by | March 27, 2024 | Opinion

European Environment Agency publishes a first EU Climate Risk Assessment Report

For the first time a risk assessment report on climate change has been published by the European Environment Agency 

The European Climate Risk Assessment report straightforwardly outlines five areas where action is needed now, the threat climate change poses, and highlights priority actions within each area. 

These five areas or “clusters” are: Ecosystems, Food, Health, Infrastructure, and Economy and Finance.  

Two of these five areas, Food and Health, are high on EPHA’s agenda. They have been a recurrent theme in support of our calls for action to stem climate change. This has been so for policies to reduce air pollution emissions which pose direct health threats in addition to adding to climate change. As well as the shifts in diets and food systems needed both for health and the environment. 

That such action has been largely neglected in the past means much greater efforts are now necessary to limit the impact a changing climate will have. For food, as the EEA Risk Assessment report makes clear, there is an urgent need to implement the Farm to Fork strategy in full and secure a dietary shift away from animal-based foods to more plant-based foods. The report cites both to improve health but also the need to reduce water stress and scarcity directly and by reducing the need for water intensive imported animal feed.  

In a further theme that echoes EPHAs consistent positions, both the chapters of the EEA risk assessment report on the food and health clusters include an emphasis on the need to act on equity as a core element of the response to climate change.  For health, heat is particularly highlighted as a threat that has a strong equity dimension with the threat being considerably larger for those in poor housing conditions or working outside. However, the report failed to address that people experiencing homelessness face even greater risks of climate change’s various extreme weather consequences, such as heat waves. 

Following the Risk assessment report the European Commission presented a Communication on managing climate risks as well as its own report outlining what is being undertaken under the Civil Protection mechanism to prevent and manage disaster risk. 

There was a striking difference between the Commission Communication and report compared to the EEA’s Risk Assessment. The Commision’s Communication was notably more complacent, stressing what had been undertaken already rather than the need to increase actions and redouble efforts in order to limit the impact Europe’s changing climate will have. And where further action was recognised, it was in what Member States should accomplish, rather than any further EU initiative. 

The area where this was most stark was in relation to food and agriculture with zero mentions by the Commission of the need for the full Farm to Fork strategy and much less any outline of a need for dietary shifts. This was so even in the Commission’s review of the EURAs five broad clusters and an acknowledgement that the EEA had identified risks that “demand more action now and eight of them are particularly urgent”. 

The Commission’s failure to address this issue signifies a lack of political resolve to counter the influence of large-scale food and agriculture commercial interests. This is evident despite the existence of other health imperatives necessitating the promotion of healthier food options and the urgency posed by climate change on food security. With unhealthy diets persisting as a significant contributor to Europe’s burden of non-communicable diseases and the looming threat to both food security and health from climate change-induced risks, the imperative to act is clear. It is time for decisive action rather than indecision. 

A more detailed analysis of the recommendations of the EEA’s Climate Risk Assessment Report and the links it has to a range of other actions needed to improve Europeans’ health and well-being will be produced in the coming weeks by EPHA. However, the takeaway message of the report is clear: action is necessary and at a much larger scale and pace than has been undertaken thus far to combat one of our times biggest threats – climate change. 

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