More frequent heatwaves and droughts due to climate change are expected to cause substantive agricultural production losses for most European areas , according to a new report by the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability report is the second working group contribution to the IPCC Sixth Assessment Report and was published today (Monday, February 28).

In the report, information is broken down into six regions; the UK falls under the region of Europe.

The report stated that both natural and human systems in Europe are already affected by the currently 1.1° warmer planet, including more frequent heatwaves and droughts.

Four key risks for Europe were identified in the report, of which most are due to become more severe at 2° global warming level (GWL) compared to 1.5° GWL in scenarios with low to medium adaptation.

Heat and droughts

Ecosystem changes due to heat, the report stated, will increase two to threefold the number of deaths and people at risk of heat stress at 3° compared to 1.5° GWL.

Heat and drought conditions are projected to cause substantive agricultural production losses in most European areas over the 21st century.

The report further stated that agricultural gains in northern Europe will not offset production losses across the continent.

Threatening biodiversity and carbon sinks, fire-prone areas are also expected to expand across Europe, according to the working group report.

Image source: IPCC

Considering irrigation as an effective option in agriculture, the working group report stated that this option will be increasingly limited by water availability, particularly in response to GWL above 3°.

Water scarcity and floods

More than a third of the population in southern Europe will be exposed to water scarcity at 2° GWL which will double in risk under 3° GWL - also for western, central and southern Europe - leading to potential significant economic losses in water and energy-dependent sectors.

An above 3° GWL scenario will also double damage costs and people affected by precipitation and river flooding. Coastal flood damage, the report stated, is expected to increase at least tenfold by the end of the century, potentially even more or earlier under current adaptation and mitigation.

"[A] Sea level rise represents an existential threat for coastal communities and their cultural heritage, particularly beyond 2100," the IPCC working group report stated.

Adaptation options

Adaptation options to deal with future climate risks are growing in availability, according to the IPCC, including for key risks in agriculture.

Options to adapt and deal with climate risks in the agricultural sector could include irrigation, vegetation cover, changes in farming practices, crop and animal species.

A shift in planting, including fire and forest management and agroecology, was also stated as an option in the working group report.

Behavioural change and building interventions could be key to the risk of heat, while improvements in efficiency, water storage, changes in land use and reusing recourses could deal with water scarcity.

A change in land use would also, along with early warning systems, reserving space for water and ecosystem-based adaption, mitigate the risk of flooding.