Climate change: more research needed, but time for action is now, say experts

October 3, 2006

Brussels, 02 Oct 2006

Scientists, policy makers and practitioners have outlined their priorities for future research needs for investigating the impact of climate change on the water cycle, and explained how research results in these fields can feed into the policy-making procedure. At a workshop organised by the European Commission, the experts also discussed how EU water legislation could provide tools to water managers to help them adapt to climate change. Climate change models suggest that over the next century our planet will get warmer to the tune of 1.4 to 5.8°C, depending on levels of greenhouse gas emissions. The changes to the climate will affect both the quality and quantity of water available for both humans and the environment. Extreme weather events, such as floods and droughts, are likely to increase in both severity and frequency. Climate change is also expected to affect water quality in a number of ways. There is therefore a clear need for adaptation.

However, although it is now clear that climate change is happening, there remains a great deal of uncertainty about its impacts on nature and society. Regarding future research needs, it was noted that climate change models need to become more detailed at the regional level, as many climate change impacts are unlikely to affect the whole of Europe and the world uniformly.

However, Peter Gammeltoft of the European Commission's Directorate General for Environment summed up the feelings of many when he observed that while there was clearly a need for more research, 'we now know so much that we cannot afford not to act.'

Although it does not address climate changes issues directly, the EU's Water Framework Directive provides some flexibility and options for water managers across Europe to start adapting to climate change. It was made clear that Member States need to ensure consistency between their water policies and other policies such as land use, agriculture and energy. Furthermore, the European Commission is in the process of producing a Green Paper on adaptation in Europe, listing a set of recommendations in this field.

Referring to the knowledge and research gaps which remain, Fritz Holzwarth, the German Water Director, noted: 'If we had not had climate change on the FP6 agenda, the research gap would be even bigger. The framework programmes have been an important source, that we are able to discuss now with more certainty the issues of climate change adaptation and impacts.'

José Manuel Silva Rodríguez, Director General of DG Research, highlighted the importance of climate change research to Europeans following recent floods and heat waves. 'We would like to show citizens that research is undertaken on issues that they are concerned with and that research results can help to be better prepared to face environmental change,' he commented.

Looking to the future, he outlined the climate change priorities which the Seventh Framework Programme would address. 'The FP7 will emphasise on climate impacts on the water cycle and resources, the prediction of impacts to the different regions of Europe and the relation between natural hazards and extreme events and climate change,' he explained. 'It will also contribute to the coordination of national research actions and programmes in the area Water-Climate.'

The outcomes of the workshop will feed into an international symposium organised by the German Presidency of the EU on climate change and water, which will be held in Berlin in February 2007.

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