Scientists forecast a century of rising floods for Britain while southern Europe battles drought

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Greek islands far too hot for holidaymakers to endure at the height of summer, southern Spain starting to resemble a desert, the salmon disappearing from France's River Loire - such will be Europe affected by global warming in the coming century, scientists said yesterday.

Greek islands far too hot for holidaymakers to endure at the height of summer, southern Spain starting to resemble a desert, the salmon disappearing from France's River Loire - such will be Europe affected by global warming in the coming century, scientists said yesterday.

Britain, on the other hand, will be even more drenched and flooded than it has been in recent weeks, according to what is the first comprehensive assessment of the effects of climate change on Europe as a whole.

In a vivid divide, the countries of richer northern Europe such as Britain, the Netherlands and Norway will get much wetter, with big increases in rainfall, while the poorer regions of the south such as southern Spain, Italy and Greece will get so much hotter and drier that their agriculture and water resources will be in crisis.

The study, with contributions from 30 leading climate scientists, was produced for the European Union by the Jackson Environment Institute of the University of East Anglia and released yesterday in London. Its principal conclusion is that southern Europe will fare a lot worse than the north as climate change advances over the coming decades.

The problems of acute water shortage, agricultural aridity, increased forest fires and summer daytime temperatures simply too hot for tourists to bear will be a much greater overall burden to the southern nations than the heightened flood risk and wet weather misery in the north.

Northern nations will find benefit from rising temperatures in faster-growing forests and agriculture, and in reduced energy needs, says the report, which is edited by Professor Martin Parry. It bases its assessments on the latest range of computer-modelled predictions of the future climate made by the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The study offers powerful ammunition to those who say that increasing perturbations of the climate are already visible, for example in the record heatwaves in Greece in 1998 and this summer, or in this year's record floods in Britain.

Europe's climate is already changing, the report says: over the twentieth century the continent's mean temperature rose by about 0.8 degrees Celsius, with the hottest decade being the 1990s; rainfall over northern Europe increased by between 10 and 40 per cent, while some southern parts dried up by as much as 20 per cent.

These trends will become steadily more severe as the coming century progresses, the report says. Temperatures will rise by between 0.1 and 0.4 degrees per decade, the sharpest increases occurring over Spain, Italy and Greece, and also over Poland and north east Finland, while the smallest will occur along the Atlantic coastline. The effects will be widely noticeable quite soon.

Very cold winters, like that of 1963, will be much rarer by the 2020s, and disappear altogether by the 2080s; very hot summers like 1976, now occurring about twice a decade, will be occurring three or four times a decade by the 2020s, and perhaps eight or nine times a decade by the 2080s.

Rainfall will increase by one or two per cent a decade in the north, but summer drying in the southern countries may be as much as five per cent a decade.

The consequences of all this will be most significant for water. Put simply, the north will have too much and the south will have too little. In the Alps and in northern countries such as Britain, flood hazards will increase significantly - the peak flows of the River Thames will increase by 20 per cent- while in the south, the prospect is for widespread drought and forest fires.

Some parts of southern Spain, arid already, will start to lose their vegetation and come to resemble deserts, while Spain, Italy and Greece will face more spontaneous immigration of people from North Africa where agriculture will be hit even harder.

And not only agriculture will be affected: power stations in mid and southern Europe that use river water in their cooling systems may have to shut down when flows are low.

Tourism will also be severely affected. Although warmer summers may seem pleasant in northern Europe, the extreme summer heat predicted for the Mediterranean may seem unbearable. It is "likely to modify the traditional peak summer demand at Mediterranean holiday destinations," the report said.

Professor Parry added: "The Greek islands will be too hot to holiday in during July and August." At the other end of the scale, reduced snowfall may make skiing unviable in many mountain areas.

Natural ecosystems across the continent will also be greatly affected: the bare tundra of the Arctic will be invaded by trees and shrubs, for example, and some species may face extinction as their habitats alter.

The Atlantic salmon, which needs cool water high in oxygen in which to spawn, may disappear from rivers at the end of its range, such as the Loire in France. And in one of the report's most remarkable predictions, 100 per cent of the Mediterranean's inter-tidal zones - the foreshores uncovered at low tide, rich in marine animals, where shore birds feed - will be wiped out by global-warming-induced sea-level rise by 2050.

This spells catastrophe for wading birds such as curlews, oystercatchers and ringed plovers. Much of the rest of the report implies something approaching a catastrophe for people living on Europe's poorer southern fringe.

Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott said last night that the report was " a further wake-up call to the serious threat posed by climate change."

He said: "This report, which confirms there will be overall temperature rises, warmer winters, hotter summers, more rain in northern Europe and sea level rises, comes amid the violent storms and floods we are experiencing.

It underlines the need to make the forthcoming international negotiations in the Hague a success, working in partnership to achieve reductions in emissions and to develop global and domestic strategies to combat and adapt to climate change."