Climate change in Europe: Responding to disasters and preparing for an uncertain future

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Article Published 15 Sep 2017 Last modified 18 Sep 2018
3 min read
Floods, strong winds, heatwaves, droughts… Climate change and climate-change related extreme weather events are a cause of a growing concern not only in Europe but everywhere in the world. Many communities are affected by such extreme events and have to take measures to prevent and minimise the harm. How can communities adapt to a changing climate and prepare for and respond to climate-related disasters? We interviewed Sergio Castellari, EEA expert on climate change impacts, vulnerability and adaptation.

 Image © Aidan /Flickr

What is meant by climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction?

Climate change is already causing a wide range of impacts in Europe as well as elsewhere in the world and societies need to be able to respond to this. Climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction include a variety of means to manage climate risks and build resilient societies. The adaptation approach mainly addresses weather- and climate-related hazards — such as droughts and floods— and focuses on future, while disaster risk reduction focuses on the present by addressing existing risks from all hazards. In other words, the two approaches have a different time frame. With risk reduction, we are responding to immediate and near-term challenges, while adaptation is more about the long-term, preparing for an uncertain future in a changing climate.

Why is this important and what are the key challenges in this area?

In recent years, there has been more and more attention given to disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation, due to the increasing frequency and intensity of extreme weather- and climate-related events that also often have large human, economic and social costs. We have seen this, for example, with floods and forest fires in Europe, and, most recently, with the hurricanes in the Caribbean and the US. The main objective of climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction is twofold: to reduce our vulnerability to climate change, and increase our resilience to it. Both approaches face similar challenges, such as incomplete and uncertain knowledge and limited resources.

Are there any international initiatives?

At the global and EU level, it is a priority to enhance the coherence and integration between climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction policies and practices. Scientific and policy attention on integrating the two led to concrete steps at global UN level in 2015 with the approval of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction and of the Paris Agreement on climate change. Climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction are also among the main goals of the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

What is the EU doing to support disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation?

The EU has various policies in place to address disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation, such as the EU civil protection mechanism, the EU Action Plan on Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030, and the EU Strategy on Adaptation to Climate Change. Moreover, both adaptation and risk reduction are being mainstreamed into key EU policies and strategies in a variety of fields, including, for example, critical infrastructure protection, environment, finance, agriculture, food security and coastal management. At the national level there are also many good initiatives already under way, including new insurance models, city networking, and nature-based solutions. We will showcase some of these initiatives in our upcoming report on the topic.

What is the EEA's role in disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation?

Thanks to our network, the Eionet, we have access to a large knowledge base of national policies and measures for disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation. We regularly produce comprehensive assessments on climate change impacts in Europe, how different regions are expected to be impacted, and what their vulnerabilities are. We then share this knowledge with policy makers at EU and national level. But, in coming weeks, we will publish a new report, which is the first of its kind as it brings together these two ‘timeframes’. The report aims to contribute to EU, national, regional and local strategies and plans with better coherence between disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation. More concretely, it explores how public policies and risk management practices can foster that coherence, and to what extent transfer of knowledge and experience from local methods and tools can foster mutually beneficial learning and capacity building.

 Sergio Castellari, EEA

Sergio Castellari

Project manager - Climate change impacts and vulnerability

Interview published in the EEA Newsletter 03/2017, 15 September 2017

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