Climate change-induced water stress and its impact on natural and managed ecosystems

Contributors: Jason Anderson (ed.), Kathryn Arblaster, Justin Bartley, Tamsin Cooper, Marianne Kettunen (IEEP); Timo Kaphengst, Anna Leipprand, Cornelius Laaser, Katharina Umpfenbach (Ecologic); Esko Kuusisto, Ahti Lepistö, Maria Holmberg (SYKE)

IEEP, together with Ecologic and SYKE, has drawn up a report, on climate change-induced water stress and its impact on natural and managed ecosystems. The report was requested by the European Parliament’s Temporary Committee on Climate Change to serve as background material for its Fourth Thematic session, which took place on Tuesday 29 January.

This study has shown that much of the impact anticipated from climate change can be attributed to changes in water regimes. The simple summary is to say that this means in some places there will be too much water, in other places not enough; but the story is more complex – shifts in the timing of runoff due to early snow melt; increased annual average precipitation but falling in winter instead of during the growing season; interactions with rising CO2 levels and temperatures that can benefit certain plant species, but only up to a point.

On balance there will likely be pronounced negative effects, with two distinctive features – geographic inequality, whereby some areas will be hit much harder than others; and a tendency for climate change to accompany other human-induced impacts like resource overexploitation, which are already the major cause of damage. Both factors represent a major challenge in building response strategies, as it means both that those less directly affected will need to be willing to assist those in most acute danger, and that the responses are not just fighting climate impacts, but also fundamental economic, social and historical trends that are well entrenched.

Preparing for and responding to climate impacts will require reviewing approaches to natural and managed ecosystems, for example through the lens of ecosystem services, by which greater emphasis is placed on the preservation of healthy ecosystems; and through sustainable agricultural and forestry practices that can lend to rather than working against climate resilience and species health.

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