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Brussels, 1 April 2009

Questions and Answers on the White Paper on climate change adaptation

What is the aim of the White Paper?

The White Paper presented by the European Commission proposes an EU framework on adaptation to strengthen the EU's resilience to cope with the impacts of a changing climate. It builds on the wide-ranging consultation launched in 2007 by the Green Paper on Adapting to Climate Change in Europe.[1]

The framework will evolve as further evidence becomes available. It will complement actions by Member States and support wider international efforts to adapt to climate change.

What is adaptation?

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPPC) defines adaptation as "any adjustment in natural or human systems in response to actual or expected climatic stimuli or their effects which moderates harm or exploits beneficial opportunities".

Adaptation, along with mitigation, is an essential part of addressing the challenges and opportunities associated with climate change. Mitigation refers to our efforts to limit the man-made causes of climate change. Adaptation involves taking action so that we can be more resilient to our current climate, less susceptible to the impacts of future climate change and in a position to take advantage of opportunities.

Irrespective of the success of mitigation efforts, there will still be some degree of unavoidable climate change. This stems from our historic greenhouse gas emissions and the persistence of these gases in the atmosphere, as well as the slow warming of the oceans. This delayed response of the oceans will result in temperatures and sea-level continuing to increase for several decades regardless of any present-day emissions reductions.

Effective measures directed at enhancing our capacity to adapt and at minimising, adjusting to and taking advantage of the consequences of climatic change (delivering adaptation actions) are required.

Adaptation measures can be taken at national, regional and local levels and include using scarce water more efficiently, adapting building codes to future climate conditions and extreme weather events, building flood defences and raising the levels of dykes, developing drought-tolerant crops, choosing tree species and forestry practices less vulnerable to storms and fires, and setting aside land corridors to help species migrate.

What are the key elements in the framework?

The White Paper establishes a framework for action focusing on four key pillars:

  • Building a stronger knowledge base – while in recent decades the availability of observed and projected data and information on climate change impacts across Europe has improved, many weaknesses still exist. Information availability differs considerably across regions, European-wide monitoring programmes and spatially detailed information including climate change impact scenarios are lacking. A better understanding of the socio-economic aspects, the costs and benefits of different adaptation options and information on good practices are also required.
  • Taking climate change impacts into consideration in key EU policies – there are a number of sectors with strong EU policy involvement where climate risk and adaptation measures will need to be considered. The mainstreaming of adaptation into sectoral policies at European level is important in order to reduce, in the long-term the vulnerability of sectors such as: agriculture, forests, bio-diversity, fisheries, energy, transport, water and health. Mainstreaming adaptation means using or creating mechanisms that allow decision makers to integrate further climate risks into all relevant policy interventions.
  • Financing – combining different policy measures to the best effect – the Stern Review[2] identified financial constraints as one of the main barriers to adaptation. Climate change is one of the priorities for the EU's current multi-annual financial framework (2007-2013) and it is important to ensure that the available funds are used to reflect this priority. In addition, optimising the use of insurance and other financial services products could also be explored. Consideration should also be given to the role of specialised Market Based Instruments. The possibility of using revenue generated from auctioning allowances under the Community greenhouse gas emission allowance trading system (the EU ETS) for adaptation purposes should be utilised. The revised Directive governing the scheme from 2013[3] provides that at least 50% of the revenue generated from auctioning allowances should be used, inter alia for adaptation in Member States and developing countries. This additional revenue will be crucial for sharing adaptation costs between the public and private sector.
  • Supporting wider international efforts on adaptation - many countries are already enduring the impact of climate change. There is an urgent need to improve their resilience and capacity to adapt to adverse effects. EU external cooperation should make a significant contribution to promoting adaptation in partner countries; particularly neighbouring countries. Bilateral and regional financial assistance programmes will aim to integrate adaptation considerations into all relevant sectors.

The EU's framework adopts a phased approach. The intention is that phase 1 (2009-2012) will take forward the work identified under the four pillars leading to the elaboration of a comprehensive adaptation strategy for the EU which will be implemented during phase 2 commencing in 2012.

Good cooperation between the EU, national, regional and local authorities will be a prerequisite for a successful phase 1. To support cooperation on adaptation and with a view to taking this framework forward, the Commission will set up a process involving the EU Member States. Otherwise known as an Impacts and Adaptation Steering Group (IASG) the group will play a role in developing the four pillars.

What will be the role of the Clearing House Mechanism?

The White Paper proposes establishing a Clearing House Mechanism on climate change impacts, vulnerability and adaptation. This would serve as a web based platform for the exchange of information and would also make information widely available to potential users across Europe. It is intended that this IT tool and data base once operational will improve access to information/data and thus support national, regional and local assessments of the impacts of climate change. The Clearing House could provide for example information on climate change scenarios for essential climate variables (temperature, precipitation etc.) for the next decades, the impacts on different sectors (agriculture, tourism.) as well as regional vulnerability across Europe, indicators, tools for impact assessments and good practice adaptation measures.

The Clearing House Mechanism would contribute to the Shared Environmental Information System, the collaborative initiative by the European Commission and the European Environment Agency (EEA) to establish with the Member States an integrated and shared EU-wide environmental information system. The Clearing House Mechanism would also rely on geographical information provided by the Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES).

The Clearing House Mechanism should be operational by 2011.

What is the role of ecosystems in building resilience to climate change?

Ecosystems play a key role in regulating climate. Changes in ecosystem composition, and especially in ecosystem structure, in many cases have important implications for the interactions between the biosphere and the climate system, as well as for ecosystem services on which society depends including the provision of fresh water, food and medicine.

Terrestrial and marine ecosystems currently absorb roughly half of the anthropogenic CO2 emissions. This is an important 'free' ecosystem service. However, growing evidence suggests that the capacity of the Earth's carbon sinks is weakening due to the continuous degradation of ecosystems. If the loss of biodiversity continues - or accelerates - the achievement of the climate change goals could be compromised. Urgent action now to halt the further loss and degradation of biodiversity will help to build resilience and maintain the provision of ecosystem services thus providing future options for reducing the impact of climate change.

Ecosystem based adaptation is often the best and most cost-effective as it provides multiple services and promotes synergies. Europe has built up a vast network of over 26,000 protected areas covering all the Member States representing more than 20% of total EU territory. These sites, known as the Natura 2000 network is the largest network of protected areas in the world.

The ecological coherence of the Natura 2000 network, as well as habitat quality, is essential for the long-term survival of many species and habitats. The impacts of climate change on biodiversity and ecosystems present new challenges for nature conservation. Adaptation measures to maintain diversity and increase connectivity will be necessary to ensure the achievement of nature conservation objectives under changing climatic conditions. At the same time, nature conservation contributes to increase resilience and maintain healthy ecosystems essential for any adaptation and mitigation strategy.

How does the White Paper address the needs of countries outside the EU?

The White Paper elaborates an Adaptation framework for the European Union. It is thus largely EU focused. However because adaptation is a trans-boundary issue, countries bordering the EU will also be considered and adaptation will be integrated in all relevant external policies: the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP), bilateral and regional forums, trade and development.

The international aspects of adaptation are addressed in a recently prepared policy paper "Towards a Comprehensive Climate Change Agreement in Copenhagen". For further details see:

The White Paper recognises the role of the Global Climate Change Alliance as an example of good cooperation with developing countries that have the least capacity to deal with climate change. Through the Global Climate Change Alliance (GCCA), the EU provides substantial resources to address climate change in these countries. The EU is also committed to working with countries through its various bilateral co-operation agreements to ensure that climate change adaptation is properly integrated.

In the UNFCCC, the EU has made ambitious proposals to foster adaptation in a post-2012 global agreement, notably via the comprehensive Framework for Action on Adaptation (FAA).

What is necessary to ensure effective adaptation to climate change by all countries and to support the poorest and most vulnerable developing countries?

The Copenhagen agreement should provide a framework for action on adaptation. Adaptation is a challenge for all countries and especially those that are most vulnerable to climate change. These include the least developed countries, small island developing states and African countries that are prone to extreme weather events such as drought, storms, floods and desertification.

The Copenhagen Communication proposes that all countries developed and developing alike, should be required to draft comprehensive national adaptation strategies to ensure that costly and recurring climate impacts can be prevented as far as possible.

In many cases, successful adaptation by developing countries can be achieved only if climate change impacts are taken into account in development cooperation projects. This needs to be done more systematically to prevent climate change impacts from jeopardising development assistance efforts.

Better tools and know-how to design and implement adaptation strategies need to be developed. National institutions and international cooperation should be strengthened to disseminate knowledge and technologies for adaptation and climate resilient development. To pool experience, the EU should recommend that a technical panel on adaptation be set up under the UNFCCC.

Financial and technological support should be provided to the most vulnerable developing countries. Kyoto’s Adaptation Fund can play an important role but will be insufficient to support adaptation in all developing countries, so innovative additional sources of financing will be needed. The UNFCCC Secretariat has estimated that total adaptation costs in developing countries could range from €23 to €54 billion per year in 2030.

As with mitigation, financing options need to be tailored to the actual investment needed. A large number of early measures will even generate a net benefit to the economy, for instance measures to improve water use efficiency in areas that will suffer from water shortages.

A multilateral insurance pool to cover disaster losses should be explored to complement existing funding mechanisms in case of climate-related natural disasters.

How can the necessary resources be made available?

Developed countries will contribute to assistance for developing countries through public funding as well as the use of carbon crediting mechanisms. The financial contribution of each developed country should be comparable and based on the polluter pays principle – in other words, its allowed level of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions - and ability to pay. The scale of contributions should be negotiated as part of the Copenhagen agreement.

Two principal options for creating an innovative international source of additional funding have been identified.

Under the first option, developed countries would commit to providing a certain amount of funding through bilateral and multilateral channels, calculated for each country on the basis of its allowed emissions and its income levels. The higher the country’s income levels and the more it emits, the more it would need to contribute. This would provide certainty about the total amount of funding available.

The second option would be to set apart a certain percentage of emission rights that each developed country would receive to cover their emissions, and auction these rights to governments at international level. The percentage could increase progressively in line with the country’s per capita income. This option would give developed countries that cannot cover all their emissions the option to buy emission rights from these international auctions. Unlike the first option, however, it would not necessarily generate predictable levels of funding since governments could choose to buy Clean Development Mechanism credits instead.

In either case, the timely provision and effective use of the resources to be made available will need to be verified under a new agreement to ensure its effectiveness. It should be explored how developing countries, except the least developed and small island developing states, could contribute over time in line with their financial capability.

For the EU, significant additional public revenue will be generated through the auctioning of emission allowances under the emissions trading system from 2013. Member States could use some of this revenue to honour their international funding commitments under the Copenhagen agreement.

How could resources be generated to support early action by developing countries?

The EU should explore the possibility of developing a ‘front-loading’ mechanism to deliver substantial funding in the short term for the poorest and most vulnerable developing countries.

Based on the issuance of bonds, this proposed Global Climate Financing Mechanism (GCFM) would allow early spending on priority climate-related actions. These funds would in particular facilitate an immediate reaction to urgent adaptation needs with a high return such as disaster risk reduction. A share of the funds raised could also support emission mitigation activities, in particular those that generate synergies between mitigation and adaptation, such as reducing emissions from deforestation.

The GCFM aims at raising around €1 billion per year for the period 2010-2014. After the initial phase of increased funding, the mechanism would start to pay back the funds raised.

Where can further information be obtained on the science behind Climate?

The definitive source of information about climate science is the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The IPCC's role is to assess on a comprehensive, objective, open and transparent basis the scientific, technical and socio-economic information relevant to climate change, its potential impacts and options for adaptation and mitigation. The fourth and latest IPCC Assessment Report, AR4, was published in 2007.

What are the next steps?

The public at large is not yet fully aware of the scale of the adverse impacts of global warming, and how it will affect each of us, our economies and societies. Europe needs to prepare effectively for a changing climate. This is why the Commission has come forward with its White Paper and in building a good working partnership with Member States intends to meet the challenges posed by a changing climate.

Adaptation will be a long and continuous process. It will operate at all levels and require close coordination with stakeholders. The EU will support international and national adaptation efforts ensuring that there are adequate resources for efficient and cost-effective adaptation action so as to provide a sustainable and sound economic basis for future generations. The Commission will review progress regularly in implementing the actions identified in this White Paper with a view to developing further adaptation measures.

What evidence is there that climate change is happening?

Most climate scientists agree that the world is going to get warmer. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a key scientific intergovernmental body was set-up in 1988 by the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to assess scientific and socio-economic information on climate change and its impacts and to advise the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

In 2007, the IPCC's Fourth Assessment Report states that the likely range of global average warming by the end of this century is between 1.1 and 6.4°C, relative to 1980-1999.

The IPCC also reports:

  • Since 1850, and the start of a global surface temperature record, eleven of the twelve warmest years have occurred from 1995 to 2006.
  • The ocean is becoming more acidic, due to increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide, and is expected to have negative impacts on marine shell-forming organisms and their dependent species
  • As a result of emissions from human activities, carbon dioxide concentrations are now 387ppm, far exceeding the natural range from the last 650,000 years (of about 180 to 300ppm).
  • To avoid major irreversible impacts on society and ecosystems, and achieve the EU target of a maximum 2°C increase above pre-industrial levels, urgent action is needed.

In October 2008 the European Environment Agency (EEA), in conjunction with the European Commission's Joint Research Centre and the World Health Organisation (WHO), released an indicator report on climate change impacts. The report based on 40 indicators presented further evidence on climate trends in Europe, many of which are projected to continue.

  • There were observed increases in the number of hot and cold extremes, and the intensity and variability of precipitation extremes.
  • Rapid melting of the European glaciers and sea ice
  • A significant change in the fluvial system and distribution across Northern and Southern Europe.
  • Sea level rise.

In March 2009 the International Scientific Congress Climate Change: Global Risks, Challenges and Decisions in Copenhagen concluded that the worst-case IPCC scenario trajectories (or even worse) are being realised. For many key parameters, the climate system is already moving beyond the patterns of natural variability within which society and economy have developed and thrived. These parameters include global mean surface temperature, sea-level rise, ocean and ice sheet dynamics, ocean acidification, and extreme climatic events. There is a significant risk that many of the trends will accelerate, leading to an increasing risk of abrupt or irreversible climatic shifts.

How will climate change impact on Europe?

Increasing temperatures, changing precipitation, rising sea level, more intense and frequent extreme weather events and melting glaciers, ice sheets and Arctic sea ice are some of the challenges for Europe already triggered by global climate change. These are predicted to intensify in the coming decades.

Vulnerability to climate change varies widely across regions and sectors in Europe. Particularly vulnerable regions include: Southern Europe and Mediterranean basin (due to heat and droughts), the Alps (due to rapid melting of snow and ice), coastal zones, deltas and floodplains (due to sea level rise, intense rainfall, floods and storms) and Europe's far north, the Arctic and Outermost regions (due to increased global warming).

Economic sectors that rely strongly on certain temperatures and precipitation – from agriculture to forestry, fisheries, energy to tourism – will be affected. Climate change is also expected to provoke significant changes in the quality and availability of water resources. Limited water availability already poses a problem in many parts of Europe and predictions demonstrate further deterioration due to climate change with Europe's high water stress regions expected to increase from 19% today to 35% by the 2070s. Water quantity will also be influenced by climate change. High water temperature, low water flows and water dilution of pollutants may affect aquatic ecosystems.

Climate change also exacerbates the impacts of already existing factors including pollution, land-use changes and the over-exploitation of resources.

While society at large is expected to be affected, the vulnerable (elderly, disabled and low-income households) are likely to be more susceptible to climate impacts.

Why are some regions and sectors more vulnerable to climate change than others?

Climate change will affect all natural and man-made systems to some extent. However, the impacts on individual sectors or regions will vary depending on the sensitivity of the system and its adaptive capacity. Sensitivity of a system is the extent to which changes in climate will affect the system in its current form, while the adaptive capacity of the system is its capacity to change in a way that makes it better equipped to deal with external influences. Both the sensitivity and adaptive capacity of a system will contribute to how vulnerable the system is to changes in climate. Vulnerability is the degree of susceptibility to, or inability to cope with, adverse effects of climate change, including climate variability and extremes

The degree to which a region is susceptible to, and unable to cope with, adverse effects of climate change, including climate variability and extremes will also depend on its geographical location, socio-economic developments (population growth, energy demand, industrial, agricultural productivity and water availability) and adaptive capacity.

The most vulnerable regions in Europe as cited above include: Southern Europe, the Mediterranean basin, the Alps, coastal zones, deltas and floodplains and Europe's far north, the Arctic and Outermost regions.

Climate change will impact on many economic sectors. The sectors most vulnerable include: agriculture, energy, transport, health, water and tourism. Climate change will increasingly drive ecosystems including marine ecosystems and biodiversity loss, affecting both individual species and significantly impacting ecosystems and their related services, on which society depends.

How will climate change impact on agriculture in Europe?

Climate change is one of the main drivers that shape European agriculture and rural areas. Even if EU agriculture is technologically advanced, its capacity to produce food and to contribute to providing ecosystem services is directly dependent on climatic conditions. Although forecasts of climate change impacts on agricultural productivity and prices are uncertain, an increase in extreme weather events is expected to trigger greater variability in agricultural production, food prices and farm income.

The variability of crop yields has increased since the beginning of the century as a consequence of extreme climatic events, such as the drought and summer heat of 2003 and the spring drought of 2007. Europe's 2003 heat wave is estimated to have led to €10 billion in economic loses to farming, livestock and forestry from the combined effects of drought heat stress and fire.[4] It must however be recognised that the ultimate impacts on farm income depend on many factors including the global market and policy support.

Rural areas are exposed to a wide range of impacts from climatic variations, beyond those directly affecting agriculture. Forest ecosystems and forestry are important in many rural areas. Climatic changes will lead to increased risk of disturbances through storms, fire, and outbreaks of pests and diseases with implications for forest growth and production. This will affect the economic viability of forestry, mainly in southern areas, and the capacity of forests to provide environmental services, including the carbon sink function.

The European Commission has adopted a policy paper on the challenge of climate change for European agriculture and rural areas. The paper examines adaptation needs, and explores possible orientations within the agricultural sector for future action. Enhancing the sustainable use of natural resources such as water and soils, improving the adaptive capacity of farmers, facilitating co-operation between Member States, and enhancing climate and agricultural research are deemed as necessary early action. Its main purpose is to further involve Member States and the farming community in the debate on how the farm sector can overcome the challenges of climate change, and on how the Common Agricultural Policy can help.

For further information: Commission webpage on agriculture and climate change

How will climate change impact on health?

Climate change can have significant effects on the health of humans, animals and plants. 

Increased temperatures and extreme heat can lead to a rise in mortality. In EU countries, mortality is estimated to increase by 1-4% for each one-degree rise in temperature, meaning that heat related mortality could rise by 30 000 deaths per year by the 2030s and 50 000 to 110 000 deaths per year by the 2080s (PESETA project).[5]

In addition, temperature sensitive infectious diseases such as vector-borne (transmitted infections by e.g. ticks or mosquitoes) diseases could increase. Changing frequency and intensity of precipitation and temperature may result in outbreaks of water-related issues such as contaminated drinking water or water used for recreation purposes. A warmer climate may also have important effects on air quality in Europe, in terms of concentrations and dispersion of air pollutants. Allergic disorders may be worsened by changed and prolonged pollen seasonality. Climate change has also contributed to an increase in ozone concentration in central and south-western Europe.

Animal health will also be affected. Vector transmitted diseases such as Bluetongue and West Nile Fever are influenced by changes in climate. Wildlife is very susceptible to climatic and environmental changes and plays an important role in animal disease transmission such as avian influenza and rabies. Alterations in wildlife ecology may influence the occurrence of animal diseases that are currently confined to specific territories or natural "niches". Some of these diseases are subject to EU and international veterinary legislation and can endanger the country's official animal health status. Changes to the animals' living conditions can also lead to nutritional disorders, parasitic diseases, sun stroke and dehydration which affect animal health and well being and thus the economic situation of farmers.

Climate change could affect cropping systems, plant breeding and natural vegetation such as forests and woodland. It is also likely to affect both the incidence and severity of plant diseases.  

The European Commission has adopted a policy paper on the impacts of climate change on Human, Animal and Plant Health, for further information: Commission webpage on health:

Is there an economic case for a strategic approach to adaptation?

The EEA (2007) and OECD (2008) reports recently reviewed the economic impacts of climate change in Europe. The reports reveal that there is still little quantified information on the costs and benefits of adaptation and that most studies are constrained to a few sectors and only take account of a limited sub-set of climate change effects.

However, emerging literature in Europe and more comprehensive estimates are appearing. The results of the European Commission's Framework Programme ADAM project[6] will be publicly available during 2009. Some advanced findings indicate that the benefits of adaptation are large, and significantly reduce the costs of inaction. In most cases, the costs of inaction in the early period (2010 to 2040) are low.

When discussing costs and benefits of adaptation, it is important to define exactly what is included in the different estimates (Figure 1). It is also necessary to consider the effect of socio-economic change, as this defines the actual future baseline to compare costs and benefits against. In many cases, this is not made explicit.
Figure 1 - Costs and benefits of adaptation (Source: Boyd and Hunt, 2006[7])
[ Figures and graphics available in PDF and WORD PROCESSED ]

The Impact Assessment accompanying the White Paper on Adaptation provides further information on the estimated costs/benefits of adaptation including by sector.

For further details see:

What is an Adaptation Strategy?

An Adaptation Strategy aims to increase society’s resilience. It is a framework for managing future climate risk and offers the potential of reducing future economic, environmental and social costs.

Over the past decade or more the predominant focus has been on strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. However as the IPPC findings emerged and it became clearer that some level of climate change was inevitable irrespective of emission reduction strategies, the need to prepare an adaptation strategy to complement mitigation efforts became more apparent.

For an Adaptation Strategy to be effective, it must result in climate risk being considered as a normal part of decision-making. In this context, adaptation strategies will fail if they continue in the long run to be seen separate from other aspects of strategic planning and risk management. To reach this point, more new knowledge is required on climate impacts, particularly on regional impacts as well as on the economic costs of action/inaction.

Any climate change adaptation strategy must be flexible and continue changing as new impacts are seen. A number of EU Member States have already prepared national adaptation strategies.

Why do we need an EU Approach?

Due to the varying regional severity and nature of climate impacts most adaptation initiatives will be taken at national, regional or local levels. However the ability to cope and adapt differs across population, economic sectors and regions within Europe.

A European approach complementing EU Member State activities can support action at national, regional and local level through, for instance, enhanced coordination and information sharing and by ensuring that adaptation considerations are addressed in all relevant EU policies.

The EU’s role will be particularly relevant when climate change impacts transcend the boundaries of individual states (e.g. river basins) and when impacts vary considerably across regions. The EU can enhance solidarity among Member States to ensure that disadvantaged regions and regions most affected by climate change will be capable of taking the necessary measures to adapt.

In addition for certain sectors (e.g. agriculture, water, biodiversity, fisheries etc.) that are largely integrated at EU level through the single market and common policies, co-ordinated EU action will be necessary.

European legislation influences decisions right down to the local level. This is particularly the case for environmental legislation and for the common policy areas such as agriculture and fisheries. These are also areas where climate change will have a strong impact. The EU regional and cohesion funds can be used to give direct support to adaptation projects.

Further information

[1]COM (2007) 354 final.
[2]The Economics of Climate Change – The Stern Review, N. Stern, Cambridge University Press, 2007.
[3]To be adopted in 2009

[4] EEA/JRC/WHO 2008 Report – Impacts of Europe's Changing Climate – Indicator-based assessment.
[5] See:
[6]ADAM (Adaptation and Mitigation Strategies: supporting European climate policy) is an integrated research project running from 2006 to 2009 that will lead to a better understanding of the trade-offs and conflicts that exist between adaptation and mitigation policies.
[7]Boyd, R. and Hunt, A., 2006. Climate Change Cost Assessments using the UKCIP Costing Methodology. July 2006. Report for Stern Review, UK HMT.

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