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Berggebiete

Dolomites, Val di Zoldo, Italy
Image credits: Elia Lazzari, EEA "Well with nature" competition 2022

Key messages

  • By the end of the century, it is projected that European mountains will have changed physically. Large glaciers will have experienced significant mass loss, but changes will also impact the lower, mid-hills, and floodplain environments.

  • Adaptation in sectors such as water management, agriculture, forestry and tourism are key for adapting mountain areas.

  • The EU has several funding programs that can support projects in mountain regions, including the European Regional Development Fund, the European Social Fund, and the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development. These funds can be used to support a wide range of initiatives, including infrastructure projects, job creation, and environmental conservation.

Impacts and vulnerabilities

Climate change already affects European mountain regions. By the end of the century, it is projected that European mountains will have changed physically. Large glaciers will have experienced significant mass loss, but changes also impact the lower, mid-hills, and floodplain environments, thereby impacting water availability, agricultural production, tourism, and health sectors. Mountain systems have a complex topography that changes considerably over short distances, resulting in diversified climate impacts at different elevations. For instance, with increasing air temperature and higher precipitation, seasonal snow lines will be found at higher elevations, and snow seasons will become shorter. Tree lines will move up and forest patterns will change in lower elevations. In countries with high mountain ranges such as the Alps, climate change will impact the water balance, which will have repercussions on hydropower, urban drainage, navigation, and an increase in the intensity of water-related natural hazards.

 

Policy framework

The EU has several policies and initiatives aimed at supporting sustainable development in mountain areas. These policies recognize the unique environmental, economic, and social challenges faced by mountain communities and aim to promote their resilience and long-term viability.

The EU Strategy on Adaptation to Climate Change, adopted in 2021, aims to make adaptation smarter (pushing the frontiers of knowledge on adaptation), faster (accelerate rollout of adaptation solutions) and more systemic (integrated solutions and plans). Stimulating local adaptation, nature-based solutions, sustainable uses and resilience of fresh water resources, are particularly relevant for the mountain regions.

Adaptation in sectors such as water management, agriculture, forestry and tourism are key for adapting mountain areas.

The revision of the regulation on adaptation of the Land use, land use change and forestry (LULUCF) aim for increased carbon capture in agriculture and forestry, with important land cover change implications. The measures to achieve this, such as maintenance of grasslands, carbon farming and restoration of peatlands, will also help prevent soil erosion and reduce flooding risk.

In line with the EU Green Deal the new Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) for 2023-2027 and the Biodiversity strategy for 20230 more emphasis is given to environmental issues and climate action.

 

Specific policies for EU mountain regions

One key policy is the European Strategy for the Alpine Region (EUSALP), which is a macro-regional strategy that brings together regional and national stakeholders from seven Alpine countries. The strategy aims to promote sustainable development in the region through coordinated action in areas such as innovation, mobility, and biodiversity.

The Alpine Convention, adopted in 1991, is an international treaty between the Alpine Countries and the EU for the sustainable development and protection of the Alps. The ultimate goal of the Alpine Convention is to develop the common heritage of the Alps and preserve it for future generations through transnational cooperation involving national, regional and local authorities.

The Carpathian Convention is a multi-lateral agreement between seven countries that aims to promote sustainable development and environmental protection in the Carpathian region. The Convention focuses on several key areas, including conservation of biological and landscape diversity, sustainable land use and forestry, climate change adaptation, sustainable tourism, and sustainable transport. It also supports cooperation and information exchange between the countries of the region, and includes provisions for public participation and stakeholder involvement in decision-making. The Carpathian Convention is supported by the European Union, which provides funding and technical assistance for its implementation.

The Convention for the Protection of the Pyrenees is an international agreement, which aims to protect the natural and cultural heritage of the Pyrenees mountain range and promote sustainable development in the region. It establishes a framework for cooperation between the signatory countries in areas such as biodiversity conservation, sustainable land use, and sustainable tourism. The Pyrenees Convention is supported by various EU funding programs and initiatives, which provide financial support for projects that promote sustainable development in the Pyrenees region.

The Environment and Security Initiative and Dinaric Alpine Convention: These two separate initiatives are international agreements signed by international organizations and several countries in the Balkans and Dinaric Alps regions that aim to promote sustainable development and environmental protection in these areas.

 

Improving the knowledge base

The research Project MOVING (MOuntain Valorisation through INterconnectedness and Green growth) aims to build capacities and co-develop – through a bottom-up participatory process that involves value chain actors, stakeholders and policy-makers – relevant policy frameworks across Europe for the establishment of new or upgraded/upscaled value chains that contribute to the resilience and sustainability of mountain areas to climate change.

PHUSICOS, meaning 'According to nature' in Greek, demonstrates how nature-based solutions (NBSs) provide robust, sustainable and cost-effective measures for reducing the risk of extreme weather events in rural mountain landscapes. The project will close the knowledge gap specifically related to NBSs for hydro-meteorological hazards (flooding, erosion, landslides and drought) by implementing NBSs at several European case study sites.

MountResilience will support European regions and communities located in mountainous areas to increase their capacity to adapt to climate change and to transition towards a climate-resilient society. The project will conceptualise, test, and scale up multi-level, multidimensional and re-applicable climate change adaptation and nature-based solutions addressing policy and societal needs, as well as citizen behaviors, to address specific climate impacts in mountainous regions.

 

Supporting investment and funding

The EU has several funding programs that can support projects in mountain regions, including the European Regional Development Fund, the European Social Fund, and the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development. These funds can be used to support a wide range of initiatives, including infrastructure projects, job creation, and environmental conservation.

The EU Cohesion Policy aims at reducing disparities between the levels of development of the various regions and focusing on the regions lagging behind. It states that “particular attention shall be paid to (…) mountain regions”. Thus, the Cohesion Policy plays a key role in addressing the specific challenges of mountain areas, including adaptation to climate change as it can enhance adaptation under it Operational Programmes.

The Interreg VI B defines 14 transnational co-operation programmes for 2021-2027 on large scale territories in Europe and beyond with a budget of 1.5 bilion EUR. In addition, specific EU agreed strategies exist for four macro-national regions: Baltic SeaDanubeAlpine, and Adriatic and Ionian regions. Mountain regions are also covered by these programs, profiting from boosting strategic cooperation actions on large scale territories.

As part of an EC mandate started in 2014, the Commission and the European Committee for Standardization and the European Committee for Electrotechnical Standardization (CEN-CENELEC) have sought to address the adaptation of European standards and standardization to climate change, with special emphasis on the resilience of key sectors.

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