While some states in the U.S. are still mulling over whether or not climate change exists, European countries are tackling the concern with a dose of prevention. The European Environment Agency recently released a five-year assessment of the state of the environment and, according to the agency, things are looking pretty good for the EU.
"Many of the decisions we make today will determine how we are going to live in 2050," said Hans Bruyninckx, executive director of the European Environment Agency (EEA). Wise words, but often hard to implement.
Still, with 20 percent of its budget already committed to climate change mitigation and adaptation, the EU has already taken some significant steps to address how it will offset what scientists say will be a more irascible and uncooperative climate.
Member states were given the latitude to decide how to use the allocated funds to combat climate issues. More than 90 percent of the 30 member states said that last year's adverse weather events were the motivating factors in how they decided to use the funds. The second major instigator was the cost of addressing the damage and injuries from those climate events.
Across the continent, floods took the No. 1 spot when it came to the greatest perceived threat, the assessment showed. According to the European Commission, more than 2,000 people were killed by floods between 1980 and 2011. Millions more were either displaced or affected by the flooding. Just as significant, says the EU, was the economic cost: More than $90 billion in losses were sustained just from the floods incurred during that period.
Countries most at risk for floods have come up with some innovative ways to protect property and warn residents of impending dangers -- and, in some cases, solve age-old environmental problems while they're at it. Nijmegen, Norway, for example, is creating a new channel to redirect water that has been inundating the Waal River and forcing the relocation of nearby populations. The project, which will cost upwards of $350 million, has a second economic benefit: additional areas for riverside recreation and tourism.
In Norfolk, England, the area's critical wetlands and surrounding farmlands are at risk from tidal change. The region has a long-range plan to bolster about 110 miles of embankments on the Norfolk Broadlands, aiming to protect them from tidal surges from the River Yare and nearby tributaries. It's an impressive challenge that will cost the U.K. more than $100 million to complete.
In the Sogn og Fjordane mountains of Norway, both flood and avalanche risks are being addressed, with the implementation of a digital warning system that can alert residents and travelers by cell phone and social media of the impending dangers of avalanche, rock slides or other environmental dangers that affect the area. So far, the project has been estimated to cost around $110 million.
Zaragoza, Spain, deep in the arid southern regions of the country, has realized the power of public appeal. It is encouraging its citizens to be water stewards by fixing their leaky faucets and taking other precautions ahead of the worsening droughts and fire risks that have been forecast for the water-stressed area. The approach seems to be working: Since 1980, the region has lopped its daily water use by half. The city of 700,000, however, is working to reduce its usage even further.
Germany, as well, is at the heart of change when it comes to addressing weather concerns. The city of Berlin has come to realize that residential structures now need to be built to withstand hotter summers. The realization has given root to a plethora of green spaces on roofs as well as in and around residential and commercial areas. Cooling urban areas naturally has become the new future challenge.
Europeans would probably be the first to admit that, in this case, necessity has become the mother of invention. The 30 nations, faced with increasing predictions of adverse weather that range from heat stress and drought to unpredictable storm surge, are working together to fund a host of mitigation projects that, irrespective of what the next year's weather predictions become, will stand them in great stead.
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Jan Lee is a former news editor and award-winning editorial writer whose non-fiction and fiction have been published in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, the U.K. and Australia. Her articles and posts can be found on TriplePundit, JustMeans, and her blog, The Multicultural Jew, as well as other publications. She currently splits her residence between the city of Vancouver, British Columbia and the rural farmlands of Idaho.