Climate Change – the Human and Economic Outlook for Europeans

If warming rises more than 2°C above pre-industrial levels and no adequate adaptation measures are implemented, Europe is in danger of being exposed to more frequent and intense extreme weather conditions, which will also have significant economic impacts.

Floods in Livorno, Tuscany, Italy, September 2017. Photo: Vigili del Fuoco

This outlook is the result of a detailed assessment of the impact of climate change on Europe’s economy, society and environment made by the Joint Research Centre (JRC), the Commission’s science and knowledge hub.

Further, more detailed findings show that under a high warming (above 2°C) scenario:

  • Rising temperatures and increased hot spells could result in an additional 132,000 yearly heat fatalities, while labour productivity could drop by 10-15% in some southern European countries;
  • Shifts in flower/plant blooming, growing season and changes in soil water content will affect agriculture productivity and habitat suitability, with a potential doubling of the arid climate zone;
  • Sea levels will rise along Europe’s coastlines, resulting in a 5-fold increase in coastal flood damages;
  • Three times more people will be exposed to river floods, while river flood damages could rise from 5.3 billion Euro/year to 17.5 billion Euro/year.
  • Energy demand for heating will decrease, yet energy requirements for cooling spaces will rise rapidly;
  • Southern parts of Europe may face increasing water shortage and more droughts, whereas water resources will generally increase in northern Europe;

Most of these climate damages would be greatly reduced under the 2°C scenario.

The JRC PESETA III report brings together experts in economics, biology, physics and engineering to calculate the physical impacts and economic costs of climate change in Europe.

The report quantifies these impacts and shows how, if we act now to limit emissions, we can prevent the worst effects.

Southern Europe to Be Hit Hardest

In several impact areas there is a clear geographical north-south divide: countries in southern Europe will be more affected by global warming than those in the north.

This is clearly the case for heat-related deaths, water resources, habitat loss, energy demand for cooling and forest fires. The Mediterranean area appears to be the most impacted by climate change.

Counting the Cost

The report analyses the impact of climate change for 11 different impact categories: coastal floods, river floods, droughts, agriculture, energy, transport, water resources, habitat loss, forest fires, labour productivity, and heat-related mortality.

For most of these, the study compares a scenario where actions to limit warming to 2°C are successful, compared to one where they are not.

From the economic perspective, the losses associated with heat-related mortality represent a very significant share of damages in a high warming scenario. Other shares, in order of importance, are: coastal flooding, labour productivity, agriculture and river flooding.

As the coverage of potential impacts is largely incomplete (e.g. damages due to possible climate tipping points and ecosystems services losses are not considered), the sum of the economic damage estimates is not equal to the total economic costs of climate change in Europe. These are likely to be significantly higher.

PESETA III also estimates how climate change impacts in the rest of the world could affect Europe, considering four impact areas – residential energy demand, river flooding, labour productivity and agriculture.

The transboundary effect of these four impact categories was estimated to increase the EU welfare loss by 20% in a high warming scenario.

Again it should be stressed that the boundary effects could be far greater when all potential impacts of climate change are considered.


The JRC PESETA III project aims to give us a better understanding of how climate change can affect Europe, in order to derive useful insights for climate adaptation. The research integrates what is known on climate impacts across various natural science disciplines into an economic analysis setting.

The project takes into consideration estimates on CO2 emissions and the corresponding warming and changes in climate (temperature, rain, wind, solar radiation, air humidity, sea level rise). The high time-space resolution climate projections feed detailed sector-specific impact models to estimate the biophysical impacts.

The biophysical impacts are then integrated in an economic modelling framework in order to assess the economic burden of potential levels of global warming.

The following 11 impact categories are considered: coastal floods, river floods, droughts, agriculture, energy, transport, water resources, habitat loss, forest fires, labour productivity, and heat-related mortality.

The project is part of wider Commission efforts to make the EU more climate-resilient. In 2013 the Commission adopted an EU strategy on adaptation to climate change which has been welcomed by Member States.

By taking a coherent approach and providing for improved coordination, it enhances the preparedness and capacity of all governance levels to respond to the impacts of climate change.

In 2016, the Commission launched an evaluation of the EU Adaptation Strategy to examine the actual implementation and performance of the strategy.

This evaluation, also published today, includes several key findings in the JRC PESETA III report.

Climate Impacts in Europe: final report of the JRC PESETA III Project

Source: Joint Research Centre (JRC)