18 October 2023

Europe will be facing drought more often


The Commission has made available a database and a continental atlas of drought risk. A study of past data reveals negative predictions: the phenomenon will occur more often in the future

by Matteo Cavallito


Counter drought and water scarcity. These are the goals of two new tools launched in recent days by the EU Commission: the European Impacts Database and the Continental Atlas of Risk. These resources are now publicly available at the initiative of the European Drought Observatory.

“Water scarcity and droughts will have a negative impact on nature,” the Commission said. “Projections suggest that the health of both aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems will be affected by the lack of precipitation.”

Drought will become increasingly frequent

Understanding past trends is the starting point for estimating how the phenomenon will evolve in the coming years. The European database presents data on the impact of drought between 1977 and 2022. At the same time, the Drought Risk Atlas uses machine learning to simulate the impact that an increase in temperature – of 1.5, 2 and 3 degrees Celsius – may have in the future. This provides insight into which regions of the European Union will become more water scarce than elsewhere and which economic sectors will be most affected.

“Projections suggest that droughts will occur significantly more often than in the past. Climate change directly impacts the frequency and intensity of precipitation,” the Commission explains. “Water scarcity may significantly increase in particular in the Mediterranean and in Eastern Europe.”

Consequences for agriculture, energy and transportation

Agriculture of course will be one of the hardest hit sectors although geographic differences may be significant. “Due to increasing drought risk, the yields of certain crops may significantly drop especially in Southern and in part also Western Europe, while remaining more sustainable in more Northern part of Europe,” the Commission says.

The phenomenon affects several sectors, from energy to transport via private consumption. “The projections suggest that public water supply including drinking water supplies could also come under pressure in Nordic countries like Sweden and Finland,” the Commission further writes. “In the energy sector, lower water levels in rivers can make it more difficult to cool nuclear power plants in France, while drought risks for inland navigation may remain significantly high in Germany and increase in the Danube region.”

Half of the EU already affected by drought.

The European Environment Agency (EEA) had spoken on the issue of drought prevalence in the summer, highlighting how this kind of event was now distributed throughout the year, affecting the Continent at every latitude. Since 2018, estimates say, more than 50 percent of European soil has been affected by extreme drought conditions. Emblematic is what happened last winter. During the season, the weather pattern reduced soil moisture, river flows and water storage in reservoirs across most of the EU.

“Long-term climate projections indicate that southern and central Europe will become even drier and hotter throughout the 21st century with devastating consequences for the agriculture sector,” the EEA wrote. “Total economic losses across all economic sectors linked to droughts are expected to rise by the end of this century from the current EUR9 billion per year to EUR 25 billion per year at 1.5 degree Celcius (°C) of global warming, EUR 31 billion per year at 2°C of warming and EUR 45 billion a 3 °C warming based on scientific scenarios.”