Report Finds European Floods Made More Likely by Climate Change

Image: Jean-Christophe Verhaegen/European Commission, Attribution, via Wikimedia Commons

By Amy Lupica, ODP Staff Writer

A new study reports that record-breaking flooding that killed 220 people in Western Europe earlier this summer was made between 1.2 and 9 times more likely as a result of climate change. Researchers warn that as the Earth continues to warm, these devastating floods will become more frequent and intense. The study serves as a wake-up call for the world’s governments to prepare for future extreme weather events and work tirelessly to build uppon their Paris Agreement commitments.

Why This Matters: The study drives home what many feared after a summer of devastating flooding and worrying rainfall across the northern hemisphere: that man-made climate change was a root cause of the devastation. The flooding has highlighted a lack of sufficient climate adaptation infrastructure in even the wealthiest and most developed countries, including Germany, China, and the United States. These nations will have to take a leading role in spurring global climate action to save themselves and nations that lack the income or resources to cut emissions and build climate infrastructure of their own.

In July, President Biden and German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced an alliance to raise global climate ambition, but they’ll have to work fast against an ever-tightening deadline.

Flash Flood: The study was conducted by 39 scientists and researchers with the World Weather Attribution (WWA) project. They observed rainfall in areas where records were broken in countries like Germany, France, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, and Switzerland. They found that climate change increased the intensity of daily rainfall by 3% to 19% and that the most extreme rain was the equivalent of a once-in-400-year event. 

That, however, doesn’t mean the region will be safe from catastrophic flooding for another 400 years. “In this case, [the projection for next year is] possibly worse because, year by year, if the trend so far is that the climate is increasing, the risk will continue to grow,” explained Maarten van Aalst, a professor of climate and disaster resilience from the University of Twente in the Netherlands. “So, if anything, we’re expecting a higher chance of this happening next year than this year. But it’s basically a one-over-400 chance every single year.” 

Van Aalst says that to cope with the increasing threat of devastating floods, countries must build climate adaptation infrastructure, especially for children, the elderly, and people with disabilities.

  • A recent UNICEF study found that one billion children are at “extremely high risk” of the impacts of climate change.

“I hope it’s a wake-up call also to people that have not just been affected by this one, but also people elsewhere,” said van Aalst“We are just facing more extreme events of many kinds, and the only thing we can do is, on the one hand, closing the tap off the increase in greenhouse gases…and on the other hand, preparing for that more extreme climate.”

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