Rhein on Energy and Climate

Quietly and without being noted by the wider public, EU institutions have started to address the consequences climate change may have in Europe.

European climate policy will therefore in future follow a dual track: mitigation, which has so far been in the limelight, and adaptation.

This approach signals the rising awareness of policy makers that climate change will not stop at Europe’s borders whatever measures Europe may make take for climate mitigation.

In the next few decades, climate change will lead to increasing water scarcity and drought in southern Europe, while northern Europe will most likely get away with more frequent river floods.

On February 10th 2010, under the Spanish Presidency, an international conference on “water scarcity and drought: the path to climate change adaptation” was held in Spain.

On June 11th the Environment ministers urged member states suffering from water scarcity and drought to elaborate scarce water and drought management plans and promote more efficient and sustainable water use in agriculture.

With rain falling more sparsely it will be essential to put an end to water waste in agriculture, which absorbs up to 80 percent of the available water. In dry areas it will become necessary to apply water-saving technologies (drip irrigation) or even to abandon water-intensive crops.

The EU should launch a comprehensive research project, preferably in collaboration with laboratories in Turkey and Syria (ICARDA) for the development of genetically modified seeds that might be better able to resist recurrent droughts.

The price of water will need to be raised in order to induce farmers to make the most effective use of it. To protect ground water levels, national authorities should strictly regulate the digging of wells.

In order to reserve a maximum of the available water resources to agriculture, households and industry along the Mediterranean coast should increasingly rely on solar desalination plants.

In the framework of Mediterranean cooperation the EU and its riparian partners should define a multi-annual action plan for combating water scarcity. The amount of water being wasted in the neighbouring countries by leaking pipes or lack of recycling is considerable. So is the scope for operating solar desalination plants for the cities around the Mediterranean especially the metropolitan areas Istanbul to Alexandria, Cairo, Algiers and Tunis.

In the absence of rapid and effective action in the Mediterranean and the Near East the damage for agriculture and the tourist industry will be tremendous. Desertification is already gaining ground in the Near East. Iran, Syria, Iraq, Jordan and Qatar have signed an agreement to fight against sand storms, e.g. by stabilising the soil through the planting of the palm trees, many of which were destroyed during the Iraq war.

In their meeting June 11th, the EU environment ministers have tackled the issue of forests. Forests are endangered by a multitude of biotic agents; climate change reinforces their harmful impact. As a first step, ministers have agreed to establish an EU-wide forest inventory to enable permanent follow-up of the situation. But considering the wide diversity of forests in the Union they also recall the principle of subsidiarity.

In 2011 the Commission is expected to transform the green and white papers on adaptation to climate change it has produced in the last few years into an EU Climate Adaptation Strategy to be adopted in 2012.

Such a strategy will also have to define optimal means of protecting citizens and agriculture against more frequent fluvial floods and against heat spells. For the former an extensive system of dykes and water storage basins might be the appropriate solution; for the latter the EU should launch a multi-annual programme of thermal insulation of the EU building stock, which would address both climate mitigation and adaptation.

Brussels 15.10.10 Eberhard Rhein

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