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Adapting to Climate Change

This Green Paper launches a consultation on the future direction of EU policy as regards Europe's adaptation to climate change. It states why action must be taken and lays down the relevant guidelines.

ACT

European Commission Green Paper of 29 June 2007 on adapting to climate change in Europe - options for EU action [COM(2007) 354 final - Not published in the Official Journal].

SUMMARY

In this Green Paper, the Commission provides a broad outline of Community action to be taken for the EU's adaptation to climate change and raises a number of questions so that stakeholders may determine whether they find the Commission's proposed direction satisfactory, make known their wishes regarding the EU's priorities, and perhaps provide new ideas. The Commission will use any contributions and responses to the Green Paper, which must be submitted before 30 November 2007, to determine its future action.

EU policy aims to mitigate the impact of climate change by limiting the global average temperature increase to 2°C compared with pre-industrial levels. This requires a significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, as announced in the EU strategy on climate change and as decided by the European Council in March 2007.

Europe's need to adapt

A certain degree of climate change is however inevitable, with significant impacts owing to increased temperatures and rainfall, water scarcity and more frequent storms. Therefore, for these impacts to be dealt with, mitigation measures must be complemented by adaptation efforts. Adaptation must revolve as much around current changes as around future and anticipated changes.

Among the effects of global climate change, the Green Paper cites in particular drought, floods, reduced access to safe drinking water, loss of biodiversity, degradation of ecosystems, a higher risk of famine, population displacements owing to a rise in sea level in the deltas, as well as the health impact of more frequent extreme weather events and illnesses dependent on climatic conditions.

In Europe, the average temperature has risen by almost 1°C in the last century, which has already led to changes in precipitation rates - while some regions are getting more rain and snow, others are experiencing more frequent periods of drought. The most vulnerable areas are southern Europe and the Mediterranean Basin, mountain areas, coastal zones, densely populated floodplains, Scandinavia and the Arctic region.

Climate change will also severely affect economic sectors that are dependent on climatic conditions, namely agriculture, forestry, fisheries, beach and mountain tourism, and the health, financial services and insurance sectors. The energy sector and energy consumption will also be affected, mainly because there will be less water available for supplying hydroelectric dams and for cooling thermal and nuclear power plants in regions that will suffer from higher temperatures and lower levels of precipitation and snow cover, and also because of the risks faced by energy infrastructure owing to storms, floods and the increased demand for electricity for air-conditioning.

Swift action to adapt the EU to climate change will prove to be much less costly than the damage resulting from this phenomenon. The Stern Review and the results of studies such as those conducted for the PESETA Project under the European Commission's Joint Research Centre all point to this fact. Adaptation must therefore start at once for impacts whose forecasts are sufficiently reliable.

Everyone, from ordinary citizens to decision makers, both in the private and public sectors, can play a role in adaptation measures. Action should be taken at the most appropriate level and be complementary, especially between public authorities. For example, at national level special attention could be paid to improving disaster and crisis management - in particular risk prevention (by mapping vulnerable areas) and swift response in the event of a disaster - and to developing adaptation strategies. At regional level, spatial planning is important for adapting to climate change, while at local level efforts should focus on practical land use and land management techniques and on raising awareness. However, each Member State divides its responsibilities differently and it is therefore difficult to generalise these examples.

At EU level there is the advantage of an integrated and coordinated approach, involving numerous policies on which the EU has considerable influence, which will make it possible to deal with cross-border effects.

Adaptation: the EU takes action

There are four pillars of action that can be taken on a Community scale: early action in the EU provided sufficient knowledge has been acquired, integrating adaptation into EU external relations, improving knowledge where there are gaps and involving all stakeholders in the preparation of adaptation strategies.

As regards the first pillar, early action should be taken to integrate climate change adaptation into legislation and a number of policies. Integration will revolve around sectors that are or will be severely affected by climate change, such as agriculture, forestry, transport, health, water, fisheries, ecosystems and biodiversity, as well as around cross-cutting issues such as impact assessments and civil protection. At the same time, adaptation will create new technological and development opportunities in industry, services and energy technologies.

Early action to integrate adaptation into Community funding programmes and Community-funded projects is equally possible, particularly where infrastructure projects are concerned. This applies to programmes and projects adopted under the Cohesion Fund, the European Regional Development Fund, the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development, the European Social Fund, the European Fisheries Fund and LIFE+, among others.

New policy responses can also be implemented at once. For example, by 2009 the Commission wishes to undertake a systematic check of how climate change is going to affect all Community policy areas and legislation and to follow up with further concrete action. Prospects for technological development associated with adaptation should be examined in close cooperation with the private sector. Additional funding will be required in the future for repairing climate-related damage, for which the insurance and financial services sectors must find innovative solutions.

As regards the second pillar, the Commission believes that the EU Common Foreign and Security Policy has an important role to play, as do bilateral and multilateral relations despite the different situations faced by partner countries. Developing countries are very vulnerable and the poorest countries will be hardest hit. It is therefore up to developed countries - given that they are historically responsible for most of the greenhouse gases accumulated in the atmosphere - to support their adaptation by sharing experience, and by using strategies for poverty reduction, planning, budgeting and existing partnerships. This support could be provided in the context of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the EU Action Plan on Climate Change and Development and the Global Climate Change Alliance.

Greater cooperation and dialogue should be sought with neighbouring countries, particularly in the context of the European Neighbourhood Policy, and with industrialised countries that are facing similar problems to those of the EU. Lastly, trade in sustainable goods and services, and especially environmental technologies, should also be developed.

As regards the third pillar, the Commission believes that if an integrated, cross-sectoral and holistic approach to research is adopted, then uncertainties concerning the accuracy of forecasts, the impacts of climate change and the cost and benefits of adaptation measures can be reduced. The Commission recommends that the research agenda should focus on developing comprehensive and integrated methodologies, indicators and long-term models, improving predictions on a regional and local scale and improving access to existing data, analysing in depth the impact that climate change has on ecosystems and their capacity to withstand such effects, promoting information systems and strengthening ties between European scientists and their counterparts abroad.

As regards the fourth pillar, the Commission believes that it is necessary to set up a structured dialogue with the parties and civil society concerned by Europe's need to adapt, especially those from sectors that are particularly affected by climate change. The Commission is considering the establishment of a European Advisory Group that would consist of decision makers, scientists and representatives of civil society organisations and would comment on the work of a number of working groups acting under the aegis of the Commission.

Last updated: 05.09.2007

See also

Further information on adaptation action can be found on the climate change website of the European Commission's Environment Directorate-General.

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