European Food, Power Markets Face Drier Future as Planet Warms

New research suggests severe drought could double in frequency during the decades ahead.

STAFFORD, UNITED KINGDOM - AUGUST 09: Ripe wheat waits to be harvested in fields at the start of harvesting on August 9, 2010 in Chebsey near Stafford, United Kingdom.
By Jonathan Tirone
September 07, 2021 | 09:20 AM

Bloomberg — By Jonathan Tirone

European countries could face severe drought twice as frequently in the coming decades if they fall short in cutting emissions, according to new research that shows how shifting rain patterns will expose more people to climate risk.

The continent could be heading towards a future of more extreme drought, according to the study published Tuesday in the journal Frontiers in Water. That will likely endanger agricultural yields, hydropower generation and river transportation. Record summer heat in Germany over the last few years has already dried up the Rhine river and prompted billions of dollars in insured losses across Europe.


“We find a clear trend towards more, longer and more intense summer droughts, in terms of a precipitation deficit, towards the end of the century,” said Magdalena Mittermeier, the report’s lead author from Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich. Her team’s research assumed average global temperatures will rise 3.7 degrees Celsius by 2100, a higher rate of warming that the Earth will experience under current policies.

2100 Warming Projectionsdfd

While scientists have long forecast that regions in the Mediterranean and the Iberian Peninsula will face hotter and drier conditions, Tuesday’s research projects drought frequency could also increase by 50% across the Alps, France and Eastern Europe. Seasonal rainfall patters could also shift, with more winter precipitation and drier summers.

“In some regions where droughts currently play a minor role, the future drought risk is expected to get serious,” Mittermeier said. “The Alps should be considered an additional future hotspot.”

Separate research published this month on the European Union’s Joint Research Centre website suggests annual drought damages could swell to 65 billion euros ($77 billion) annually from about 9 billion euros at present. The authors of both papers used their findings to urge swift policy action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.