Climate change adaptation

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Page Last modified 16 Jan 2019
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Climate change is happening now and is expected to continue: temperatures are rising, rainfall patterns are shifting, ice and snow are melting and sea level is rising. Extreme weather and climate related events resulting in hazards such as floods and droughts will become more frequent and intense in many regions. Impacts and vulnerabilities for ecosystems, economic sectors, and human health and well-being differ across Europe. Even if global efforts to reduce emissions prove effective, some climate change is inevitable, and complementary actions to adapt to its impacts are needed.

In order to prevent the most severe impacts of climate change, the countries that have signed up to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) agreed to limit the global mean temperature increase since pre-industrial times to less than 2 °C. To achieve this objective, global greenhouse gas emissions need to peak as soon as possible and decrease rapidly thereafter. For more information, see global climate change policies. 

The EU and its Member States and other EEA member countries are taking a range of actions to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. Adaptation policies complement these efforts.

Impacts and vulnerability

Europe's largest temperature increases occur in southern Europe in summer and the Arctic region in winter, while precipitation is decreasing in southern Europe and increasing in the north. Projected increases in the intensity and frequency of heat waves and floods, and changes in the distribution of some infectious diseases and pollen can adversely affect human health. Climate change represents an additional pressure on ecosystems, and leads to northward and uphill shifts of many plant and animal species. It has an impact on sectors such as agriculture, forestry, energy production, tourism and infrastructure in general; most of the projected impacts in Europe are adverse.

European regions, including urban areas, that are particularly vulnerable to climate change include:

  • southern Europe and the Mediterranean basin;
  • mountainous areas;
  • coastal zones, deltas and floodplains;
  • Europe's far north and the Arctic.

Adaptation is necessary, that is, the anticipation of the effects of climate change and  appropriate action to prevent or minimise the impacts. Strategies and actions are needed at the local, national, transnational and EU levels. The integration of climate issues into other policy areas, such as ecosystems and water management, disaster risk reduction, coastal zone management, agriculture and rural development, health services, urban planning and regional development, is essential and increasingly happening. Actions include technological measures, ecosystem-based measures, and measures addressing behavioural changes.

EU policies

The European Commission has published an EU climate change adaptation strategy in April 2013 . The strategy has three main objectives: 

  • Promoting action by Member States by encouraging all Member States to adopt comprehensive adaptation strategies and by providing funding to help them develop their adaptation capacities and take action. Supporting adaptation in cities by launching a voluntary commitment based on the Covenant of Mayors initiative (since 2015, the Covenant of Mayors on Climate and Energy).
  • 'Climate-proofing' action at EU level by further promoting adaptation in key vulnerable sectors such as agriculture, fisheries and cohesion policy, ensuring that Europe's infrastructure is made more resilient, and promoting the use of insurance against natural and man-made disasters.
  • Better informed decision-making by addressing gaps in knowledge on adaptation and further developing the European climate adaptation platform (Climate-ADAPT).

An increasing number of EEA member countries have adopted a national adaptation strategy, and several have developed and are implementing national adaptation action plans. Strategies and actions have also emerged in many cities and in transnational regions across Europe, including the Baltic Sea, and the Carpathian and Alpine regions.

EEA activities

The EEA supports the development and implementation of climate change adaptation in Europe, the evaluation of EU policies and the development of long-term strategies to adapt to climate change and to reduce disaster risk by providing relevant information. EEA information (observations, projections, indicators, assessments) focuses on climate change, impacts, vulnerability and adaptation actions in Europe.

The EEA works closely with the European Commission (DG Climate Action, DG Joint Research Centre, DG Eurostat), experts from its European Topic Centre on Climate Change Impacts, vulnerability and adaptation and with EEA Environment Information and Observation Network. The EEA also collaborates, among others, with the Copernicus climate change service, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), World Health Organisation Europe, International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR) Europe, The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). 

Key activities and products include the assessment of climate change impacts and vulnerabilities in Europe, and the analysis of national, urban and sectoral climate change strategies and action plans. The EEA also maintains and manages the European Climate Adaptation Platform (Climate-ADAPT).

Related links

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change

European Commission Directorate-General for Climate Action

European Commission Joint Research Centre

European Topic Centre on Climate Change Impacts, Vulnerability and Adaptation

Copernicus climate change service

European Centre of Disease Prevention and Control

World health organization Europe

UN Regional office for disaster risk reduction

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