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Cities and towns

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In Europe, nearly 73% of the population lives in urban areas and this is projected to increase. Climate change has the potential to influence almost all components of the urban environment and raises new, complex challenges. Thereby, climate change impacts on cities as hubs of Europe's economic activity, social life and culture, innovation and knowledge-creation have repercussions far beyond the city borders. As a city specific action of the EU Adaptation Strategy, the European Commission ... 



initiated "Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy" to foster urban adaptation on the local level.

The impacts of climate change, which cities in Europe will experience, differ based on their geographical location and intrinsic vulnerabilities. However, all cities are likely to be affected and climate change will impact many aspects of urban living, quality of life and the provision of essential services such as transport, water, energy, health care etc.  Poor urban design can aggravate the impacts of climate change. For example, soil sealing, a prevalence of built areas and lack of green space leads to higher urban temperatures and thermal discomfort (the so-called 'urban heat island effect'); the impermeability of the sealed areas reduces natural drainage which, particularly during heavy rains, can lead to urban floods. Urban design aimed at tackling climate change, for example, through boosting green infrastructure, could have numerous co-benefits even beyond the increased resilience of a city, including improved air quality, better health, support for biodiversity and enhanced quality of life.

Policy framework

Although the European Commission has no direct responsibility in cities, it has different urban policies in place to support cities. The EU Urban Agenda, calls for a better coordination between the numerous EU policies covering climate change mitigation and adaptation, environmental, social and economic issues. Adaptation to climate change is one of the priority themes to be addressed under this framework.

Through Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy, an initiative proceeding from the EU Adaptation Strategy’s Priority Action 3: Promoting adaptation action by cities the European Commission engages cities in taking action to adapt to climate change. Numerous cities and towns across the EU have signed up to the initiative. In October 2015 Mayors Adapt was merged with the Covenant of Mayors into the Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy that covers now both adaptation and mitigation action. The EU funded Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy initiative joined forces with the Compact of Mayors and became Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy in June 2016. It is an international alliance of cities and local governments with a shared long-term vision of promoting and supporting voluntary action to combat climate change and move to a low emission, resilient society. 

Beyond EU policy, global city networks and the UN, national and regional governments provide a supportive framework for urban adaptation. Furthermore, there are various city networks  and associations active in Europe that provide capacity building and support on urban adaptation.

Improving the knowledge base and knowledge transfer

In order to strengthen the urban adaptation knowledge base and to share the knowledge the European Commission and their institutions use various support pathways.

The European Commission provides the web-based Urban Adaptation Support Tooldeveloped within the framework of the Covenant of Mayors initiative. It helps local adaptation practitioners to plan and implement their adaptation actions and provides access to information resources specifically designed for local conditions. Furthermore, thanks to the Covenant of Mayors initiative, signatory cities enjoy the opportunity for peer-to-peer learning through a dedicated online platform, as well as capacity-building events, webinars and twinning programmes.

Several reports have been published by European institutions like the European Environmental Agency’s (EEA) report Urban adaptation to climate change in Europe 2016. It focusses on the state of actions in the field of urban adaptation and progress achieved since the first EEA urban adaptation report in 2012. The EEA 2017 report Financing urban adaptation to climate change demonstrates practical, implemented examples of funding for adaptation actions through various funds and investments. 

The interactive Urban Vulnerability Map Book on Climate-ADAPT provides indicators and maps providing a perspective on the situation of cities across the EU. It puts data from different sources, such as City Statistics (formerly Urban Audit), Urban Atlas, ESPON and the Climate-ADAPT map viewer, into the context of urban vulnerability and allows cities to explore their own and their peers’ situation.

Several research and innovation funding programmes are put in place by the European Commission to further develop the urban adaptation knowledge. 'Smart and Sustainable Cities' is a focus area and cross-cutting activities of the 2016-2017 work programme of the EU research programme Horizon2020. It includes, among other areas, sustainable urbanisation and nature-based solutions for adapting cities to climate change. Its preceding Framework Programmes (FP7) have already supported numerous research projects that have produced results highly relevant for urban adaptation. Joint Programming Initiative (JPI) Urban Europe coordinates urban resilience research among Member States and finances urban-specific climate change research through joint calls. Climate-KIC climate innovation initiative is one of three Knowledge and Innovation Communities (KICs) and aims to develop promising climate innovations and bring them to market. It features both adaptation and sustainable urban development among their eight themes. Furthermore, the EU Joint Research Centre (JRC) as well as ESPON 2020 and COST - EU funded integrated inter-disciplinary and transboundary cooperation-based research programmes - have been addressing urban resilience and adaptation.

Likewise, the European Commission, European organisations and city networks are organizing or supporting knowledge sharing events to facilitate share experiences, learn from others and discuss solutions among them the ‘Open European Day Resilient Cities'  and Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy events.

Supporting investment and funding

At least 20% of the entire European Union budget 2014-2020 is foreseen for climate-related projects, including both mitigation and adaptation.

LIFE programme 2014-2020 supports projects in the development of innovative ways to respond to the challenges of climate change in Europe by integrating adaptation into urban land use planning, building layouts and natural resources' management. LIFE Action Grants support a wide range of adaptation-related local-level activities: from developing policy and management approaches, to improving the knowledge base, as well as mainstreaming adaptation and the development of adaptation strategies. The demonstration of innovative adaptation measures is also supported.

European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) offers ample opportunities for supporting adaptation interventions in urban areas. Climate change adaptation is one of the priorities, and the fund additionally foresees that a minimum of 5% of the resources of the Partnership Agreements shall be allocated to sustainable urban development. It also finances INTERREG cooperation programme that supports cross-border, transnational and interregional cooperation on innovation, knowledge economy, environment and risk prevention and is also addressing urban adaptation in their calls.

The European Investment Bank (EIB) considers adaptation aspects as part of their financing support for Integrated, sustainable urban renewal programmes via the JESSICA programme. Two targeted instruments have been developed by EIB in cooperation with European Commission that inter alia support adaptation action: Natural Capital Financing Facility can be applied to finance nature-based adaptation measures and Private Finance for Energy Efficiency instrument enables local banks in EU Member States issue loans for energy efficiency measures.




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