Climate change risks in the mountains: key messages from the latest EEA report

Climate change risks in the mountains: key messages from the latest EEA report


The European Environment Agency (EEA) has recently published its first European Climate Risk Assessment report, which identifies, analyses and assesses the main threats posed to Europe by climate change and sets out priorities for policy action.

36 major climate risks identified impacting natural resources

Among the key messages: Europe, the fastest-warming continent in the world, needs to act urgently to meet the challenges posed by the 36 risks identified in the study. This is an alarming message, especially given that all European policies are exposed to climate risks and that the average policy readiness was rated as medium due to poor implementation, adaptation, or short-term focus of current legislation. This groundbreaking report shows that current challenges such as drought, access to water, forest fires and biodiversity loss will only worsen and some European regions – including mountain areas – will be the hardest hit.

Initially aimed primarily at European policy makers, the report contains some conclusions and recommendations of great interest to all stakeholders involved in building climate resilience in mountain and rural areas.

Economic losses affect mountain nature and economies

Researchers point to the vulnerability of areas and local economies that depend on ecosystem services, which are particularly at risk and amplified by other non-climatic factors such as population ageing.

Areas dependent on tourism, such as the Alps and other mountainous regions, are more vulnerable to climate change than other regions, as well as to wildfires with southern Europe. The latter has already been identified by the EEA as a “critical” issue requiring “urgent action”, with fire-prone areas projected to increase and fire seasons to become longer.

Another disturbance to functioning European ecosystem and economy stressed by the report is water issue, a particularly important topic in mountains areas – biggest water reserve of Europe. Megadrought – year-long and wider droughts- are project to happened in Europe, leading to water scarcity in several sectors increasing the potential conflicts between stakeholders and particularly agriculture. Better water management, monitoring and restoring sponge function of soil are options put forward by the report, with the raise of awareness. Similarly, the loss of snow and glaciers in the Alps is disrupting winter tourism and hydropower capacity.

The report then highlights that certain habitats require special attention in terms of biodiversity and ecosystems because they are more vulnerable: forests, freshwater, wetlands and especially peatlands, all of which are found in mountain areas and play an important role in regulating ecosystems and ensuring their resilience. It is worth mentioning that this vulnerability comes from the limited migration opportunities for species.

The European Union must react now to increase its resilience

Finally, the report warns stakeholders about maladaptation that could potentially threaten territorial cohesion, highlighting as an example the problem of large-scale irrigation programmes that currently protect farmers from climate variability but will increase their vulnerability to future climate and market disruptions due to increased water consumption and increased financial obligations.

To mitigate the damage, the report recommends increasing the coherence of existing policies and improving their implementation by adopting guidelines for Member States to restore nature, as well as to adopt an integrated approach for ensuring efficient adaptation. That same week, in  response to the report, the European Commission published its Communication on managing climate risks in Europe. Articulated around governance, climate risks tools, structural EU policies and financing resilience, the Communication provides a roadmap for action to improve Europe’s resilience in the face of climate risks.

Euromontana advocates more support for mountain areas, hit hard by climate change, to help them cope with risks and adapt faster. To improve climate resilience in mountain territories, Euromontana is working closely with its members in various European projects related to adaptation. FIRE-RES, a Horizon2020 project that aims to develop a pan-European integrated approach to fire management, is helping the EU to become more resilient to wildfires based on advances in research and innovation.  Similarly, the MountResilience HorizonEurope project with 47 partners in 12 European countries is supporting mountain communities   in their transition to a climate-resilient society.