Summer 2022 was Europe’s hottest on record – as we have all noticed. Across the continent, temperatures soared above 40°C, forest fires devastated huge swaths of land, and droughts reduced crop yields and dried up rivers – among much more.
We can’t stop the clock when it comes to climate change, but we can try to limit global warming to well below 2°C and pursue efforts to limit it to 1.5°C, as agreed by 197 countries in Paris in 2015. Moreover, as extreme weather events are becoming recurrent, it’s important to not only fight climate change, but also to adapt to the consequences we cannot avoid.
The EU-funded LIFE Programme is doing just that. Here’s three stories.
In Saxony-Anhalt, central Germany, the picturesque valleys have a particularly sunny and dry microclimate and soils full of nutrients, which makes them the ideal place to grow grapes. Local farmers have been perfecting viticulture for centuries and now produce over 70 different types of wine.
Yet, in recent years, climate change has been taking its toll. Extreme weather, from droughts to torrential rainfall, coupled with rising temperatures, is having a big impact on the local environment, and on the already sensitive processes of wine making. That’s why, in 2016, the LIFE VinEcoS project was launched. The purpose was to test whether vineyards could better cope with climate change and extreme weather if the biodiversity of the area increased.
And the results proved just that. Wild seeds were sowed on the steep slopes of the vineyards, boosting numbers of plant species, and sheep were allowed to graze between the vines. Together, this helped reduce soil erosion – especially after heavy rainfall – and retain more water in the ground to prevent vines drying out. Allowing nature to flourish also meant that wild bee numbers increased by 200% – boosting pollination levels.
The project serves as an example to other vineyards struggling with climate change-induced threats. If we reduce monoculture, nature can become more resilient and have a chance at adapting to this new climate reality. Not to mention that the project helped maintain over 1,000 local jobs in the winemaking sector, too!
Portugal and Spain
Much of southern Europe has to deal with soaring temperatures over the summer months, and Portugal and Gran Canaria, a Spanish island 150km off the coast of north-west Africa, are no exception.
Across the two countries, land is turning to desert because of climate-change induced drought, and forest fires have burned across national parks, agricultural areas and into popular tourist areas. Then, when it does rain, it can often be in heavy bursts, which erodes the soil.
LIFE NIEBLAS is a project using an innovative tool to collect and store water droplets from the atmosphere. Multi-storey fog water collectors – which look like scaffolding equipment covered with green plastic – have been scattered across wind and fog-prone hillsides to collect water. The water is then used to help boost reforestation in especially dry local landscapes.
The project will run until 2024. So far, the good results have raised hopes that fog collectors can be used in other EU countries struggling with effects of climate change.
You may think of southern Europe as perpetually hot, but in reality, many countries can become very cold during winter and increasingly late into spring. It’s also not uncommon during milder winters for plants to bloom earlier in the year and then be struck by a cold snap, which can wipe out local agriculture. With temperature fluctuations becoming more common due to climate change, there’s an urgent need to better protect crops from frost damage.
This is where the LIFE FROSTDEFEND project comes in. In Aigialeia, western Greece, the EU is funding research into technology that monitors atmospheric and meteorological indicators, and then assesses the vulnerability of different fruit trees and grapes to frost events. The conclusions will help local farmers learn how to mitigate some of the damage caused by climate change and become more climate-resilient in the long term.
The project is set to run until 2025, and will also be rolled out across parts of France.
LIFE is 30
These are just three examples of EU-funded LIFE projects that are helping combat climate change in their own way. Overall, since 1992, the LIFE programme has co-financed over 5,500 projects.
For 30 years, LIFE has been bringing green ideas to fruition, from Brussels to Bratislava, Stockholm to Sofia. It kicked off as a European environment fund with a budget of €400 million, but, by 2022, it has grown to include projects focused on nature and biodiversity, circular economy and quality of life, clean energy transition, and – last but not least – climate change mitigation and adaptation.
Total funding now stands at €5.4 billion for 2021 - 2027, to support projects across the Union, as well as in Europe’s eastern and southern neighbourhood.
Take a closer look at the LIFE Programme website to find projects in your country, and keep a close eye on their calls for proposals to see if your project can receive LIFE support. And don’t forget to follow both LIFE and EU Climate Action on social media to keep up to date with news and current events.