This Post was submitted by Climate Scorecard EU Regional Manager Britany Demogenes
One of the most recent EU severe weather events that took global headlines by storm was the extreme flooding that occurred in Germany in mid-July. The intensity and scale of the floods shocked climate scientists, who did not expect for records to be broken to such a large extent. Precipitation records were exceeded on July 14 and came with terrible consequences. Dozens of individuals were killed, tens of thousands of homes were flooded, and power supplies were disrupted.
To demonstrate how unprecedented the amount of rain was, there was over 148 liters of rain per square meter that fell in the Rhine basin over 48 hours; this area usually only receives about 80 liters of rain over the entire month of July. Cities like Hagen were forced to declare a state of emergency due to the extreme amount of rain. While some areas of Germany reacted well and managed to mitigate some chaos, others did not fare as well. While hydrologists who worked for the European Flood Awareness System (an EU program designed to give warning of serious floods) sent out warnings of severe rainfall to Germany, these warnings were not adequately conveyed to people in certain areas. Since Germany’s system of governance is fragmented and there are numerous separate authorities that work in different areas of the country and oversee the people in those areas, some authorities underestimated the flood risk. This resulted in successful evacuation and mitigation efforts in certain areas of Germany, as well as unsuccessful and unutilized evacuation policies leading to deaths and destruction.
Germany’s floods are not a stand-alone severe weather event that has occurred due to climate change. It is aligned with greater global trends that also depict the harrowing effect climate change is having on the world, such as the record heatwave southern Europe has faced over the summer.
Extreme heat and wildfires have plagued southern Europe, and heat warnings have been issued in countries like Greece and Italy. Greece reached a temperature of 47.1 degrees Celsius (117 degrees Fahrenheit) on August 3, which is just under the highest temperature ever recorded in Europe. As a response to the wildfires in surrounding suburbs, residents of Athens were advised to stay indoors with their windows closed because of poor air quality. The extreme heat also caused the Ministry of Culture to close the Acropolis during peak sun hours throughout week of August 2. The Greek Fire Service was called to intervene in 78 forest fires during that week. These terrible fires occurred on the heels of a series of other wildfires that broke out across Spain and the Italian island of Sardinia. Luckily no lives were lost in Greece due to the country’s emergency evacuation system, but over 70 houses and 20 businesses were seriously damaged and 70 people had to be taken to the hospital due to respiratory problems.
Moreover, droughts have become more frequent in southern Europe and the region has been warned that it will likely face the worst impacts of climate change. Another heatwave is expected to hit countries like Italy and Spain in mid-August with peak temperatures reaching around 46 degrees Celsius. This heatwave will be accompanied by higher risks of wildfires and will pose a threat to the well-being of individuals.
Thus, while policies mitigating the effect of extreme weather are largely the responsibility of individual Member States, the EU does have solid overarching policies in place that help to mitigate disaster in a notable way. The EU Civil Protection Mechanism provides concrete assistance and protection against disasters when they occur, while the EU strategy on adaptation to climate change is actively working to improve the ability of Member States to adapt to climate change in the future and lessen the amount of damage that it causes. This is likely why the Global Commission on Adaptation has recognized the EU as a pioneer in integrating considerations of climate-risk into decision making.
However, while the EU’s facilitation of the dispersal of information regarding climate change risk is strong, one potential area where the EU’s policies could be strengthened is the creation of binding laws that Member States must adopt regarding their commitment to adapt to climate change. Currently each Member State has its own individual national adaptation strategy, but guidelines and requirements specifically stated by the EU that all Member States are required to adopt could help to mitigate future damage, as is apparent in certain areas of Germany failing to properly evacuate its citizens during the July floods.
Current ability of the country to adapt to extreme weather conditions it faced in 2021:
Rating: *** Good (could be improved by having clearly defined adaptation benchmarks and guidelines that Member States must follow)
Four Stars (****): Outstanding
Three stars (***): Good
Two stars (**): Fair
One star (*): Unprepared
Name: Paraskevi Michou, Director General of European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations
Learn More Resources
Cuddy, Alice. “Germany Floods: How a Country Was Taken by Surprise.” BBC News, BBC, 16 July 2021, www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-57867773.
“EU Adaptation Strategy.” Climate Action – European Commission, 16 Feb. 2017, ec.europa.eu/clima/policies/adaptation/what_en.
“European Disaster Risk Management.” European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations – European Commission, 2 Aug. 2021, ec.europa.eu/echo/what/civil-protection/european-disaster-risk-management_en.
Korosec, Marko. “Italy and Spain Are next: BRUTAL Heatwave with near +46 °C Will Be Baking Southern Europe as a Massive HEAT Dome Parks over the Mediterranean as We Head into Mid-August.” Severe Weather Europe, 8 Aug. 2021, www.severe-weather.eu/europe-weather/heat-dome-mediterranean-extreme-heatwave-italy-spain-mk/.
Smith-Spark, Laura. “Brutal Heatwave SCORCHES Southern Europe as Summer of Extreme Weather Rages On.” CNN, Cable News Network, 4 Aug. 2021, edition.cnn.com/2021/08/04/europe/southern-europe-extreme-weather-intl/index.html.
Watts, Jonathan. “Climate Scientists Shocked by Scale of Floods in Germany.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 16 July 2021, www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/jul/16/climate-scientists-shocked-by-scale-of-floods-in-germany.
Image source: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/jul/16/what-is-causing-floods-europe-climate-change