather than the heat itself, research has shown.

The prolongation and intensification of the thermal growing season offers several benefits for northern European forestry and agriculture. In southern Europe, negative impacts dominate.

Increasing the level of flood protection may be cost-effective, but is not sustainable in the long term. A higher level of flood protection results in the loss of flood memory.

Looking at the combination of extreme events, entire Europe could face a progressive increase in overall climate exposure, with a prominent spatial gradient towards southwestern regions

Increasing exposure to flooding is the main cause of the steeply rising trend in global river flood losses over the past decades.

Forest management can mitigate the effects of climate change. Climate and forest management interact and affect streamflow differentially.

The effect of climate change on extreme events extends back several decades. An example is the record- breaking hot summer of 1997/1998 in Australia.

A new field of science called “extreme event attribution” allows for answering the question: did climate change play a role in
this specific extreme event?

The battle against climate change will be a race against the clock. Engineers will have to fight on two fronts: towards a sustainable energy system and against projected impacts.

It is yet unclear how climate change may affect the number of severe storms on the Atlantic Ocean and in the European coastal zone.

Air pollution is a serious health concern in many parts of the world. Projections of air quality changes over Europe under climate change are highly uncertain, however.

Under a moderate scenario of climate change, by 2050 0.5 to 3.1 billion people are exposed to an increase in water scarcity solely due to climate change.

The heat wave in 2010 was likely the hottest summer in the last 500 years in eastern Europe. It was both due to natural climate variability and anthropogenic climate change.

An interesting ‘trade-off’ is the effect of global warming on the number of heat-related and cold-related deaths. What will be the net effect of hotter summers and warmer winters?

Over the last years, climate-driven changes such as large-scale floods have increased the volume of water on land. This increase slowed down sea level rise.

Climate change will have an impact on river flood risk, but to what extent? One thing is clear: the impact is highly uncertain.

The impacts of a +2°C global warming on extreme floods and hydrological droughts have been assessed for Europe for 1 in 10 and 1 in 100 year events.

Maize and soybean are among the most important food crops worldwide. Global warming reduces growing season length and yields for both crops.

The earlier green-up of vegetation in Europe amplifies spring warming, especially the frequency and intensity of spring heat waves, according to a recent study.

At many places climate change both increases droughts and heavy rainfall. Too little and too much water are part of the same problem. They may be part of the same solution too

Urban centers worldwide are racing to bolster themselves and their residents against rising sea levels

Sea level rise over the next decades is not an immediate, catastrophic threat to many marshes: marshes will survive in place under relatively fast rates of sea level rise

The global area of dryland is increasing rapidly. This was shown from data over the period 1948–2005, and seems to proceed towards the end of this century.

Wind energy potential more likely than not will increase over Northern and Central Europe. For Southern Europe, a likely decrease of mean annual wind energy potential is projected.

Lake summer surface water temperatures are warming significantly, with a mean trend of 0.34°C per decade, across 235 globally distributed lakes.

Estimates of potential increase in annual burned areas in Europe under a high-end scenario of climate change show an increase of about 200% by 2090

The larger Mediterranean Basin will have warmer and dryer climate conditions at the end of this century. Desertification in the Mediterranean region

The results of a European-wide study show that forest management cannot keep pace with the projected change in species suitability under climate change.

Estimates based on a combination of climate and flooding models indicate that river floods affect some 216,000 people every year in Europe. The estimated annual damage for Europe is 5.3 B€.

Climatic conditions might become more favorable for tourism in the north of Europe and less so in the south. Climate model projections for 2100

Flood insurance differs widely in scope and form across Europe. There seems to be little appetite for harmonization of flood insurance arrangements across the EU

Drought and heat-induced tree mortality is accelerating in many forest biomes as a consequence of a warming climate, resulting in a threat to global forests unlike any in recorded history.

Recently, the American Meteorological Society published a large number of studies on extreme events in 2014, focused on the question whether these can be (partly) attributed to climate change.

Bumblebee species seem to fail to move to the north of Europe and North America in response to global warming whereas they lose habitats at the southern range

What measures may be effective in reducing the urban heat island effect and cool down cities during heat waves? A comparison of recent insights from scientific studies

Allergenic diseases caused by pollen may appear earlier in the year and may also increase. An example of the latter is the invasion of common ragweed (a native in North America) into Europe since the

Climate change is considered a large threat to especially montane species. These species often inhabit narrow elevational ranges

Five large-scale homogeneous regions in Europe have been identified in terms of flood regimes, based on the longest available flow series from across Europe

Many impact studies assume that climate change results in changing daily minimum and maximum temperatures by the same amount and in the same direction. However, on local scales

Extreme heat waves have an impact on western European electricity supply due to the increased electricity demand for cooling and the power limitation of thermoelectric plants

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

In high-latitude regions of the Earth, temperatures have risen 0.6 °C per decade, twice as fast as the global average. The resulting thaw of frozen ground

According to satellite altimetry-based data anthropogenic global warming has resulted in global mean sea-level rise of 3.3 ± 0.4 mm/year over the period 1994-2011

Specific individual extreme weather events cannot be attributed to climate change. It has been shown, however, that the overall probability of climate change having an effect on extreme events can be

With respect to high-frequency flood zones, including exposure to both coastal and river floods, in 2000 about 30% of the global urban land was located in these zones; by 2030, this will reach 40%.

There is growing evidence that the rate of warming is amplified with elevation, such that high-mountain environments experience more rapid changes in temperature

For Canadian cities, four major categories of mitigation strategies and measures have been identified: Greening measures: all measures that can increase

Human influence can account for almost 100% of the changes in future hydrological drought in areas such as Asia, Middle East and North-Africa (Mediterranean).

Climate change threatens one in six species (16%) globally if we follow our current, business-as-usual trajectory

The overall enhancement on summery tourist comfort in north-western European countries and the overall degradation in the Mediterranean could lead to

The impact of climate change on foodborne parasites is complicated and provides no easy answers.

European wine farms show considerable potential to improve their economic performance, and thereby ease their situation in a global change scenario.

future changes in wind power potential are weak or non-significant over a large part of Europe: changes in wind power potential will remain within ±15% and ±20% by mid and late century respectively.

Projected climate changes suggest increased drying, driven primarily by increases in evapotranspiration. This will likely have significant ramifications for globally important regions

The latest high-resolution future climate simulations for Europe (from the EURO-CORDEX program) refer to a horizontal resolution of 12.5 km. The first results address changes

Future climate change will affect recharge rates and, in turn, the depth of groundwater levels and the amount of available groundwater.

The adaptation potential of European agriculture in response to climate change has been assessed for a number of crops. It was shown that adaptation potential is high for maize

Global demand for food is expected to increase by at least 50% from 2010 to 2050 mainly as a result of population growth and a shift towards a more `westernized' diet

With 25% of the global wheat area and 29% of global wheat production, Europe is the largest producer of wheat. The increased occurrence and magnitude of adverse and extreme agroclimatic events

The impact of global warming on the cultural world heritage through sea level rise has been estimated for the next 2000 years.

In the past decade, winter consequences and flood events accounted for 96% of the total rail and road networks costs in the Alps, 92% in mid-Europe and 91% across EUR29.

Railways are the losers of climate change thanks to their expensive—and therefore vulnerable—infrastructure and their complex vehicle routing system and high safety standards.

A recent analysis indicates that the planet has warmed most where scientists are watching least. The recent slowdown in warming seems to be half as big as previously thought.

Global yield impacts of climate change and adaptation have been evaluated by analysing a data set of more than 1,700 published simulations for three crops: wheat, rice and maize.

On the Rhine–Main–Danube corridor no decrease in the performance of inland waterway transport due to extreme weather events is expected till 2050.

Current global glacier volume is projected to reduce by 29 - 41% over the period 2006–2100. Scandinavia may lose more than 75% of its current volume

Water scarcity and climate change are overall not found to have an important association with armed conflict, especially if compared to poverty and dysfunctional institutions.

Opportunities for integrating climate change into peacebuilding refer to socio-economic recovery, politics and governance, security and rule of law, and human rights.

Projected impacts indicate increased fish productivity at high latitudes and decreased productivity at low/mid latitudes

Climate change will affect future flow and thermal regimes of rivers. This will directly affect freshwater habitats and ecosystem health.

Risk management instruments in agriculture, such as crop insurance and disaster assistance programme, and especially how they are designed, will affect incentives to adapt.

Assuming protection against a 100-year flood event, EU annual river flood damage is estimated to increase from €5.5 billion now to €98 billion in 2100.

Precipitation on future days, where average daily temperature is below freezing, decreases in large parts of Europe in a future warmer climate.

The yield decreasing effect of climate change in Europe is projected to be compensated and partially superseded by higher atmospheric CO2 concentration and technology development.

For Europe, by the end of the century, irrigation water demand is projected to decrease for Eastern Europe under scenarios for moderate climate change.

In Europe, 1-day and 5-day precipitation events that occurred on average once in 5, 10 and 20 years in the 1950s and 1960s generally became more common during the period 1951–2010.

The average poleward shift in recorded incidences of crop pests and pathogens since 1960 is 2.2 ± 0.8 km/year for the Northern Hemisphere and 1.7 ± 1.7 km/year for the Southern Hemisphere.

Fire policy that focuses on suppression only delays the inevitable, promising more dangerous and destructive future forest fires.

There are perhaps five wheat and three maize growing regions likely to be both exposed to worse droughts and a reduced capacity to adapt.

The urban heat island effect has been quantified for all cities in 38 European countries. It was shown that this effect varies over the seasons.

21st century climate change increases global all-cause premature mortalities associated with PM2.5 by approximately 100,000 deaths and respiratory disease mortality

The effects and the relevance of gradual climate change on the probability of power outages and blackouts are difficult to quantify. It has been stated that by 2040 capacity reductions of 13–19 %

Climate change and extreme weather events represent a real physical threat to the oil and gas sector, particularly in low-lying coastal areas and areas exposed to extreme weather events.

Flood frequency increases in West and Northwest Europe, including the UK, Ireland, the Low Countries and most of France. In contrast, flood frequency decreases in many regions of

At the regional level, the impact of climate change was assessed for Europe combining indicators of climatic and non-climatic change ...

The expected value of European forest land is expected to decrease owing to the decline of economically valuable species in the absence of effective countermeasures ...

From the available scientific literature the impact of climate change on security is yet unclear ...

Problems with efficient dewatering following heavy rainfall events are not uncommon already today, e.g. because of urbanization beyond the system capacity ...

Windstorm losses are expected to reach unseen magnitudes, which for some countries (e.g. Germany) may exceed 200% of the strongest event in present day climate simulations ...

Substantial reductions in potential groundwater recharge are projected for the 21st century in southern Europe and increases in northern Europe ...

The economic impacts of climate change have been estimated for a global mean temperature rise of +2°C and +4°C for 27 European countries ...

Changes in dry and wet spell characteristics in Europe have been projected for 2021–2050 compared with 1961–1990 ...

During the 2001–2010 decade, 500-year-long records of highest air temperature were likely broken over 65% of Europe, including ...

The direct and indirect costs of sea level rise for Europe have been modelled for a range of sea level rise scenarios for the 2020s and 2080s. The results show ...

Climate change will impact thermoelectric power production in Europe through a combination of increased water temperatures and ...

From an assessment of the implications of climate change for future flood damage and people exposed by floods in Europe it was concluded ...

Climate change may have a net positive effect on the overall European potential for tourism ...


I recommend

  • Latest update on "Global and European temperature" published by the European Environment Agency. Assessment drawn-up in 2016: pdf can be downloaded from Download.
  • Urban adaptation to climate change in Europe 2016. Transforming cities in a changing climate. Download.

Energy: European scale

Hydropower and thermoelectric power potential on a global scale

Worldwide, 81% of total electricity generation is currently produced by thermoelectric (nuclear, biomass- and fossil-fuelled) power plants, and 17% by hydropower plants (46). It is therefore of utmost importance for the electricity sector to have sufficient fresh water resources of low temperature to generate power and cool thermoelectric power plants. How will global warming change the world’s available surface water resources, in terms of stream flow and water temperature, and how will these changes affect the potential for hydropower and thermoelectric power generation?

This has been assessed on a global scale by calculating both gross hydropower potential and cooling water discharge capacity (45). Gross hydropower potential is defined as “the annual energy potentially available when all natural runoff in a country is harnessed down to sea level (or to the border line of the country) without any energy losses” (47). In other words, “the capacity of hydropower generation possible if all natural water flows contained as many 100% efficient turbines as possible” (48).  Cooling water discharge capacity is defined as the potential of surface water systems to dilute a certain amount of waste heat without exceeding environmental legislations (i.e. maximum permitted water temperatures and water temperature increases). Thus, gross hydropower potential and cooling water discharge capacity are upper limits that indicate the potential of future growth of thermoelectric and hydropower electricity generation. Actually, only a few percent of these upper limits is being used today (45)!

Gross hydropower potential and cooling water discharge capacity have been calculated for both a low- and high-end scenario of climate change (the so-called RCP2.6 and RCP8.5 scenarios), by using a combination of different models for climate change and river discharge (45).

Currently, both gross hydropower potential and mean cooling water discharge capacity are highest in Asia, followed by South America, Africa, North America, Europe, and Australia & Oceania. The assessment shows that global gross hydropower potential may increase between +2.4% and +6.3% for the 2080s compared to 1971 - 2000. Regions with considerable (>20%) increases in gross hydropower potential are mainly central Africa, India, central Asia and the northern high-latitude region. Regions with considerable (>20%) declines in hydropower potential are southern Europe, northern Africa, southern United States and parts of South America, southern Africa and southern Australia (45).

Global mean cooling water discharge capacity is projected to decrease by 4.5 - 15% (2080s). The largest reductions are found for the United States, Europe, eastern Asia, and southern parts of South America, Africa and Australia, where strong water temperature increases are projected combined with reductions in mean annual stream flow. Cooling water discharge capacity is expected to increase considerably (>20%) in India, central Africa, some northern parts of Australia and for the most northern high-latitude regions (45).

So on a global scale gross hydropower potential will increase by 2.4% - 6.3%, and mean cooling water discharge capacity will decrease by 4.5% - 15%, between now and the end of this century. These numbers may be misleading when looking at the possibilities to expand actual hydropower and thermoelectric power. Both hydropower and thermoelectric power may increase up to a few hundred percent in the course of this century (45). These percentages are completely different from the relative changes of the upper limits due to the fact that currently only 5% and 0.3% of these upper limits of gross hydropower potential and mean cooling water discharge capacity are actually being used for hydropower and thermoelectric power, respectively (45)! Thus, there seems to be a lot of potential to further increase hydropower and thermoelectric power. This is especially interesting since most current hydropower plants are situated in regions with expected declines in mean annual stream flow (49), whereas a large part of the world’s land surface will experience increases in stream flow and thus in gross hydropower potential (45). 

Opportunities in Europe

Wind energy

While the wind power share in the world’s electricity mix is currently 3%, wind power already provides 15 to 30% of national electricity in a few countries (e.g. Ireland, Spain, Portugal, Denmark) and is targeted to provide 18 % of global electricity by 2050 (35). In Europe, wind power installed capacity represents almost 40 % of the installed capacity globally in 2013 (36). It is expected to double within the next 10 years and might quadruple by the middle of the century (37). By 2020, the European Commission aims to produce 15.7% of the EU’s electricity from wind (43). In 2014, offshore and land-based wind farms generated about 7.3 % of Europe’s total electricity consumption in an average year (50). 

Future changes in the potential for wind power generation over the whole Europe and in the effective wind power production from national wind farms operating at the end of 2012 and planned by 2020 have been assessed (32). This assessment is based on several (regional and global) climate models under a scenario of moderate climate change (the SRES A1B emission scenario). Future changes are computed as the difference between the mean values obtained for the 1971–2000 present period and the 2031–2060 and 2071–2100 future periods.

According to this assessment, future changes in wind power potential are weak or non-significant over a large part of Europe: changes in wind power potential will remain within ±15% and ±20% by mid and late century respectively. Changes in multi-year power production will not exceed 5% and 15% in magnitude at the European and national scale respectively for both wind farms in operation at the end of 2012 and planned by 2020. The sign of changes differs from one model to another. Therefore, climate change should neither undermine nor favor wind energy development in Europe (32). From another study based on an intermediate and high scenario of climate change (the so-called RCP4.5 and RCP8.5 scenarios) and a large number of global climate models (GCMs) it was concluded that it is more likely than not that wind energy potential will increase over Northern and Central Europe on an annual basis (42).

Within Europe there are regional differences: a tendency toward a decrease of the wind power potential over Mediterranean areas and an increase over Northern Europe (32,42,44). A robust decrease in wind power is found over the Mediterranean region, with the exception of the Aegean Sea area which exhibits a robust increase (see also (33)). A robust increase is also highlighted over the Baltic Sea (see also (34)).

The assessment results above agree with the results summarized by the IPCC (2014) and many more (44). For most of Europe (except for the Mediterranean area), wind energy potential is projected to increase for the winter and decrease for the summer. As a result, intra-annual variability of wind energy potential may strongly increase for most of Europe. In general, signals are stronger for the second half of this century compared to the first half and for scenarios of strong (such as the RCP8.5 scenario) compared to intermediate (RCP4.5) global warming. A higher variability can potentially lead to a lower reliability of wind energy as an alternative energy source in future decades (42). No significant changes are expected before 2050, at least in Northern Europe (23). After 2050, the wind energy potential in Northern, Continental and most of Atlantic Europe may increase during winter and decrease in summer (24). For Southern Europe, a decrease in both seasons is expected (42), except for the Aegean Sea and Adriatic coast where a significant increase during summer is possible (25).

The differences in future projections of different models are large, however. Uncertainty about the magnitude of future changes is especially high for large parts of Germany, Scandinavia, and Eastern Europe. Uncertainties are much lower for Southwestern Europe (42).


For hydropower, electricity production in Scandinavia is expected to increase by 5-14% during 2071-2100 compared to historic or present levels (22, see also 41); for 2021-2050, increases by 1-20% were estimated (26). In Continental, and part of Alpine Europe, reductions in electricity production by 6-36% were estimated (27). For Southern Europe, production is expected to decrease by 5-15% in 2050 compared to 2005 (28). For 2070-2099 compared with 1971-2000, declines in hydropower potential >15% are projected for south-eastern Europe (Balkan countries like Greece, Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia, Macedonia) (41).

Solar energy

The energy output from photovoltaic panels and especially from concentrated solar power plants in most of Europe is projected to increase (under the A1B climate change scenario) (29).

Thermal power

A 6-19% decrease of the summer average usable capacity of power plants has been projected by 2031–2060 compared to 1971-2000 (30), while smaller decreases have been also estimated (31).

Marine biomass 

The production of marine biomass like microalgae for bioenergy and/or biofuel has emerged as a promising renewable energy source. Results suggest that use of marine biomass if commercially realised could potentially be as large and comparable to existing land-based forestry and agricultural energy crops (51). 


Power supply disruptions

Currently, nuclear power has a share of about 28 % in the electricity supply in the EU while the respective share of hydropower is about 12 % (2). Therefore, disruptions in the use of both nuclear power and hydropower plants may have significant impacts on the electricity supply system.  Autonomous adaptation in the energy sector takes place via international electricity markets by balancing demand and supply when climate change causes local or regional supply disruptions. Temporary autonomous adaptation in response to extreme weather patterns (heat waves and droughts) has been considered for different climate change scenarios. It has been found that strong declines in electricity generation due to climate change may occur, e.g. in Austria, France and Switzerland. By modifications of European power generation patterns as well as by changes in import and export balances, local electricity shortages can be overcome. Yet, then electricity prices tend to rise significantly in some European countries (e.g. Switzerland and France) (1).

The possibe impacts of climate change on thermal power plants have been inventoried from the literature (9):

  • Gradual climate change. Research has shown that a rise in ambient air temperatures of about 1 °C would reduce the thermal efficiency of a thermal power plant by 0.1–0.5 %. The total capacity loss accounts for 1.0–2.0 % per 1 °C higher air temperatures, including decreasing efficiency of cooling processes and shutdowns (7). The effects and the relevance of gradual climate change on the probability of power outages and blackouts are difficult to quantify. It has been stated that by 2040 capacity reductions of 13–19 % are possible due to increasing water temperatures and decreasing runoff in Europe. For the US reductions of 12–16 % in capacity have been estimated by 2040 (8).
  • Heat waves. Extreme heat leads to a shortfall in water supply or high river temperatures, influences the cooling of the building itself, and may lead to spontaneous combustion and self-ignition of coal stockpiles (9).
  • Wind-related impacts. Wind load pressure can cause the uplifting of tiles and roofs, damage to overhead lines and to storage tanks, and it can lead to damage to insulation and cooling towers (10).
  • Thunderstorms. When a lightning strike hits the tank, off-tank fluids may be ignited. Additionally, direct hits or creeping currents can damage electricity distribution and the control equipment necessary for power plant operation (9).
  • Water temperature. Rising water temperatures lead to a higher withdrawal of water in order that legal and environmental thresholds for the temperature of discharged water can be met without the need for large reductions in efficiency. If the higher amount of cooling water is still not sufficient, the power plant efficiency decreases further and the energy conversion consequently needs to be reduced in order to meet environmental thresholds (11,21). There are numerous examples, from the United States in 2002, Switzerland (12), Germany (13) and France in 2003 and France, Spain and Germany in 2006 where high ambient water temperatures have resulted in reduced power output at several thermal power plants; some of them even had to be shut down (14). Warmer cooling water was computed to lower thermal power plant efficiency and thus electricity production by 1.5-3% in European countries by the 2080s under emissions scenario A1b (22).
  • Floods. Most of the impacts of a site flooding occur to the connected infrastructure, such as uprooting and displacement of storage tanks, rupture of pipes and cable connections, underground breaching of tanks due to collision with debris, disruption of water purification and sewage disposal systems, short-circuiting and power outages resulting in malfunctioning of cooling systems, pumps, and safety systems (15).

Heat wave impacts

Extreme heat waves have an impact on western European electricity supply due to the increased electricity demand for cooling (39) and the power limitation of thermoelectric plants due to regulation constraints concerning downstream water temperature (40). At least the two most severe heat waves during 1979–2008 (those of 2003 and 2006) had a negative impact on western European electricity supply, with shut downs of thermoelectric plants (40).

Therefore, changes of western European heat wave characteristics have been studied for the end of the twenty first century (2070–2099), compared with 1979–2008 (38). Heat waves were defined as periods of at least 3 consecutive days of extremely high daily maximum temperature affecting at least 30 % of Western Europe. For the high temperature threshold the 98th percentile of the daily maximum temperature during March-October was chosen; for western Europe, this more or less agrees with a threshold of 30°C, commonly used to define a “hot day”.

The study is based on 19 climate change models and three scenarios of future greenhouse gasses concentrations (the so-called RCP2.6, RCP4.5 and RCP8.5 scenarios) that cover a range of moderate to high-end climate change projections. The results indicate a strong increase of the number of heat waves. Besides, the average future heat wave lasts longer, is more extended and more intense. Heat waves with similar or higher severity than observed for the 2003 heat wave remain rather rare, except for the most extreme scenario of climate change (RCP8.5) (38).

For the more moderate scenarios of climate change (RCP2.6 and RCP4.5), the median values of highest simulated severities for all model results are comparable to the 2003 heat wave; for the high-end scenario (RCP8.5), heat waves (median of all model results) with 5 times higher severity than the 2003 heat wave are simulated. For this scenario, planners would need to adapt to yet unprecedented heat wave severities. The spread in results between different models is large for all heat wave characteristics, however. Far more extreme values for heat wave characteristics have been calculated than the median values of all model results: the variability in results due to different models is larger than the variability due to different climate change scenarios (38). 

Oil and gas sector

Climate change and extreme weather events represent a real physical threat to the oil and gas sector, particularly in low-lying coastal areas and areas exposed to extreme weather events. The sector needs to take climate change seriously, assess its own vulnerability, and take appropriate measures to prevent or mitigate any potentially negative effects (3).

The oil and gas sector has been affected by climate-related events in the past, which in many cases have led to oil spills and releases of hazardous materials, thus providing lessons on better preparing for extreme weather events in the future. The impacts of a changing climate will vary depending on location. However, most studies show that oil and gas facilities and infrastructure in low-lying coastal areas and areas subject to severe weather will be most vulnerable (3). 

The economic, social, and environmental impacts caused by the disruption of and damage to the oil and gas sector could be huge, with global repercussions. In 2005, hurricanes Katrina and Rita demonstrated that both the offshore and onshore oil and gas industry remain vulnerable to the impacts of hurricanes. In total, they destroyed 113 offshore platforms and severely damaged at least 163 others (4). These hurricanes also revealed a weak delivery and distribution system. Following the storms there were hardly any options available to deliver the products to the markets because of the onshore devastation (5) that led to a shortage of fuel at pumping stations in several states. In Europe, a severe storm set adrift a drilling rig in the North Sea off the coast of Norway in 2006 (6).

Adaptation strategies

Power supply disruptions

In addition to autonomous adaptation to climate change, strategic public policy intervention may be needed, for instance because the short-term, temporary reallocation of power generation might cause an undesired redistribution of wealth. Such strategic public policy intervention could either target the affected power sector itself or it may (also) address the upstream water supply sector. In the latter case, an improvement of the management of water supply is an option. Improvements in the power sector itself could be attained, e.g., by raising legal standards for power plants’ cooling systems. Also, those rents which decision makers consider to be unfairly usurped by the suppliers at the expense of consumers could be (partly) taxed away (1).

Another option to prevent power supply disruptions is the diversification of the sources of supply. The augmentation of the use of such power plants that do not require cooling systems (e.g., photovoltaic installations) could contribute to the mitigation of the adverse effects of climate change on the electricity supply system (1).

Three kinds of adaptation categories have been identified with respect to thermal power plants (9):

  • Adaptation of the cooling options: the use of so-called non-traditional waters (waters that are not withdrawn from a river, lake, the groundwater, or the ocean, but are otherwise obtained from the environment, for instance, recirculation of water from oil and gas fields or coal mines); the reuse of process water; dry cooling towers that emit surplus heat only by convection without causing water loss through evaporation; regenerative cooling where the compressed steam cools down because it is allowed to expand; heat pipe exchangers that allow the conveyed steam to release heat to the environment without direct contact (the cooled/condensed steam can be recirculated).
  • Adaptation of the (infra-)structures: adjust standards for construction and protection of power plants and connected infrastructure (16); installation of underground cables instead of overhead wires, as the former are less vulnerable to storm, wind throw, and freezing/ice loads on wire (17).
  • Adaptation of the sites: installation of dams, dikes, flood control reservoirs, polders, ponds, and the improvement of channel capacity (18); drainage improvement and rerouting of service water pipes as well as improved pipe isolation (19); zoning, improved building codes and flood insurance (20).

Oil and gas sector

Adaptation options in some cases will require possibly large investments to upgrade facilities, build redundancy and robustness into the systems, and protect critical infrastructure to ensure that it remains operational following an extreme weather event. Adequate contingency planning plus emergency-response and recovery planning and preparedness will also be essential to ensure the safety of people, property, and the environment, as well as business continuity (3).


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

  1. Rübbelke and Vögele (2013)
  2. EUROSTAT (2010), in: Rübbelke and Vögele (2013)
  3. Cruz and Krausmann (2013)
  4. MMS (2006); Energo Engineering (2007), both in: Cruz and Krausmann (2013)
  5. Fletcher (2006), in: Cruz and Krausmann (2013)
  6. Paskal (2009), in: Cruz and Krausmann (2013)
  7. ADAM (2009), in: Sieber (2013)
  8. Van Vliet et al. (2012), in: Sieber (2013)
  9. Sieber (2013)
  10. O’Connell and Hargreaves (2004); Center for Health and Global Environment et al. (2005); Chang and Lin (2006); Heymann (2007); Bailey and Levitan (2008), all in: Sieber (2013)
  11. Kirkinen et al. (2005); Krysanova and Hattermann (2007); Mills (2007); EPRI (2009), all in: Sieber (2013)
  12. BUWAL et al. (2004), in: Sieber (2013)
  13. Federal Institute of Hydrology (2006), in: Sieber (2013)
  14. DOE/NETL (2007), in: Sieber (2013)
  15. Steininger et al. (2003); Young et al. (2004); Krausmann and Mushtaq (2008), all in: Sieber (2013)
  16. Auld et al. (2007), in: Sieber (2013)
  17. Ott and Richter (2008), in: Sieber (2013)
  18. UNFCCC (2006), in: Sieber (2013)
  19. Vaurio (1998), in: Sieber (2013)
  20. Kundzewicz and Kaczmarek (2000), in: Sieber (2013)
  21. IPCC (2014)
  22. Golombek et al. (2012), in: IPCC (2014)
  23. Pryor and Schoof (2010); Pryor and Barthelmie (2010); Seljom et al. (2011); Barstad et al. (2012); Hueging et al. (2013), all in: IPCC (2014)
  24. Harrison et al. (2008); Hueging et al. (2013); Nolan et al. (2012); Rockel and Woth (2007), all in: IPCC (2014)
  25. Bloom et al. (2008); Hueging et al. (2013); Najac et al. (2011); Pašičko et al. (2012), all in: IPCC (2014)
  26. Haddeland et al. (2011); Hamududu and Killingtveit (2012); Seljom et al. (2011), all in: IPCC (2014)
  27. Schaefli et al. (2007); Paiva et al. (2011); Pašičko et al. (2012); Hendrickx and Sauquet (2013); Stanzel and Nachtnebel (2010), all in: IPCC (2014)
  28. Bangash et al. (2013); Hamududu and Killingtveit (2012), both in: IPCC (2014)
  29. Crook et al. (2011), in: IPCC (2014)
  30. Van Vliet et al. (2012), in: IPCC (2014)
  31. Linnerud et al. (2011); Förster and Lilliestam (2010), both in: IPCC (2014)
  32. Tobin et al. (2015)
  33. Bloom et al. (2008); Hueging et al. (2013), both in: Tobin et al. (2015)
  34. Hueging et al. (2013); Barstad et al. (2012); Pryor et al. (2005, 2012), all in: Tobin et al. (2015)
  35. IEA (2013), in: Tobin et al. (2015)
  36., in: Tobin et al. (2015)
  37. Capros et al. (2014), in: Tobin et al. (2015)
  38. Schoetter et al. (2015)
  39. Savić et al. (2014), in: Schoetter et al. (2015)
  40. Van Vliet et al. (2012), in: Schoetter et al. (2015)
  41. Van Vliet et al. (2015)
  42. Reyers et al. (2016)
  43. Moccia et al. (2011), in: Reyers et al. (2016)
  44. Barstad et al. (2012); Cradden et al. (2012); Nolan et al. (2012, 2014); Pryor et al. (2012); Hueging et al. (2013); Tobin et al. (2015), all in: Reyers et al. (2016)
  45. Van Vliet et al. (2016)
  46. EIA (accessed 2015), in: Van Vliet et al. (2016)
  47. Eurelectric (1997), in: Van Vliet et al. (2016)
  48. WEC (2010), in: Van Vliet et al. (2016)
  49. Van Vliet et al. (2016), in: Van Vliet et al. (2016)
  50. EWEA (2014), in: Halsnæs et al. (2016)
  51. Roberts and Uphamb (2012); Jard et al. (2013), both in: Halsnæs et al. (2016)

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