Europe’s summer droughts set to intensify under unabated climate change

Frequency of droughts could increase by more than 50 per cent in France, the Alps, the Mediterranean and Iberian Peninsula

Part of Corsica, the French Mediterranean island, was on drought alert in August. AFP
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Unabated climate change will cause more extreme summer droughts in European hot spots by the end of the century, researchers have said.

A study published in Frontiers in Water highlighted France, the Alps, the Mediterranean and the Iberian Peninsula as areas of particular concern, where there could be a more than 50 per cent increase in the frequency of extreme summer droughts.

Experts at Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich and Ouranos Consortium in Canada based their study on the RCP8.5 scenario, which is regarded as the worst-case climate change scenario under which global temperatures would increase fastest.

“Summer droughts are a highly relevant topic in Europe. We find a clear trend towards more, longer and more intense summer droughts, in terms of a precipitation deficit, towards the end of the century under a high-emission carbon scenario (RCP8.5),” co-author Magdalena Mittermeier said.

The World Health Organisation says drought affects about 55 million people globally, increasing the risk of death and loss of livelihoods. As well as associated water scarcity, drought can destroy crops, increase the risk of disease and fuel fires.

The study found seasonal differences in precipitation in Europe would become greater. While rain will decrease in the summer, it will increase in the winter.

“Our study shows that unabated climate change will worsen the risk of hot spot droughts drastically. But also, in some regions where droughts currently play a minor role, the future drought risk is expected to get serious. We show that the Alps should be considered an additional future hotspot,” Ms Mittermeier said.

Under the 2015 Paris Agreement, a legally binding international treaty on climate change, countries agreed on a goal to limit global temperature rises to “well below” 2°C, but preferably to 1.5°C compared to pre-industrial levels.

Ms Mittermeier said that without action, climate change would "drastically increase the frequency, duration and intensity of summer droughts in many European regions".

"Such extreme effects can be avoided by climate mitigation. This is why consistent mitigation of climate change as agreed on under the Paris Agreement is highly relevant in terms of droughts in Europe,” she said.

Updated: September 07, 2021, 12:16 PM