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Brussels, 16 April 2013
Questions and Answers: EU strategy on adaptation to climate change
1. What is the goal of the EU adaptation strategy and what key actions are planned?
The overall aim is to contribute to a more climate-resilient Europe. The intention is to do this by encouraging and supporting action in three priority areas: promoting and supporting actions by Member States, promoting adaptation in key vulnerable sectors at EU level, and ensuring better-informed decision-making.
The following actions are under way or planned:
1. The Commission is providing guidelines, technical capacity and substantial funding opportunities to help Member States develop comprehensive adaptation strategies covering the whole EU territory and implement concrete adaptation measures.
2. The Commission will continue 'mainstreaming' adaptation by integrating adaptation measures into EU policies and programmes to make them resilient to the adverse impacts of climate change. Targeted guidance and further work with the private sector, including standardisation organisations or insurance companies, will help promote long-term climate resilience in investment and business decisions.
3. The Commission, together with Member States and other relevant stakeholders, will improve the identification of knowledge gaps and define the relevant tools and methodologies to address them. The findings will be fed into the EU's future research programme, Horizon 2020. The dissemination of information will be strengthened by further developing the European Climate Adaptation Platform (Climate-ADAPT) as the one-stop shop for adaptation information in Europe (see Question 11 below).
2. Why do we need an EU adaptation strategy now?
Many economic sectors are directly dependent on climatic conditions and are already facing the impact of climate change in areas such as agriculture, forestry, beach and snow tourism, health and fisheries. Major utilities, such as energy and water providers, are also affected. Ecosystems and the services they provide are suffering from the adverse impacts of climate change, which is accelerating the decline of biodiversity and reducing their ability to buffer natural extremes. Climatic changes will have consequences for the availability of basic natural resources such as water and soil, leading to significant changes in conditions for agriculture and industrial production in some areas.
In view of the specific and wide ranging nature of climate change impacts on the EU territory, adaptation measures need to be taken at all levels, from local to regional and national levels. There is also a role for the European Union to fill both knowledge and action gaps and complement these efforts through an EU Strategy.
The strategy builds upon the 2009 White Paper on adaptation,1 which foresaw the elaboration of an EU-wide strategy by 2013. Most actions included in the White Paper had been implemented by end-2012. The adaptation strategy takes stock of these initiatives and seeks to build on them.
3. Isn't adaptation to climate change an issue only to be addressed at local and regional levels? What is the added value of an EU strategy?
While a 'one-size-fits-all' approach to adaptation is clearly not appropriate, there is a key role for – and significant benefits to be gained from – integrated and coordinated EU adaptation action to complement national, regional and local efforts.
The EU can promote adaptation action covering the whole EU territory, since lack of preparedness or inaction in one Member State may have negative impacts on neighbouring countries. There is a clear role for the EU in promoting and coordinating such cross-border adaptation action since many of the adaptation measures required have international dimensions (e.g. for river basins and bio-geographic regions).
The EU also has a responsibility to integrate adaptation into its own policies and financial programmes, given its competence in areas such as water, agriculture, biodiversity, health etc. and the implications this has for Member State policies.
Furthermore the EU can coordinate efforts to identify knowledge gaps and support specific research programmes on adaptation through focused project calls. Knowledge and experience can be transferred across Europe and good practices widely disseminated.
4. Does the adaptation strategy mean the EU is giving up on cutting greenhouse gas emissions?
Not at all. The EU remains committed to playing a leadership role in international action aimed at keeping global warming below 2°C compared to the pre-industrial temperature and thus preventing the most severe impacts of climate change.
However, the consequences of climate change are already being seen in Europe and worldwide, with patterns of precipitation changing, glaciers melting and sea levels rising. This makes it necessary to start adapting now. And even if all greenhouse gas emissions were to stop today, there would still be major climatic changes in the decades to come because of the delayed effect of emissions on the climate system.
Adaptation is therefore necessary in parallel with mitigation action to cut global emissions. The success of mitigation efforts will determine the degree of adaptation required in the future. Moreover, certain actions, such as energy efficiency measures or sustainable farming practices, can contribute to both adaptation and mitigation.
5. What does the strategy consist of?
The adaptation strategy is a package of documents. The main political document is a Communication2 setting out eight actions to be taken in the strategy's three priority areas mentioned above.
The Communication is complemented by accompanying documents concerning adaptation in specific sectors and policy areas: migration, marine and coastal areas, health, infrastructure, agriculture, cohesion policy and insurance. Guidelines on preparing national adaptation strategies are also included.
6. What are the costs and benefits of adaptation?
A major benefit of early adaptation action is to protect society against potentially much more dangerous and costly climate impacts later. The minimum cost of not adapting to climate change is estimated to range from € 100 billion a year in 2020 to € 250 billion in 2050 for the EU as a whole.
Between 1980 and 2011, direct economic losses in the EU due to flooding amounted to more than € 90 billion. This amount is expected to increase, as the annual cost of damage from river floods is estimated at € 20 billion by the 2020s and € 46 billion by the 2050s. The social cost of climate change can also be significant. Floods in the EU resulted in more than 2 500 fatalities and affected more than 5.5 million people over the period 1980-2011. Taking no further adaptation measures could mean an additional 26 000 deaths a year from heat by the 2020s, rising to 89 000 deaths a year by the 2050s.
Though there is no real comprehensive overview of adaptation costs in the EU, additional flood protection measures are estimated at € 1.7 billion a year by the 2020s and € 3.4 billion a year by the 2050s. Such measures can be very effective, as for each euro spent on flood protection, six euros could be saved on damage costs.
Failing to act or delaying action may put pressure on EU cohesion, and climate change impacts are also expected to widen social differences across the EU. Special attention will need to be given to social groups and regions which are most exposed and already disadvantaged, for example through poor health, low income, inadequate housing or lack of mobility.
Global warming may provide opportunities for sectors in certain areas, such as increased crop yields and forest growth, more hydropower or less energy needed for heating in northern Europe. However, the potential regional benefits in net terms are highly uncertain.
7. What additional action by EU Member States is needed?
The strategy encourages Member States to adopt national adaptation strategies. These are key instruments for prioritising action and investment.
To date, 15 EU Member States have adopted national strategies3. Others are under preparation. However, adaptation is in most cases still at an early stage, with relatively few concrete measures on the ground.
If the Commission deems progress by 2017 in the coverage and quality of national strategies insufficient, it will consider proposing a legally binding instrument.
8. What support to Member States does the strategy envisage?
The Commission has included adaptation to climate change in its proposals for all relevant EU funding programmes for 2014-2020. The European Structural and Investment funds,4 Horizon 2020 and the LIFE programme will provide significant support to Member States, regions and cities to invest in programmes and projects on adaptation. The Cohesion policy already co-finances many cross-border, transnational and interregional adaptation programmes and projects.
The Commission will also support the exchange of good practice between Member States, regions, cities and other stakeholders.
9. What does adaptation mean for EU-level policies?
As a cross-cutting issue, adaptation to climate change will affect key EU policies such as cohesion, agriculture, disaster risk management and environment. A major priority and responsibility for the Commission is to 'mainstream' adaptation by integrating adaptation measures into EU policies and programmes to make them resilient to the adverse impacts of climate change.
10. How does the strategy deal with global issues?
The strategy focuses on enhancing the resilience of the EU against the impacts of climate change. Helping developing countries do the same is mainly dealt with through the UN climate change convention and the EU's development and cooperation policies.
However, in the longer term the global impacts of climate change will potentially have major consequences in Europe, for example on food supply and migration. The Commission is working to expand its knowledge of such impacts and to identify what role the EU could play, through its implementation of the strategy, on these issues.
11. Where can I find more information on adaptation in Europe?
Access to reliable data on the likely impact of climate change, the associated socio-economic aspects and the costs and benefits of various adaptation options is essential to inform decisions on how best to adapt. The European Climate Adaptation Platform, or Climate-ADAPT (http://climate-adapt.eea.europa.eu), was launched last year to facilitate the sharing of knowledge and support policy-makers at EU, national, regional and local levels in the development of climate change adaptation measures and policies.
Hosted by the European Environment Agency, Climate-ADAPT provides information on expected climate change in Europe; the current and future vulnerability of regions and sectors; national, regional and transnational adaptation activities and strategies; and adaptation-related research projects, guideline documents, reports, information sources, links, news etc. It also contains a database of projects and case studies and online tools to support adaptation planning.
The adaptation strategy aims to make Climate-ADAPT the 'one-stop shop' for adaptation information in Europe.
12. What are the next steps?
The Communication setting out the strategy is addressed to the European Parliament, the Council, the Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions. They may wish to give formal responses over the coming months.
Over the next year the Commission's activities under the strategy will include:
In 2017, the Commission will report to the European Parliament and the Council on the state of implementation of the strategy and propose a review if needed.
13. How did the Commission involve stakeholders in the preparation of the strategy?
The Commission has consulted widely since the adoption of the 2009 White Paper. The preparation of the adaptation strategy included:
Adapting to climate change: Towards a European framework for action.
An EU Strategy on adaptation to climate change.
The Cohesion Fund, the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), the European Social Fund (ESF) the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD) and the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF)