After weathering record-breaking temperatures, parts of Europe are now gripped by a punishing drought that is shriveling harvests, sparking water shortages and taking a toll on wildlife. experts now warn Europeans must better prepare for today’s ‘new normal.’
Weeks of dry weather have left two-thirds of French departments facing water restrictions. Plants and wildlife are stressed. More than 20 departments are in the critical red category that restricts water use to only essential needs.
France is not the only European country facing a parched summer. This weather forecast in neighboring Spain indicates some rain up north, but overall the country is baking in its third driest year this century.
Dry weather also has hit parts of Germany, Poland, the Czech Republic and Scandinavian countries. This month, Lithuania declared an emergency, with drought expected to cut its harvests by half.
All of this follows a string of record-breaking temperatures in June across much of the continent.
Climate change and adaptation expert Blaz Kurnik, of the European Environment Agency in Copenhagen, says that’s no coincidence.
“Drought and heatwaves are connected," he said. "And they are amplifying each other afterwards.”
Kurnik says its hard to just blame everything on climate change. But the last couple of years were the warmest ever recorded in Europe, mirroring the global temperature rise. And this is Europe's second drought in as many years.
Not surprisingly, farmers are worried. We’re going to irrigate some plots, this farmer told French TV, while noting that not all of the crops can be saved.
Insurance companies estimate last year's drought cost Europe several billion dollars. Expert Kurnik points up that’s only part of the bill.
“There are also losses, which cannot directly translate into money, which are the permanent damage of the forest, the loss of biodiversity ... which can recover in the next years — or not,” he said.
Europe has long been considered a climate change leader. Experts say many European Union countries have drafted comprehensive plans to mitigate the impact of hotter and drier weather in the years to come. But that’s not enough.
When it comes to sustainable water management, for instance, environmental group WWF’s European Water Policy Officer Carla Freund says there’s a disconnect between good legislation and action.
“I think we see a lack of will overall," she said. "It’s not an area of priority for a lot of member states. I think water is seen as something that’s ubiquitous regardless. So I don’t think governments are really aware that we’re going to be facing a huge shortage problem in the future.”
A different Europe
A Swiss study out earlier this month predicts that like other parts of the world, Europe will be drastically different by 2050. London’s climate may be more like Barcelona’s today. Madrid will be more like Marakesh.
Climate change expert Kurnik says that in some ways, Europe is preparing for these changes. France’s 2003 heatwave killed 15,000 people. That didn’t happen this year. Some farmers are planting drought-resistant crops and adopting more efficient irrigation methods. But he says the efforts are patchy.
Meanwhile, next week’s forecast predicts yet another heatwave in France — with no rain in sight.