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Extreme weather events

Exceptionally high temperatures occurred in Western Europe in 2003, causing various heat and drought-related impacts, both on human health and environment. Heatwaves are often accompanied by power failures, high levels of local air pollution, failures in the water supply, excess forest fires and excess heat-related mortality. At the end of the hot 2003 summer, authorities reported high mortality figures (EEA 2003a, UNECE 2003a, and WHO 2003).

Two firemen dwarfed by giant flames during forest fires in Southern France.

Source: REUTERS/Pascal Deschamps

There is no doubt that hot and dry weather conditions can make fires much more severe. Direct pressures that cause fires vary widely and are both social and ecological in nature. Prevention and control strategies address public awareness, repression of crime, silvicultural cleaning measures to reduce the fuel load, and economic incentives for appropriate management measures, as well as effective fire suppression.
As with the heavy rainfall and floods in Central Europe in 2002, the 2003 extreme weather-related events in Europe cannot be attributed to climate change and its pressures alone, but they show what may happen if climate change continues. Europe has experienced an unprecedented rate of warming in recent decades, with an overall temperature rise of as much as 2 ºC over large areas of the Arctic since the early 1950s (Bernes 2002, Klein Tank and others 2002). Average temperatures are expected to further increase, droughts are likely to become more frequent in various parts of Europe, and heatwaves, although rare at present, could become more frequent, intense and longer (Houghton and others 2001).
The cost of climate change mitigation in Western Europe can be reduced significantly through the use of mechanisms under the Kyoto Protocol (EEA 2003b). In Eastern Europe, greenhouse gas mitigation costs are expected to be lower than in Western Europe but investments are needed in the energy sector (EEA 2003b). The Russian Federation, which is likely to have a significant surplus of emission allowances, could play a central role in the ratification process of the protocol as well as in the future market for GHG allowances (EEA 2003b). By the end of 2003, however, the Kyoto Protocol, had not yet entered into force.


Key Facts
  • With the Treaty of Accession between the EU and the 10 accession countries, signed in April, Europe has entered a new era with numerous implications for the region’s environment.
  • The May 2003 Environment for Europe Ministerial Conference in Kyiv, Ukraine, adopted among others, three pan-European protocols – the Protocol on Strategic Environmental Assessment to the Convention on Environmental Impact Assessment in a Transboundary Context; the Protocol on Civil Liability and Damage Caused by the Transboundary Effects of Industrial Accidents on Transboundary Waters to the Conventions on the Transboundary Effects of Industrial Accidents and on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Waters and International Lakes; and the Protocol on Pollutant Release and Transfer Registers to the Aarhus Convention.
  • A Convention on the Protection and Sustainable Development of the Carpathians was adopted and signed by the seven countries of the Carpathians in May 2003 in the margins of the Kyiv Conference. A Framework Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the Caspian Sea was signed in November 2003 by the five riparian countries.
  • As of 31 December 2003, a total of 27 countries had ratified, approved, accepted or acceded to the Aarhus Convention (Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making, and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters), five of which did so in 2003.
  • In 2003, the issue of environment and security was further pursued through a UNEP, UNDP and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) project which established a mechanism to examine and address linkages between environmental problems and ‘hot spots’ and security issues affecting nations and people.
  • The latest greenhouse gas emission projections show that neither existing, nor additionally-planned domestic policies and measures by member states to reduce emissions will be sufficient to allow the EU to reach its Kyoto target.
Sources: EEA 2003b and 2003c, UNECE 2003b, 2003c, 2003d, 2003e and 2003f

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