Mapped: Impact of Climate Change on European Countries
Europe experienced its most extreme year for unusual weather events in 2018. Record heat and precipitation were recorded across the continent, with extremely cold weather during the winter, and heat and drought through spring and summer.
Now, the start of 2019 has already seen warm record daily winter temperatures in Europe, too. For example, the UK has experienced unusually warm weather during the beginning of the year — with record-breaking temperatures that hadn’t been seen in the last 122 years. This year we had the hottest February in UK’s history, with the highest average daily maximum temperature at 18.3 °C.
Even though it would be naive to say that such weather events are specifically caused by climate change, climate scientists have said that the only direction that climate change is pushing, is towards warmer temperatures.
We at GreenMatch have therefore conducted a comprehensive study that looks into recent trends surrounding climate change in 32 European countries. The study has been illustrated on a map containing data about nationwide trends in surface temperatures, sea temperatures, sea levels, and precipitation.
How Has Climate Change Affected Countries in Europe?
This interactive map below illustrates the extent to which European countries have been affected by climate change, based on the four indicators mentioned above — with 0 being the least affected, and 100 being the most affected.
The European Countries Most and Least Affected by Climate Change
Based on GreenMatch’s findings in the map above, Lithuania is the most affected European country, whereas Iceland is the least affected. We will now elaborate on the three European countries that have been most and least affected by climate change.
The 3 European Countries Most Affected by Climate Change
According to GreenMatch’s findings, Lithuania has been seeing a significantly high rise in sea levels compared to the other European countries that were a part of the study, with an increase of 4.46 mm per year between 1970 and 2015.
The sea temperature in Lithuania has increased by 0.73 °C, from 1960 to 2014, sharing the first place with five other countries.
The surface temperature has increased the most, with an increase of 0.325 °C per decade, again sharing the first place with six other countries.
Finally, the precipitation in Lithuania has increased by 20 mm per decade, between 1960 and 2015.
All indicators considered, Lithuania ended up with a total score of 75.04.
Coming in second: Finland. The surface temperature in Finland increased by 0.314 °C per decade, whereas precipitation saw the exact same increase of 20 mm per decade, as in Lithuania.
Furthermore, the sea temperature in Finland has increased by 0.73 °C, from 1970 to 2015, whereas the sea level has seen a decrease of 4.26 mm per year.
However, according to the National Land Survey of Finland, new land has been appearing from the sea for centuries due to the Fennoscandian land uplift. It might, therefore, be difficult to determine the extent to which the sea level drop in Finland has been caused by climate change.
After combining the different indicators, Finland ended up with a total score of 72.96.
The data for Latvia showed very similar results to Lithuania, with three of the indicators ending up with the exact same score. The only indicator where Latvia had a lower score than Lithuania is the rise in sea levels.
However, compared to most other European countries, Latvia has still seen a high rise in sea levels, with an increase of 4.02 mm per year between 1970 and 2015.
All indicators considered, Latvia ended up with a total score of 72.82.
The 3 European Countries Least Affected by Climate Change
According to GreenMatch’s study, Iceland turned out to be the European country that has been affected by climate change the least.
Iceland saw an average change in surface temperatures, with a 0.275 °C increase per decade. Compared to the other European countries in our study, Iceland has seen by far the lowest increase in sea temperatures, with a slight increase of 0.208 °C, from 1960 to 2014 — being significantly lower than the European average of 0.621 °C, as well as the global average of 0.327 °C.
Additionally, sea levels have increased by 1.31 mm per year, from 1970 to 2015, which is 0.71 mm lower than the European average.
Finally, precipitation in Iceland has been increasing significantly compared to other European countries. Their precipitation increased by 35 mm per decade, between 1960 and 2015, whereas the average precipitation in Europe, in fact, decreased by 1.95 mm per decade.
After combining these indicators, Iceland ended up with a total score of 36.07.
The second country least affected by climate change turned out to be Greece. Greece saw by far the lowest change in surface temperature, with an increase of only 0.075 °C per decade.
On the other hand, the Greek seas have become 0.706 °C warmer between 1960 and 2014. This is relatively high compared to many other countries in Europe. Sea levels have seen an increase of 2.01 mm per year, from 1970 to 2015.
Finally, precipitation in Greece has been decreasing by 20 mm per decade between 1960 and 2015.
These indicators combined have given Greece a total score of 37.15.
The third country least affected by climate change is Norway. Out of all the European countries part of the study, Norway saw the highest increase in precipitation, with an increase of 37.14 mm per decade between 1960 and 2015.
Just like Iceland, Norway’s surface temperature increased by 0.275 °C per decade. Furthermore, sea levels saw a slight rise of 0.25 mm per year, from 1970 to 2015, which is 1.78 mm lower than the European average.
Finally, sea temperatures in Norway have been increasing by 0.439 °C per decade, thereby being below the European average.
These indicators combined have given Norway a total score of 41.91.
How Is the UK Doing in Comparison to Europe’s Average?
Out of the 32 European countries that have been a part of the study, the UK was revealed to be the 8th country least affected by climate change. The UK came out of the test with a total score of 49.35 out of 100, which is 6.01 better than the European average.
The table below compares the UK’s results with Europe’s average for each indicator.
|Metrics||UK’s Result||Europe’s Average|
|Surface Temperature Change
between 1960‒2017 (°C/decade)
|Sea Temperature Change
from 1960 to 2014 (°C)
|Sea Level Change
between 1970 - 2015 (mm/year)
between 1960‒2015 (mm/decade)
Natural Disasters in European Countries 1960‒2019
According to the World Meteorological Organization, change in the frequency, intensity, and variability of extreme weather events — such as drought, extreme heat, flooding, and extreme precipitation — is one of the most important impacts of climate change.
Using consistent and meaningful indicators has been proposed as a way to reflect upon the global influence of climate change on extreme events. However, it is very important to keep in mind that it is too early to tell how such indicators may relate to climate change.
In order to get an overall, estimated understanding of the climate conditions in Europe, GreenMatch has looked into trends surrounding extreme events in European countries between 1960 and 2019.
The map below illustrates the total number of extreme events per European country between 1960 and 2019.
As illustrated in the map above, France has experienced the most extreme events since 1960. The country has experienced a total of 48 floods and 62 storms during those years, which is significantly higher than most other European countries.
Iceland, Finland, and Estonia stand out from the crowd with very few extreme events, with Iceland experiencing only one extreme event since 1960: a flood.
Interactive Graph: Trends of Extreme Events in Europe
In addition to the map above, GreenMatch has created an interactive graph that shows the trend of extreme events in European countries between 1960 and 2019.
The graph shows a tremendous increase in the number of storms around the early 90s: a total of 66 storms in all the selected countries. After 1990, Europe saw a lot more extreme events than before, particularly droughts and extreme temperatures.
How Can We Limit Any Further Impacts?
There is no denial in the fact that climate change is causing environmental problems all around the world. Problems of this magnitude need a universal policy on sustainability and renewable energy.
However, limiting any further impacts of climate change starts with individual households around the world. Besides contributing in small, everyday actions — such as recycling and lowering your consumption — changing your domestic energy source can make a huge difference.
Investing in renewable energy is one of the most effective ways to lower your carbon footprint and contribute to a greener planet. For example, by installing solar panels or heat pumps you can help limit the effects of climate change and simultaneously lower your electricity bills in the long run.
The 32 European countries have been selected based on a list of countries in the EU and EEA provided by the UK Government. Even though Switzerland is not a part of the European Union or European Economic Area, they too have been included in this study, as they are a part of the EU’s single market.
You can read more about how the two maps have come about in the following sections:
The Effect of Climate Change on European Countries
The data for this study was obtained from the European Environment Agency and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), which has also been supported by several studies and journals.
The study has selected indicators for measuring climate change based on information from the WMO, who have selected six candidates for measuring climate change. The indicators include:
- Surface temperature
- Ocean heat content
- Atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide
- Mean sea level
- Changing extent or mass of the cryosphere
Due to the fact that relevant data is not updated annually, this study used reports from several time periods, resulting in data collected from 2014, 2015, and 2017.
Furthermore, as the study looked into trends, it was not always possible to collect data from 1960, resulting in one indicator only being measured from 1970.
This indicator was based on the WMO’s indicator “global annual average surface temperature”. It is considered essential to include as a climate indicator, as surface temperature is a critical target for the Paris Agreement. However, according to the WMO, this indicator should be supplemented with regional and national level data, which has been covered by our national-level study.
The second indicator is based on the WMO’s indicator “ocean heat content”. Only 1-2% of human-made climate change directly warms the atmosphere. Therefore, more than 90% of the additional energy captured by human-made climate change is stored in oceans. For that reason, sea temperature is considered a good indicator of the warming of the Earth system.
This indicator was provided by the WMO, but can only be measured on a global scale. Moreover, according to the American Meteorological Society, it is unfortunately not possible to directly measure continental concentrations of CO₂. Therefore, this indicator has not been included in GreenMatch’s study.
The fourth indicator provided by the WMO is “global mean sea level”, which, just as the indicator “surface temperature”, should be supplemented by regional analyses. Again, this has been covered by the study’s focus on national levels.
Recent developments have made it possible to estimate the various sources — such as melting ice — that contribute to sea-level changes. However, GreenMatch’s study looks at overall trends throughout several decades, which unfortunately made it irrelevant to look into such estimates.
According to the WMO, the cryosphere can be divided into three indicators: Arctic sea-ice extent, Antarctic sea-ice extent, and Northern Hemisphere snow cover.
Even though the cryosphere includes some of the most useful indicators of climate change, its domain is very under-sampled, which makes these indicators very difficult to measure.
Measuring the mass of the cryosphere would also be more suitable for large-scale data collection, rather than looking at data for different countries. Only few countries within our study sample would be able to contribute to this indicator.
For example, trends in the mass and volume of glaciers in Europe only account for certain parts of Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Austria, Italy, France, and Spain. Therefore, this climate indicator has been excluded from GreenMatch’s study.
Finally, the sixth indicator provided by the WMO is “global precipitation” and provides good insights into shifts in the patterns and nature of global precipitation, intense rain storms, and other extreme events.
Since precipitation can have large uncertainties and variabilities on the local level, the WMO suggests an approach that looks at capturing multi-year and long-term variations in precipitation distribution. Therefore, GreenMatch decided to look into trends in precipitation over a timespan of almost six decades.
In order to get an overview of the results, GreenMatch has created a comprehensive list that ranks all of the indicators by scores on a scale from 0 to 1. The closer the score is to 1, the more the country has been affected by climate change.
The scores (zi) have been obtained by applying the following two formulas to the raw data.
First, the deviation from the optimal value (which is 0, i.e. no effect of climate change) has been calculated in relation to the lowest and highest values. This way, changes in both directions (e.g. increased or decreased surface temperature) have been rated on the same scale. As a result, a decrease in e.g. surface temperature is also considered an unconventional phenomenon
yi = | xi | / max(x) - min(x)
Then, in order to make this data directly comparable, minimum−maximum normalisation has been used which generates a score between 0 and 1. Therefore, the country with the least amount of change got a score of 0, while the country that has experienced the largest change (whether increase or decrease) received a score of 1.
zi = ( yi - min(y) ) / ( max(y) - min(y) )
Finally, the different scores of the four indicators have been combined in order to estimate each country’s average score on a scale from 1 to 100. Consequently, this average score per country also accounts for the total score per country. For those countries which a metric (e.g. sea level) was not applicable (because the country has no direct access to a seashore), the average of the remaining metrics was calculated and used.
For the data collection of the second part of this study, GreenMatch made use of the Emergency Events Database. During this data collection, the same countries were analysed as during the first part of the study.
Also, in order to keep the two analyses consistent, GreenMatch chose to analyse the four indicators that were available in the database, as well as suggested by the WMO. These indicators are droughts, extreme temperatures, floods, and storms.
GreenMatch has collected data about the number of droughts, extreme temperatures, floods, and storms occurring in European countries between 1960 and 2019. Based on each country’s total amount of these extreme events, GreenMatch has created a map, where you can see to which extent each country has suffered from extreme events.
Additionally, without indicating any direct correlation between climate change and the extreme events, GreenMatch has created an interactive graph that illustrates the trends of these extreme events in Europe.
The data for this graph is also based on data from the Emergency Events Database. Rather than looking at the total amount of extreme events per country, this graph looks at the annual amount of extreme events of all the selected countries combined.