A view of the drought that has affected the Los Bermejales reservoir which is at 18% capacity at Arenas del Rey in Granada, Spain, May 13, 2023.
Anadolu Agency | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images
European policymakers are battling to tackle a growing water crisis ahead of what researchers fear will be another summer of drought fueled by the climate crisis.
Water resources in Europe are becoming increasingly scarce due to the worsening climate emergency, with record temperatures until spring and a historic winter heat wave wreaking visible havoc on area rivers and ski trails.
Reservoirs in Mediterranean countries like Italy fell to water levels generally associated with summer heat waves in recent weeks, threatening agricultural production, while protests erupted over water shortages in both France And Spain.
It comes as temperatures are set to soar through the summer and many already fear that Europe “very precarious“The water problem could get worse.
Satellite data analyzed by researchers from Austria’s University of Graz earlier this year revealed that the drought was impacting Europe on a much larger scale than researchers had previously predicted.
The study was published after researchers from the European Union found Europe had its hottest summer last year, with the intense drought believed to be the worst the region has seen in at least 500 years. years.
Researchers from the University of Graz said Europe had been suffering from severe drought since 2018, with the effects becoming clear last year as receding waters wreaked havoc on food and energy production, while many aquatic species have lost their habitats.
“A few years ago, I never would have imagined that water would be a problem here in Europe, especially in Germany or Austria,” said Torsten Mayer-Gürr, one of the study’s lead authors. satellite.
“We actually have water supply issues here – we have to think about that.”
In Spain, which experienced temperatures rise to almost 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) in April, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez warned the same month that drought in the southern European country had become one of his top long-term concerns.
“The Spanish government and I are aware that the debate on drought is going to be one of the central political and territorial debates of our country in the coming years,” Sanchez told parliament, according to The Associated Press.
Last month, the Spanish government approved a 2.2 billion euro ($2.4 billion) package to try to mitigate the impact of the drought that has hit its agricultural sector.
A woman farmer displays a pot of water as she speaks into a microphone about drought during a farmers’ protest to draw attention to rural living conditions and to demand the importance of agriculture in the society and its contribution to the country’s economy, in Madrid on May 13, 2023.
Oscar Del Pozo | AFP | Getty Images
Meanwhile, the European Drought Observatory warned in a special snapshot report earlier this year that conditions at the end of winter were similar to those seen last year, when high temperatures and a lack of rainfall resulted in a widespread and prolonged drought that affected much of the continent.
The latest data available show drought alert conditions for more than a quarter of the 27 EU countries, while 8% of the region is on drought alert.
Samantha Burgess, deputy director of the Copernicus climate change service, said the outlook this summer for large parts of Europe “doesn’t look as scary as it did a month ago”.
Indeed, in the midst of a particularly variable spring which saw record April temperatures in Spain and Portugal and devastating flash floods in Italyheavy rains in southern Europe in recent weeks have helped fill reservoirs and improve soil moisture.
However, Burgess said large parts of northern Europe and countries like Spain, France and Portugal in the south still looked “pretty dry” at a time when some researchers fear Europe could be on track for another brutal summer.
“For water security across Europe, we really need to change the way we deal with water – and I think the events of the last year have really been a wake-up call for many decision-makers. Europeans,” Burgess told CNBC over the phone.
Cédric Sabate, arborist, thins his trees to help them withstand water restrictions in Thuir, near Perpignan, southern France, May 16, 2023.
Raymond King | AFP | Getty Images
A spokesperson for the European Commission, the executive arm of the EU, did not respond to a CNBC request for comment.
Chloe Brimicombe, a climate researcher at Austria’s University of Graz, said water scarcity was a particularly acute problem in southern Europe.
“But I think Central and Western Europe is less prepared – and in the years to come that has the potential to hit them in ways they really don’t expect,” Brimicombe told CNBC per phone.
“Europe must realize that climate change affects them,” she continued.
“They like to think that climate change affects the countries of the South and that’s it. And, of course, it affects these people much more, but it also affects Europe. Not only do they have to help the countries of the South, but they also have to help themselves at home – and that means stronger mitigation and adaptation measures.”