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Floods, heatwaves: New report predicts global warming effect on France

'The extent and magnitude of climate change impacts are greater than estimated in previous reports'

A farmer stands on his dry meadow, looking up at the sky

https://www.shutterstock.com/fr/image-photo/farmer-stands-on-his-dry-meadow-1784691707 Pic: Edgar G Biehle / Shutterstock

Flooding, heatwaves and farming losses are just some of the effects that global warming could have on France, the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has warned.

The report, published yesterday (February 28), was compiled by 270 scientists across 67 countries. It details the consequences of global warming on human societies and ecosystems, and also considers ways that humans could adapt to the changes.

Hoesung Lee, president of the IPCC, said in a statement: “The findings… we are releasing today are clear: the stakes for our planet have never been higher.

“The report is a dire warning about the consequences of inaction. It shows that climate change is a grave and mounting threat to our well-being and a healthy planet. It also shows that our actions today will shape how people adapt to climate change and how nature responds to increasing climate risks.

“The extent and magnitude of climate change impacts are greater than estimated in previous reports.” 

The report distinguishes between two periods: 2021-2040, and 2040-2100, and warns that “multiple climate risks” are already emerging in the first.

It does not offer country-by-country analysis, but France is, of course, included in its assessment of the risks to the planet and to Europe.

Mainland France

At the current level of warming (1.09C higher than pre-industrial temperatures), France has already seen more heatwaves, drought and flooding. 

If warming continues and reaches the predicted 2.7C by 2100 (as laid out in current climate pledges, which have not yet been met), there are four major risks likely to affect France significantly.

Heatwaves and forest fires

The number of deaths due to extreme heatwaves could “double to triple if warming hits 3C”. The south of France would be particularly affected, with 20 to 30 days at temperatures higher than 35C, in this scenario.

Warming of 2C and above will limit animal habitats and “irreversibly change ecosystems”, the report said.

It said: “At-risk areas for forest fires will spread across Europe, threatening biodiversity and carbon sinks [areas that capture carbon emissions]”.

Farming losses due to drought

The report states: “Substantial losses in agricultural production are predicted for most European regions during the 21st century, and will not be offset by production gains in Northern Europe.”

Irrigation will be limited due to a lack of water, especially if warming rises above 3C.

Lack of water

Southern Europe will be particularly affected by this, including the French regions of Aquitaine and the southern Alps and Mediterranean.

There will be a risk of a lack of water if warming reaches 2-3C. From 3C, the risk doubles, with an extra risk of “economic loss in sectors that are dependent on water and energy.”

Central Europe, including the rest of France, will also be affected from 3C upwards.

Flooding and rising water levels

Coastal damage will likely “increase tenfold by the end of the 21st century,” the report stated, if the current rate of greenhouse gas emissions and adaptation strategies continue.

Sea level rises will represent an "existential threat" for coastal cities, especially after 2100.

Wolfgang Cramer, Centre nationale de la recherche scientifique (CNRS) research director at the Mediterranean Institute of Biodiversity and Marine and Continental Ecology (IMBE) and one of the authors of the report, said that the risk is particularly marked around the Mediterranean. 

He said: “Historically, the level of this sea has not moved much [the Mediterranean has a low tidal range and experiences fewer storms than the Atlantic], so you have a lot of cities, heritage and natural wetlands very close to the coast.”

Vulnerability in Europe

While Europe is less vulnerable than other parts of the planet, such as Africa, it is still at risk, the report said.

Gonéri Le Cozannet, who co-wrote a chapter on Europe, said: “Europe is much less vulnerable than Africa and yet, even on this continent, adaptation alone is not enough to limit the risks beyond 1.5°C of warming.”

The reduction of greenhouse gas emissions via a change in our lifestyles (such as in sustainable, climate-resilient transport, food, and housing) is essential, the report said.

Globally, climate change is already having an impact, and will get worse

The global temperature has already risen by 1.09C compared to the pre-industrial era, the report emphasised. 

This is causing “irreversible impacts”, the report said, such as more intense heatwaves, increased forest fires, more rain and flooding, a higher sea level, and the acidification of oceans.

Climate change is already causing severe health issues, it said, such as increased respiratory problems due to forest fires, and problems with food and water. Cases of cholera have risen, for example, due to increased rain and flooding. Extreme weather can also cause mental health pressure, it said.

Mr Lee said: “Severe climate change impacts are already happening. Vulnerable people, those marginalised socially and economically, are the most exposed to climate change impacts – and have the fewest resources to adapt.”

Air pollution and extreme temperatures are also having considerable effects on farming, forestry, fishing, energy, tourism, productivity and outdoor work.

‘Irreversible losses’

Animals, plants, and natural spaces will suffer first, it said, including “substantial damage and increasingly irreversible losses to terrestrial, freshwater, coastal and marine ecosystems”.

Many animals are changing habitats to escape the extreme effects, but heatwaves have caused a rise in mortality, while the melting of glaciers and permafrost, and the acidification of oceans have caused irreversible damage.

The report said that between 3.3 billion and 3.6 billion people are already living in an environment that is especially vulnerable to climate change, and risks can combine to cause bigger issues, such as heat and drought to cause forest fires.

The report distinguishes between two periods: 2021-2040, and 2040-2100. For the first, the impact of global warming is considered to have caused “an inevitable rise in multiple climate risks”, the report said.

In the second period, the damage will depend on the rate of warming, from an already-serious 1.5C to a devastating 4C.

Currently, global commitments would limit warming to around 2.7C – although these commitments have not yet been met, the report said.

Adaption to the changes could reduce the risks

The report, officially named the Working Group II report, also included more details than in previous reports on how humanity can adapt to the changes. 

Mr Lee said: “Today we also deepen our understanding of solutions to climate change and how adaptation can help us lower risks and reduce vulnerability. These solutions open up new opportunities for innovation in our societies and economies.”

CRNS researcher Mr Cramer said: "If we commit ourselves much more strongly than we are doing now, we can manage to avoid many of the serious consequences.” 

“Proactive” adaptation would significantly reduce the risks, it said.

It criticised the current levels of adaptation and action by most nations, saying that the current measures are “fragmented, small-scale, gradual, and short-term”, whereas the IPCC recommended “integrated, multi-industry changes that also deal with social inequalities”.

Protecting the environment is key

The report also highlighted the importance of protecting the natural environment in reducing the damage. 

It said: “Safeguarding biodiversity and ecosystems is fundamental to climate-resilient development.” 

Natural biodiversity and climate systems play a key role in limiting climate change and adapting to its effects, it said, requiring effective protection of 30-50% of all land, waterways and oceans.

The destruction of natural spaces is otherwise “a source of greenhouse gas emissions and is likely to be exacerbated by the consequences of climate change, such as droughts or forest fires". 

Even if warming is limited to just 1.5C, between 3-14% of terrestrial species are already threatened with extinction, it said.

Immediate action required

The report was clear that “immediate action” is needed, and said that current and past measures have “not led to progress towards climate-resilient global development”.

It said: "The scientific evidence is unequivocal: climate change is a threat to human well-being and the health of the planet. 

“Any delay in implementing concerted, comprehensive and early action on adaptation and mitigation will cause us to miss the short and rapidly closing window of opportunity to ensure a liveable and sustainable future for all.”

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