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Thematic Priorities

Climate change impacts on the hydrological cycle (e.g. effects on atmospheric water vapour content, changes of precipitation patterns) have been linked to observed warming over several decades. Higher water temperatures and changes in extremes, including floods and droughts, are projected to affect water quality and exacerbate many forms of water pollution with possible negative impacts on ecosystems and human health, as well as water system reliability and operating costs. In addition, sea-level rise is projected to extend areas of salinisation of groundwater and estuaries, resulting in a decrease of freshwater availability for people and ecosystems in coastal areas. Besides this, changes in water quantity and quality due to climate change are expected to affect food availability, water access and utilisation, especially in arid and semi-arid areas, as well as the operation of water infrastructure (e.g. hydropower, flood defences, irrigation systems).

The impact of climate change on water resources are raising concerns over the possible implications for security.  Decreasing access to water resources and other related factors could be a cause or a ‘multiplier’ of tensions within and between countries.  Whether security threat arise from climate impacts ‘ – or options for cooperation evolve – does not depend only on the severity of the impacts themselves, but on social, economic institutional vulnerabilities or resilience and other factors that influence local, national and international relations.

Actions to combat climate change at global and EU scales are embedded into European Union policies, namely through the integrated energy and climate change policy adopted in December 2008, which includes ambitious emission reduction targets for 2020, see → here. Specific considerations about climate change impacts on the water cycle as well as on the reliability of current water management systems are also tackled by EU policies, namely through the Water Framework Directive 2000/60/EC, which provide ambitious environmental targets with due considerations of climate change adaptation needs in the context of river basin management planning, see → here. This framework is complemented by parent legislation, such as the Flood Directive 2007/60/EC and drought action programmes, which are also considering climate change components. Finally, EU cooperation aid policies also include climate change actions as illustrated → here.

Research on climate change is closely linked to policy developments at EU level, as highlighted in the White Paper on adaptation to climate change (see here). In addition, research is needed to clarify the relations between climate change impacts and security also considering the policy attention to them, including in the → 2008 paper of the EU High Representative and the European Commission dedicated climate and international security.

Scientific outputs are also contributing to international policies and debates, in particular through inputs to IPCC assessment reports and UNFCCC documents.  More specifically, the European Commission is funding research through its Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development. In this context, projects of the on-going 7th Framework Programme (2007-2013) or FP7 largely contribute to gathering knowledge relevant to climate change adaptation.

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