Europeans can be forgiven for thinking they will be cushioned from the worst impacts of climate change. It is indeed true that the richer developed nations of the North are not going to suffer in the same way as the poorer countries of the South, where drought, famine and severe coastal flooding are expected to cause incalculable damage and misery. But none of us in this global village of the 21st century is going to be immune from the effects of climate change. This is the basic message of the European Environment Agency, whose latest report says that changes to the continent's climate that have been experienced to date have not been matched in the past several thousand years.
It was the summer of 2003 that woke up many of us to what climate change really meant. Until then it was common to hear northern Europeans opining that global warming was something to be welcomed. It would mean balmy Mediterranean evenings, vineyards in Yorkshire and no need to go to Spain in summer.
But 2003 changed all that. For the three months of June, July and August, temperatures soared to the highest on record, averaging 3.8C higher than average. Night-time temperatures were particularly exceptional, giving no respite for those with heart problems or respiratory ailments. Some 50,000 Europeans died of the heat. Forest fires raged across much of Spain, France and Italy, many rivers ran dry and crops in these countries failed.
A scientific assessment of that summer concluded that the high temperatures could not be due simply to natural extremes in the climate. There could be only one explanation - the summer of 2003 was triggered by global warming caused by man-made emissions of greenhouse gases.
The Environment Agency points out that Europeans value their physical environment. Some 70 per cent of the continent's citizens want their politicians to given as much weight to legislation affecting the environment as they do to the economy and social policies.
It is this deep-rooted concern that has provided the political framework for important environmental legislation, which has over the past 30 years seen many improvements, from cleaner air and water to reforestation of the land.
Yet as the latest assessment from the European agency makes clear, we still have a long way to go. Europeans are helping to consuming the world's natural resources in an unsustainable manner. Global warming is making matters worse. We should all now think about how we can change our lives for the common good.Reuse content