Science & Environment

UK set for high end climate costs, as floods spread

Children plaung in fountain
Image caption Some European countries have seen heatwaves in recent years, with health impacts

The UK is likely to feel bigger costs from climate change than most other EU countries, a report concludes.

Rising sea levels are likely to impact the nation harder than most, negating economic benefits from increased tourism and possibly farm yields.

The findings come from a study funded by the European Commission, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

It projects a net cost for most EU nations, but a net benefit for a few.

Scandinavian countries and the Baltic states should be better off, it finds, largely through increased opportunities for agriculture.

Researchers looked at climatic conditions likely to apply in 2080, and asked how present-day economies would fare if those climatic conditions were here now.

It addresses five issues - agriculture, river floods, coastal areas, tourism and human health - which the team acknowledges is a limitation.

"We know little at EU level or at member state level about implications of climate change in the economy," said Juan-Carlos Ciscar from the Institute for Prospective Technological Studies in Seville, Spain.

"Climate change is happening, we need to adapt to it, so we need to know which sectors will be affected and why so we can establish adaptation policies - which means minimising impacts, but also taking advantage of opportunities," he told BBC News.

Southern accent

In 2004, the European Council asked the European Commission's Joint Research Center (JRC) to analyse these costs and benefits as far as possible.

Dr Ciscar's institute is part of the JRC and led the project, which involved commissioning new models of some types of climate impact.

Overall, they calculate, EU citizens would be on average 0.2-1.0% worse off were climatic conditions projected for 2080 to apply now.

But that headline figure conceals big regional differences.

To simplify matters a little, they divided EU nations into five geographical blocs: southern Europe, central Europe south, central Europe north, northern Europe, and the British Isles.

The most heavily affected region is southern Europe (Spain, Portugal, Italy, Greece and Bulgaria), for which the models project drops in agricultural yield of up to a quarter, major increases in coastal flooding, and a small drop in tourism revenue.

Image caption Researchers divided the EU into five regions for the purposes of this study

The northern bloc, by contrast, would see farm yields rise by about one-third and an increase in tourism.

The UK and Ireland, meanwhile, would see an overall economic impact almost as large as southern Europe's - but produced mainly through an increase in flooding.

The researchers took four different scenarios of warming into account, and saw the biggest impact on the British Isles at the high-temperature end - a rise of about 5C from now.

"The highest scenario, with a sea level rise of 88cm, brings dramatic changes in coastal impacts - the increase is more than proportional," Dr Ciscar told BBC News.

Expansion agenda

In a counterintuitive twist, lower temperature rises are projected to cost the British Isles in terms of agricultural yields - but the warmest scenarios should bring a net benefit.

Image caption The costs of extreme weather have just been graphically demonstrated in Australia

"With the lower temperature increase, we assume the current crop pattern would still apply, with conditions a little more hot and dry," explained Ana Iglesias, professor of agricultural economics at the Universidad Politecnica de Madrid.

"But if things changed more we could introduce crops and systems more fitting now to a Mediterranean climate - grapes for example - plus vegetables such as tomatoes you could grow outside glasshouses for longer periods."

The next step in the process will be to expand the issues covered, although including all sectors of the economy and all societal impacts promises to be a daunting task.

But the work so far is likely to be useful, according to Simon Dietz, deputy director of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics.

"The paper is likely to be useful in identifying adaptation needs - how much money is used, and where governments should be sending it to," he said.

"However, it isn't really able to look at extremes of weather; and we know from the Australian floods this year that you'll miss quite a lot [of impacts] if you're not able to include extremes in terms of droughts and floods."

Dr Dietz was not involved in the JRC project but was one of the team behind the 2006 Stern Review of Climate Change Economics.

Overall, Europe is one of the global regions considered to be most capable of adapting to climate change - partly because impacts in the region are projected to be relatively modest, and partly because it is reatively prosperous.

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