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Just Resilience

Pilot urban greening project in Trnava: the open space after the revitalisation.
Image credits: Carpathian Development Institute

Key messages

  • From the local to the global scale, the most vulnerable people and communities are most at risk from climate change impacts, have the least capacity to adapt, and are the least likely to be heard, recognized and benefit from adaptation actions. Just resilience strategies acknowledge the uneven distribution of climate change impacts on people and places, the uneven prerequisites, and capabilities (social, economic, political, health-related etc.) to adapt and to partake in the benefits provided by adaptation actions.
  • The concept of ‘leaving no-one behind’ is a key element in recent and forthcoming EU policies related to climate adaptation, including the European Green Deal policy package and the EU Mission on adaptation to climate change. The new EU Adaptation Strategy in particular, has put explicit focus on just resilience.
  • Ensuring that no one is left behind requires a focus on equity aspects at all stages of adaptation planning, implementation, and monitoring, as well as at all governance levels. A meaningful engagement of vulnerable groups in these processes is also essential.

Just resilience - overcoming inequalities in climate risks and adaptation action

The most vulnerable people - due to their age, health, place of residence, or socio-economic status - and systems are most at risk from climate change impacts, have the least capacity to adapt, and are the least likely to be heard, recognized and benefit from adaptation actions. Adaptation action have the capacity to remedy some of these inequalities, but also risk exacerbating already existing gaps.

The concept of ‘leaving no one behind’ in climate change also called ‘justice in adaptation’ or ‘just resilience’, thus needs to be properly taken into account in implementing just, transformative and long-term climate adaptation to avoid maladaptive practices, redistributing risk or reinforcing existing inequalities, and avoid creating “winners” and “losers” (ETC, 2021). In particular, this involves:

  • Reducing the unequal burden of climate risks – Certain groups and regions are disproportionally affected by climate change due to the uneven exposure of climate change, preexisting vulnerabilities, differing economic and political capabilities as well as differing access to public services and infrastructure (such as adequate housing protecting from flooding and extreme temperatures). An EEA report provides further insights into inequalities in vulnerability and exposure to climate hazards.
  • Ensuring equity in the distribution of benefits (and burdens) of adaptation - Adaptive measures and policies do not necessarily benefit everyone to the same extent, and in some cases may even lead to ‘maladaptation’. For instance, adaptation investments (e.g., green areas, flood insurance, local water saving or cooling measures) which do not ensure affordability can exclude low-income households

Ensuring that no one is left behind requires therefore a focus on justice aspects at all stages of the adaptation policy cycle as well as a meaningful engagement of affected and vulnerable groups in decision making processes.


Policy framework

There is increasing recognition of the need to ‘leave no one behind’ in all EU policy sectors, not least in climate adaptation. Just resilience is central to both the UN 2030 Agenda and the new EU Adaptation Strategy, which implements the EU Climate law. The Strategy stresses the importance of achieving resilience in a just and fair way and for adaptation measures to be designed to take social aspects into account, including international dimensions of climate risk and adaptation. It commits the European Union to support just transition through a range of policies and funding schemes, as well as via the enforcement of existing employment and social legislation.

The European Green Deal emphasizes ‘just transition’ to a society with no net greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, recognizing that the disproportionate burden on certain countries and population groups needs to be addressed. The action under the European Green Deal such as FIT for 55 package the will be guided by the European Pillar of Social Rights, to balance the economic and environmental policies with social ones.


Improvement of the knowledge base

Although the term 'Just Resilience' is relatively new in the climate policy landscape, there is already an established field of research on the social implications of climate change, and recently the knowledge base at the global and European level is growing.

Several reports specifically cover the topic, both at global and at EU levels. The 5th IPCC Assessment Report (AR5)  already recognized the uneven distribution of climate risks in the different sectors, and the most recent 6th IPCC Assessment Report (AR6) highlights justice as a core quality of climate adaptation at all governance levels. In particular, Working Group II contribution to the AR6 identifies principles of justice that should be considered in the evaluation of adaptation options.

The Eighth Report on Economic, Social and Territorial Cohesion presents current socio-economic and territorial disparities in Europe and how they are aggravated by climate change impacts, indicating that cohesion policy should evolve to respond to these challenges.

The ETC/CCA Technical paper ‘Leaving No One Behind’ in Climate Resilience Policy and Practice in Europe'(2021) explores the practical implications of the ‘just transition’ in the context of adaptation and climate resilience - ‘just resilience’. It provides insights on how to consider justice aspects in all steps of the adaptation policy cycle according to the Adaptation Support Tool. Other EEA and ETC/CCA products important for the understanding of just resilience consider health and urban related aspects of just resilience policies.

The EEA aims at tackling the consideration of justice aspects in mitigation and adaptation policies in an integrated approach. In an EEA briefing Exploring the social challenges of low-carbon energy policies in Europe, adaptation aspects are considered in the assessment of unfair impacts of carbon and energy taxes and policy analysis to maximise benefits for adaptation related objectives.

The EEA 2022 briefing Towards ‘just resilience’: leaving no one behind when adapting to climate change looks at how climate change affects vulnerable groups and how these impacts can be prevented or reduced through equitable adaptation actions. It also presents examples of equity-oriented policies and measures from across Europe.

The EU also undertakes several actions to help provide policy makers and practitioners with further knowledge and methodologies to implement just resilience policies and measures. For example, the expert group on Economic and Social Impact of Research (ESIR) provides evidence-based policy advice to the Commission on how to develop fair, forward-looking and transformative research and innovation policy.

In collaboration with several EU and global partners, the European Commission and the EEA are developing the European Climate and Health Observatory. It provides access to the most relevant knowledge resources on the vulnerability of social groups to health-related climate impacts and risks as well as on justice in policy responses.

Justice in climate policies is also a key topic of the Horizon 2020 programme, especially for the mitigation of climate change. In terms of adaptation, some ongoing projects are studying the distributive implications of climate risks and related policies. For instance, CASCADE project studies the propagation of climate risks at international level on European societies, assessing the potential socio-economic drawbacks. Policies are the focus of NAVIGATE project, which develops new Integrated Assessment Models capable to model inequalities and to assess how mitigation and adaptation policies affect them. Moreover, JustNature project intends to activate nature-based solutions as tools for ensuring the right to health and well-being in seven pilot cities.

The LIFE programme contributes also to the extension of the knowledge base. For example, the Evolving regions project will provide practical experience  on the mapping of vulnerable groups for risk assessments and the consideration of justice aspects in municipal and regional adaptation roadmapping


Supporting funding and investment

The EU is committed to supporting a ‘Just transition’ through dedicated funding schemes such as the Just Transition Fund.

Adaptation funding is available from various EU funding streams and many of them also support just resilience. The Multiannual Financial Framework 2021-2027 ensures that climate adaptation actions have been integrated into all the major EU spending programmes, as foreseen also in the EU Adaptation Strategy. In addition, the European Commission also provides funds through the programme Next Generation EU (€ 750 billion) to recover from the economic crisis connected with the Covid-19 epidemic. The programme funds the national recovery and resilience plans that are meant to radically transform European economies by the means of a fair climate and digital transition.

The LIFE Programme is entirely dedicated to the environment and has a budget of € 1.9 billion for Climate Action that includes climate adaptation.

Addressing inequalities in the green transition is also at the heart of the key strategic orientations of Horizon Europe (€ 95.5 billion). According to the Strategic Plan 2021-2024, the programme shall contribute, through research, to the creation of a more resilient, inclusive and democratic European society. To this end, the theme of equity in mitigation and adaptation actions cross-cuts Horizon Europe Work Programmes and in particular, six new calls will contribute to the implementation of the Mission Adaptation to Climate Change. Although none of the calls explicitly mentions social aspects, their implementation will consider justice aspects according to the objectives of the EU Mission on adaptation to climate change.

Other relevant European funding programmes are:

  • The Common Agricultural Policy (€ 378.5 billion) supports the adaptation of the agricultural sector, with particular attention to the vulnerable groups of farmers
  • The European Social Fund Plus (ESF+) is a key financing instrument to support the most vulnerable groups in Europe. ESF finances the implementation of the principles of the European Pillar of Social Rights: equal opportunities and access to the labor market; fair working conditions, and social protection and inclusion.
  • The European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) may also be devoted to adaptation and the social dimension of adaptation. The funding priorities of ERDF include both “Greener, low-carbon and resilient [Europe]” as well as “More social”.


Supporting the implementation

At the European level, the just resilience is integrated and implemented through actions stemming from the European Adaptation Strategy and through other EU initiatives.

The Covenant of Mayors integrates the theme of just resilience in the implementation of adaptation policies at local levels. Under its Policy Support Facility it provides a guidance on the implementation of adaptation which explicitly covers unequal exposure and vulnerability to climate impacts. A 2023 pilot programme with 40 municipalities in 12 countries was started to help those municipalities on their pathway to advance adaptation actions in a just manner.

The EU Mission on adaptation to climate change, is led by DG CLIMA and designed to directly support at least 150 European regions and communities to become climate resilient by 2030. The mission focuses on solutions and preparedness for the impact of climate change in a just and fair way, through inclusive governance processes and supporting actions protecting the health and well-being of vulnerable people. It includes behavioral change and social aspects by addressing new communities beyond the usual stakeholders.

The New European Bauhaus Initiative promotes sustainability, quality of experience, and inclusion in the design of European living spaces.