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Assessing the influence of climate model uncertainty on EU-wide climate change impact indicators

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Abstract

Despite an increasing understanding of potential climate change impacts in Europe, the associated uncertainties remain a key challenge. In many impact studies, the assessment of uncertainties is underemphasised, or is not performed quantitatively. A key source of uncertainty is the variability of climate change projections across different regional climate models (RCMs) forced by different global circulation models (GCMs). This study builds upon an indicator-based NUTS-2 level assessment that quantified potential changes for three climate-related hazards: heat stress, river flood risk, and forest fire risk, based on five GCM/RCM combinations, and non-climatic factors. First, a sensitivity analysis is performed to determine the fractional contribution of each single input factor to the spatial variance of the hazard indicators, followed by an evaluation of uncertainties in terms of spread in hazard indicator values due to inter-model climate variability, with respect to (changes in) impacts for the period 2041–70. The results show that different GCM/RCM combinations lead to substantially varying impact indicators across all three hazards. Furthermore, a strong influence of inter-model variability on the spatial patterns of uncertainties is revealed. For instance, for river flood risk, uncertainties appear to be particularly high in the Mediterranean, whereas model agreement is higher for central Europe. The findings allow for a hazard-specific identification of areas with low vs. high model agreement (and thus confidence of projected impacts) within Europe, which is of key importance for decision makers when prioritising adaptation options.

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Acknowledgements

This work was funded by the Research Directorate-General of the European Commission through its Seventh Framework Programme project RESPONSES (Grant Agreement number 244092). We thank four anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments.

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The views expressed are purely those of the authors and may not in any circumstances be regarded as stating an official position of the European Commission.

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Correspondence to Tobias Lung.

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Lung, T., Dosio, A., Becker, W. et al. Assessing the influence of climate model uncertainty on EU-wide climate change impact indicators. Climatic Change 120, 211–227 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10584-013-0825-1

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