Relevance of adaptation measures for cities and communities in Europe

Thomas Brose, Executive Director, Climate Alliance

Reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions is the most important goal for limiting the global temperature increase and avoid irreversible impacts.

In recent years, however, policy and practical efforts regarding adaptation to the impacts of climate change have become increasingly important in policy initiatives. In addition to loss of life due to extreme events such as droughts, floods and storms, these also lead to a strong increase in social, economic and ecological damage.

”Natural disasters (from current climate variability) already lead to high economic costs in Europe, including from major floods. Climate change is likely to increase the frequency of these extreme events, even in the short-medium term. As these will be amongst the highest near-term economic costs of climate change, managing these risks is an early priority for adaptation“ (ECONADAPT 2016: The Economics of Adaptation).

Climate change requires good local governance with strong political leadership and commitment. Extreme weather events regularly show that climate change is already a serious challenge for local authorities, increasing their vulnerabilities, hindering social cohesion and economic development.

On EU level in 2014, Mayors Adapt – the Covenant of Mayors Initiative on Climate Change Adaptation – was set up by the European Commission as one of the actions of the EU Adaptation Strategy to engage cities in taking action to adapt to climate change. The European Commission merged the two initiatives in 2015 in an effort to promote an integrated approach to climate and energy action.

At the international level, clear objectives were included in the Paris Agreement to increase the ability of all to adapt and be resilient to the devastating impacts of climate change:

  • enhance adaptive capacity and resilience;
  • reduce vulnerability, with a view to contributing to sustainable development;

The Agreement requires all Parties to engage in adaptation planning and implementation through e.g. national adaptation plans, vulnerability assessments, monitoring and evaluation, and economic diversification.

The Paris process foresees a regular review of the National Action Plans (NDCs) to increase reduction commitments if needed. The COP in Glasgow is therefore an important moment to review the commitments made so far, including the national adaptation plans. So, the success of COP26 depends also on whether the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) – to be prepared before COP26 by all national governments, in collaboration with local and regional governments – are ambitious enough to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°.

Regarding adaptation measures on the way to COP26, multilevel action is therefore the strategic approach. Vertical integration and a rather horizontal cooperation between cities and regions are key elements of action too. National frameworks need to take into account the roles and mandates of all levels of government to enable action.

When implementing reduction or adaptation measures, attention must also be paid to how they affect vulnerable groups. This is an important lesson learned from the Covid19 pandemic. Climate justice is thus an important perspective that also serves as a corrective for measures at the national, but especially also at the local level.

As at all previous COPs and for the COP26 in Glasgow, there will be a preparation and discussion process focused on the role of Cities and Regions on all climate issues including adaptation. The Local Governments and Municipal Authorities (LGMA) Constituency  represents local and regional governments at the processes under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

This article is from our Local Path to Net Zero series.