European flood risk could double by 2050

Mar 02, 2014

Losses from extreme floods in Europe could more than double by 2050, because of climate change and socioeconomic development. Understanding the risk posed by large-scale floods is of growing importance and will be key for managing climate adaptation.

Current flood losses in Europe are likely to double by 2050, according to a new study published in the journal Nature Climate Change by researchers from the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA), the Institute for Environmental Studies in Amsterdam, and other European research centers. Socioeconomic growth accounts for about two-thirds of the increased risk, as development leads to more buildings and infrastructure that could be damaged in a flood. The other third of the increase comes from climate change, which is projected to change rainfall patterns in Europe.

"In this study we brought together expertise from the fields of hydrology, economics, mathematics and climate change adaptation, allowing us for the first time to comprehensively assess continental flood risk and compare the different adaptation options," says Brenden Jongman of the Institute for Environmental Studies in Amsterdam, who coordinated the study.

The study estimated that floods in the European Union averaged €4.9 billion a year from 2000 to 2012. These average losses could increase to €23.5 billion by 2050. In addition, large events such as the 2013 European floods are likely to increase in frequency from an average of once every 16 years to a probability of once every 10 years by 2050.

The analysis combined models of and socioeconomic development to build a better estimate of flood risk for the region. IIASA researcher Stefan Hochrainer-Stigler led the modeling work on the study.

He says, "The new study for the first time accounts for the correlation between floods in different countries. Current risk-assessment models assume that each river basin is independent. But in actuality, river flows across Europe are closely correlated, rising and falling in response to large-scale atmospheric patterns that bring rains and dry spells to large regions."

"If the rivers are flooding in Central Europe, they are likely to also be flooding Eastern European regions," says Hochrainer-Stigler. "We need to be prepared for larger stress on risk financing mechanisms, such as the pan-European Solidarity Fund (EUSF), a financial tool for financing disaster recovery in the European Union."

For example, the analysis suggests that the EUSF must pay out funds simultaneously across many regions. This can cause unacceptable stresses to such risk financing mechanisms. Hochrainer-Stigler says, "We need to reconsider advance mechanisms to finance these risks if we want to be in the position to quickly and comprehensively pay for recovery."

IIASA researcher Reinhard Mechler, another study co-author, points out the larger implications arising from the analysis. He says, "There is scope for better managing through risk prevention, such as using moveable flood walls, risk financing and enhanced solidarity between countries. There is no one-size-fits all solution, and the management measures have very different efficiency, equity and acceptability implications. These need to be assessed and considered in broader consultation, for which the analysis provides a comprehensive basis."

Explore further: Changing landscapes, not global warming, to blame for increased flood risk

More information: Nature Climate Change (letter). DOI: 10.1038/nclimate2124

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Paris at high risk from once-a-century flood

Jan 24, 2014

The Paris region would be highly vulnerable to exceptional flooding of the River Seine, the OECD said Friday, warning that a once-a-century event would cripple France's commercial, political and cultural ...

Viewpoint: Floods – learning from the past

Feb 17, 2014

"The current flooding which has affected much of southern England, particularly the Thames and Severn catchments and the Somerset Levels region is severe, with a number of flood levels much higher than people ...

Protecting river basins in the Mediterranean

Feb 10, 2014

We as European citizens may not be directly exposed to all of its consequences yet, but global warming is progressively driving lifestyles across the world into a corner. Some of its most devastating - and probably most documented ...

Recommended for you

Rising anger as Nicaragua canal to break ground

Dec 21, 2014

As a conscripted soldier during the Contra War of the 1980s, Esteban Ruiz used to flee from battles because he didn't want to have to kill anyone. But now, as the 47-year-old farmer prepares to fight for ...

Hopes, fears, doubts surround Cuba's oil future

Dec 20, 2014

One of the most prolific oil and gas basins on the planet sits just off Cuba's northwest coast, and the thaw in relations with the United States is giving rise to hopes that Cuba can now get in on the action.

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

aksdad
1 / 5 (3) Mar 02, 2014
Demonstrating once again that the main increase in flood and storm damage cost is due to more people and buildings located in areas of risk; accounting for 2/3 of the increase in cost according to this study.

The other 1/3 is attributed to global warming. I wonder how they arrive at this conclusion:

large events such as the 2013 European floods are likely to increase in frequency from an average of once every 16 years to a probability of once every 10 years by 2050.


The IPCC, considered the authority on global warming, states in AR5 Chapter 2 (2.6.2.2):

...there is currently no clear and widespread evidence for observed changes in flooding except for the earlier spring flow in snow-dominated regions


I believe that means that floods aren't increasing in magnitude or frequency, but spring floods from melting snow are happening earlier in the year.

Is the prediction based on computer generated models rather than observed trends?

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.