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Climate change

Climate change is happening now: temperatures are rising, rainfall patterns are shifting,
glaciers and snow are melting, and the global mean sea level is rising. We expect that
these changes will continue, and that extreme weather events resulting in hazards such
as floods and droughts will become more frequent and intense. Impacts and
vulnerabilities for nature, the economy and our health differ across regions, territories
and economic sectors in Europe. It is very likely that most of the warming since the mid
-20th century is due to the observed increase in greenhouse gas (GHG) concentrations
as a result of emissions from human activities. The global temperature has risen by
about 0.8 C over the past 150 years, and is projected to increase further. Exceeding an
increase of 2 C above pre-industrial temperatures raises the risk of dangerous changes
for global human and natural systems.
The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) has
recognised the goal to limit the global mean temperature increase since pre-industrial
times to below 2 C. How can we achieve this? Global GHG emissions must level off in
this decade, and be reduced by 50 % compared with 1990 levels by 2050. Taking into
account necessary efforts from developing countries, the EU supports the objective to
reduce its GHG emissions by 80 % to 95 % by 2050 (compared with 1990).
Even if policies and efforts to reduce emissions prove effective, some climate change is
inevitable; therefore, strategies and actions to adapt to its impacts are also needed.
Humans are largely responsible for recent climate
change
Over the past century, human activities have released large amounts of carbon dioxide
and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. The majority of greenhouse gases
come from burning fossil fuels to produce energy, although deforestation, industrial
processes, and some agricultural practices also emit gases into the atmosphere.
Greenhouse gases act like a blanket around Earth, trapping energy in the atmosphere
and causing it to warm. This phenomenon is called the greenhouse effect and is natural
and necessary to support life on Earth. However, the buildup of greenhouse gases can
change Earth's climate and result in dangerous effects to human health and welfare and
to ecosystems.
The choices we make today will affect the amount of greenhouse gases we put in the
atmosphere in the near future and for years to come.
Climate change affects everyone
Our lives are connected to the climate. Human societies have adapted to the relatively
stable climate we have enjoyed since the last ice age which ended several thousand
years ago. A warming climate will bring changes that can affect our water supplies,
agriculture, power and transportation systems, the natural environment, and even our
own health and safety.
Some changes to the climate are unavoidable. Carbon dioxide can stay in the
atmosphere for nearly a century, so Earth will continue to warm in the coming decades.
The warmer it gets, the greater the risk for more severe changes to the climate and
Earth's system. Although it's difficult to predict the exact impacts of climate change,
what's clear is that the climate we are accustomed to is no longer a reliable guide for
what to expect in the future.
We can reduce the risks we will face from climate change. By making choices that
reduce greenhouse gas pollution, and preparing for the changes that are already
underway, we can reduce risks from climate change. Our decisions today will shape the
world our children and grandchildren will live in.
I mpacts and vulnerabilities
Europe's largest temperature increases are in southern Europe and the Arctic region; the
largest precipitation decreases are in southern Europe with increases in the north and the
north-west. Projected increases in intensity and frequency of heat waves and floods and
changes in distribution of some infectious diseases and pollen adversely affect human
health. Climate change is an additional pressure on ecosystems, leading to northward
and uphill shifts of many plant and animal species. It negatively impacts agriculture,
forestry, energy production, tourism, and infrastructure in general.
European regions particularly vulnerable to climate change include:
southern Europe and the Mediterranean basin (due to increases in heatwaves and
droughts);
mountainous areas (due to increasing melting of snow and ice);
coastal zones, deltas and floodplains (due to sea level rises, and increasing
intense rainfall, floods and storms);
Europe's far north and the Arctic (due to increasing temperatures and melting
ice).
Causes of human-induced climate change
Greenhouse gases are emitted through both natural processes and human activities; the
most important natural GHG in the atmosphere is water vapour. Human activities are
releasing large amounts of other GHGs into the atmosphere, increasing the atmospheric
concentrations of these gases and thus enhancing the greenhouse effect and warming the
climate. The main sources of man-made GHGs are:
burning of fossil fuels (coal, oil and gas) in electricity generation, transport,
industry and households (CO
2
);
agriculture (CH
4
) and land-use changes like deforestation (CO
2
);
land filling of waste (CH
4
);
use of industrial fluorinated gases.
EU policies
Several EU initiatives aim to cut GHG emissions:
ratifying the Kyoto Protocol: this calls for 15 EU Member States (the 'EU-15') to
reduce their collective emissions in the 2008 to 2012 period to 8 % below 1990
levels;
continually improving the energy efficiency of a wide array of equipment and
household appliances;
mandating increased use of renewable energy sources, such as wind, solar,
hydro and biomass, and of renewable transport fuels, such as biofuels;
supporting the development of carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies to
trap and store CO
2
emitted by power stations and other large installations;
acting through the Emissions Trading System (EU ETS), the EU's key tool for
reducing GHG emissions from industry.
The 2009 EU climate and energy package constitutes binding legislation for
implementing the 20-20-20 targets by 2020: a reduction in EU GHG emissions of at
least 20 % below 1990 levels, 20 % of EU energy consumption to come from renewable
resources, and a 20 % reduction in primary energy use compared with projected levels.
The EU is also mainstreaming climate change adaptation in EU policies. In April 2013,
a proposal for a comprehensive EU adaptation strategy was launched by the European
Commission that strengthens Europe's resilience to climate change.
Causes of Climate Change
Earths temperature is a balancing act
Earths temperature depends on the balance between energy entering and leaving the
planets system. When incoming energy from the sun is absorbed by the Earth system,
Earth warms. When the suns energy is reflected back into space, Earth avoids warming.
When energy is released back into space, Earth cools. Many factors, both natural and
human, can cause changes in Earths energy balance, including:
Models that account only for the effects of natural processes are not able to explain the
warming over the past century. Models that also account for the greenhouse gases
emitted by humans are able to explain this warming.

Changes in the greenhouse effect, which affects the amount of heat retained by Earths
atmosphere
Variations in the suns energy reaching Earth
Changes in the reflectivity of Earths atmosphere and surface
These factors have caused Earths climate to change many times.
Scientists have pieced together a picture of Earths climate, dating back hundreds of
thousands of years, by analyzing a number of indirect measures of climate such as ice
cores, tree rings, glacier lengths, pollen remains, and ocean sediments, and by studying
changes in Earths orbit around the sun.
The historical record shows that the climate system varies naturally over a wide range of
time scales. In general, climate changes prior to the Industrial Revolution in the 1700s
can be explained by natural causes, such as changes in solar energy, volcanic eruptions,
and natural changes in greenhouse gas (GHG) concentrations.


Recent climate changes, however, cannot be explained by natural causes alone.
Research indicates that natural causes are very unlikely to explain most observed
warming, especially warming since the mid-20th century. Rather, human activities can
very likely explain most of that warming.


The Greenhouse Effect causes the atmosphere to retain
heat
When sunlight reaches Earths surface, it can either be reflected back into space or
absorbed by Earth. Once absorbed, the planet releases some of the energy back into the
atmosphere as heat (also called infrared radiation). Greenhouse gases (GHGs) like water
vapor (H
2
O), carbon dioxide (CO
2
), and methane (CH
4
) absorb energy, slowing or
preventing the loss of heat to space. In this way, GHGs act like a blanket, making Earth
warmer than it would otherwise be. This process is commonly known as the
greenhouse effect.
The Role of the Greenhouse Effect in the Past
In the distant past (prior to about 10,000 years ago), CO
2
levels tended to track the
glacial cycles. During warm interglacial periods, CO
2
levels have been higher. During
cool glacial periods, CO
2
levels have been lower.

This is because the heating or
cooling of Earths surface can cause changes in greenhouse gas concentrations.

These
changes often act as a positive feedback, amplifying existing temperature changes.
The Recent Role of the Greenhouse Effect
Since the Industrial Revolution began around 1750, human activities have contributed
substantially to climate change by adding CO
2
and other heat-trapping gases to the
atmosphere. These greenhouse gas emissions have increased the greenhouse effect and
caused Earths surface temperature to rise. The primary human activity affecting the
amount and rate of climate change is greenhouse gas emissions from the burning of
fossil fuels.