Every one of Europe’s 571 cities is destined for worse heat waves, droughts, or floods

Floods are set to rise in 85% of UK cities that have a river.
Floods are set to rise in 85% of UK cities that have a river.
Image: Darren Staples/Reuters
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A new analysis of climate change across Europe found that under several probable future climate scenarios, European cities will be hit harder by floods, droughts, and heat waves than previously understood.

A study published Tuesday in the journal Environmental Research Letters used all available climate models to assess what is likeliest to happen to Europe under a scenario in which the world fails to dramatically reduce carbon emissions, while population continues to grow. That scenario—dubbed RCP8.5 in scientific literature—is often pointed to as a proxy for a worst-case (though still absolutely possible) future emissions scenario, in which temperatures increase 2.6°C to 4.8°C from the 1850–1900 global average by 2050-2100.

In that scenario, there can be a lot of variation in how climate systems respond, so the researchers tested what would happen to European cities in low-, medium-, and high-impact climate outcomes. In every outcome, Europe gets battered by more intense droughts, floods, and heat waves.

Droughts will hit everywhere, but especially southern Europe

For example, under the low-impact scenario, southern Europe will be the hardest hit by drought, with cities like Malaga and Almeria, both in Spain, likely to experience droughts that are twice as severe as they were from 1951 to 2000. Under the high-impact scenario, droughts worsen on a mass scale: 98% of European cities would have to cope with worse droughts, and in southern Europe, drought are likely to become 14 times worse than they are now.

“Although southern European regions are adapted to cope with droughts, this level of change could be beyond breaking point,” Selma Guerreiro, a hydrology and climate-change researcher at Newcastle University and lead author on the paper said in a statement.

The European capital cities which will see the greatest increase in drought severity and frequency, according to the paper, are:

  • Athens, Greece
  • Lisbon, Portugal
  • Madrid, Spain
  • Nicosia, Cyprus
  • Sofia, Bulgaria
  • Valleta, Malta

Floods will rise, especially in the UK

The UK is expected to be hit hard by flooding by the second half of the century; 85% of UK cities that have rivers flowing through them (like London) would face more floods than before in the low-impact scenario. Under the high-impact scenario, certain cities will see dramatic spikes in the severity of floods. For example, Cork, Ireland, is expected to be inundated with 115% more water per flood. Glasgow, Scotland is likely to see 77% more water per flood, and Wrexham, Wales is likely to see 80% more water.

The European capital cities which will see the greatest increase in flooding severity and frequency are:

  • Dublin, Ireland
  • Helsinki, Finland
  • Riga, Latvia
  • Vilnius, Lithuania
  • Zagreb, Croatia

Heat waves will go up, and central Europe will roast most

Under all three scenarios, the number of heat wave days and their maximum temperature will increase for all 571 cities in the European Union’s official database of cities. Those in central Europe are likely to see the biggest spikes in temperatures during heat waves: 2°C to 7°C in the low-impact scenario and 8°C to 14°C in the high-impact scenario.

The European capital cities which will see the greatest increase in heat wave severity and frequency are:

  • Athens, Greece
  • Nicosia, Cyprus
  • Prague, Czech Republic
  • Rome, Italy
  • Sofia, Bulgaria
  • Stockholm, Sweden
  • Valleta, Malta
  • Vienna, Austria