‘Climate change and other environmental challenges’ are identified as the first biggest challenge that will affect Europe in the coming decades, raising risks ranging from migration pressure to food price shocks, the European Commission said in a report adopted on Wednesday (8 September).
“Water stress, conflict and migration” are all expected to intensify in the coming decades as a result of a warming planet, the Commission warned in its Strategic Foresight Report.
“Pressure on water and food security will continue to grow” and is “set to increase over time,” the Commission said in the report, which flagged water scarcity as an issue that “will become particularly problematic in the southern EU neighbourhood potentially aggravating conflicts and pressure on migration”.
This, it added, could cause “food insecurity and price shocks” caused by growing competition for water and fertile land, as “over 40% of the EU’s agricultural imports could become highly vulnerable to drought by 2050,” the report said.
‘Not a crystal ball’
This EU’s Strategic Foresight Report “is not a crystal ball”, said Maroš Šefčovič, the EU Commissioner in charge of interinstitutional relations and foresight. Its aim is to provide a forward-looking perspective on the EU’s capacity to act in the coming decades, and provide “the context for possible policy responses”.
While the focus last year was placed on “resilience” in the aftermath of the global coronavirus pandemic, this year’s report explored “the geopolitical dimension of resilience”, Šefčovič said.
The focus on climate is consistent with the objectives of the European Commission headed by Ursula von der Leyen, who has placed the fight against global warming at the top of her priority list.
“Climate change is THE defining challenge of our time,” she said in a recent speech in June.
Only weeks after she came into office in 2019, von der Leyen unveiled a policy roadmap, the European Green Deal, which outlined plans to bring emissions down to net-zero by 2050 and cut carbon output by more than half before the end of this decade.
In July, the EU executive tabled more than a dozen legislative proposals aimed at putting Europe on track to cut its carbon emissions by 55% compared to 1990 levels by 2030.
Von der Leyen flagged climate policy as Europe’s “new growth strategy,” departing from previous EU executives, which had always seen environmental policies and economic growth as somewhat conflicting objectives.
Thomas Pellerin-Carlin, a researcher at the Jacques Delors Institute, said this may be “one of the novelties” of European policymaking under von der Leyen. “Comparing the current Commission with previous ones, there is now a clear priority given to climate in the hierarchy of environmental and energy objectives,” he told EURACTIV.
“The climate is clearly the number one priority,” he said.
After climate change, the next biggest challenges identified in the report are “digital hyperconnectivity and technological transformations”, as well as pressures exerted on democracy and “shifts in the global order” including demography.
Next year’s report will focus on a better understanding of the twinning between the green and the digital transitions – “that is, how they can mutually reinforce each other, including through emerging technologies”, Šefčovič said.