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Impacts of climate change on European islands

AUTHORS: Raphael Sauter – Patrick ten Brink – Sirini Withana – Leonardo Mazza

European islands represent a major but often underrepresented part of the EU and its Member States. European islands face very concrete risks as a result of higher temperatures, changed rainfall regimes, weather extremes, and sea level rise. Climate related risks are not limited to specific regions or countries but that it is an issue for all islands. Islands’ infrastructure including its most critical components such as airports, sea ports and highways is often located near the coast and hence particularly vulnerable to sea level rise and flooding. The agriculture sector is in many islands crucial for minimising the island’s dependence on food imports and an important source of foreign revenues from the export of agricultural products. In the long term most islands will be faced by decreased crop production and at the same time higher costs for water irrigation. Many islands are strongly dependent on revenues from the tourism industry with a share in the island’s GDP of 20 per cent or even higher, yet tourists’ motivation to visit islands can be compromised by climate related effects. Finally, 70 per cent of Europe’s biodiversity is located on islands which include 43 Ramsar sites and 8 World Heritage sites and the loss of islands’ unique biodiversity as result of climate change could be huge.

The report ‘Impacts of climate change on all European islands’, funded by the Greens/EFA group in the European Parliament, presents empirical evidence from five case studies which cover the following islands or island regions: Macaronesia (Azores, Madeira; Canary Islands), Greek islands, La Reunion, Netherlands Antilles, French Polynesia / New Caledonia. The results show that climate change is not an abstract threat that may occur in the future but it is a concrete risk with the consequences of which many islands are faced with now. Most importantly the consequences of climate change impacts on European islands will not be limited to the islands and their inhabitants but will go well beyond the islands’ borders. The challenge of climate change impacts is beyond most islands’ capacities to address on their own and hence requires a strengthened cooperation between the islands and the mainland as well as between North and South to minimise the consequences and increase the benefits of early action for all. The engagement of EU policies and programmes is essential to respond to the challenge of reducing risks and impacts of climate change on European islands.

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