Key messages

  • Cities are vulnerable to climate change because of their geographical characteristics and a high degree of built up areas and impervious surfaces, which may lead to higher local temperatures and increased urban rainfall flooding.
  • With projected increases in temperature, more extreme rainfall events, and the percentage of urban population in the EU projected to increase to over 83% from 74% currently, the need for cities to adapt to these impacts is increasing.
  • The EU has several policy frameworks in place to increase the resilience of European cities and their residents, including the EU Adaptation Strategy and the EU Biodiversity Strategy 2030. It also has developed several initiatives to improve knowledge and data availability on urban vulnerability and adaptive capacity, including the Urban Adaptation Map Viewer and Copernicus’ Urban Atlas; and offers financial and technical support to policymakers and practitioners in making cities more resilient and adaptive, such as through the Horizon Europe research and innovation framework programme and the Urban Adaptation Support Tool.

Impacts and vulnerabilities

In Europe, more than 74% of the population lives in urban areas and this is projected to increase to over 83% by 2050. European cities and their residents need to adapt and be resilient to changes in their environment, weather conditions and extreme events such as heatwaves, water scarcity, heavy rainfalls with stormwater run-off, flooding, and sea level rise caused by climate change. Long-lasting climate changes and extreme events can increase economic losses, damage buildings, decrease public health, quality of life and the provision of essential services such as transport, water, energy, housing, health care, social services in urban areas.

The vulnerability of cities to climate change differs for many reasons, including geographical location and physical characteristics. A prevalence of built-up areas and lack of green space leads to higher temperatures in urban areas (the so-called urban heat island effect), while a large proportion of impervious surfaces reduces natural drainage, leading to more severe urban floods during heavy rains.

Policy framework

The new EU Strategy on Adaptation to Climate Change (2021) promotes policy-making, new investments and urban planning that are climate-informed and future-proofed. It also highlights the need to avoid “climate-blind” decisions by recording, collecting and sharing data on climate-related risks and losses among different sectors, including cities.

The EU Biodiversity Strategy 2030 ‘Bringing nature back into our lives’ highlights that the promotion of healthy ecosystems, green infrastructure and nature-based solutions should be systematically integrated into urban planning, including in public spaces, infrastructure, and the design of buildings and their surroundings. The European Commission calls on European cities of at least 20,000 inhabitants to develop ambitious Urban Greening Plans. The Commission will support Member States and local and regional authorities through technical guidance and help to mobilise funding and capacity building. To facilitate this work, the EU Urban Greening Platform was launched, under a new Green City Accord with cities and mayors closely collaborating with European Covenant of Mayors. An Urban Greening Plan Guidance (still in draft) was developed in collaboration with Eurocities and ICLEI, and a draft Urban Greening Plan Toolkit will be available.

Beyond EU policy, 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. The Urban Adaptation Map Viewer on Climate-ADAPT provides an overview of European cities participating in various adaptation initiatives.

Improving the knowledge base

The IPCC AR6 WG II report Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability emphasizes that the impacts of climate change, combined with further urbanization, will increase the severity of heat waves and the risk of flooding and stresses the importance of accelerating climate-resilient development in cities.

The European Commission is putting much effort into improving the knowledge base through systemic data collections and sharing. All data from EU scientific lighthouses, e.g. Copernicus, are freely and openly available to all users worldwide. The Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S) aims to provide key indicators on climate change to support European adaptation and mitigation policies. The Urban Atlas provides reliable and high-resolution land use maps for over 300 Large Urban Zones (LUZ) in Europe.

The European Environment Agency’s (EEA) report Urban adaptation in Europe (2020) provides an up to date evidence base on adaptation planning and actions in Europe in the local context. Another recent report of the EEA – Financing urban adaptation to climate change (2017) addresses the challenge of financing adaptation actions.

The interactive Urban Adaptation Map Viewer presents data on current and projected climate hazards affecting European cities and on cities’ vulnerability and adaptive capacity. It combines data from various sources. It allows cities to explore their own and their peers’ climate risks, as well as the adaptation initiatives European cities take part in.

A specific entry page allows access to all relevant Climate-ADAPT knowledge, data, tools and guidance for adaptation at urban/local levels.

The European Commission launched a website The Smart Cities Marketplace in 2020. The aim of webpages is to bring cities, industries, SMEs, investors, researchers and other smart city actors together to share their project ideas and explore collaboration possibilities.

The European Commission has launched The Climate Pact as part of the European Green Deal, offering opportunities to people, communities and organisations to participate in climate action across Europe.

The website of Intelligent Cities Challenge (ICC) shares information about the European Commission initiative that supports 136 cities in using cutting-edge technologies to lead the intelligent, green and socially responsible recovery.

Several research and innovation funding programmes have been put in place by the European Commission to further develop the urban adaptation knowledge. Knowledge sharing events for cities are organized to share experiences and learn from each other such as the European Urban Resilience Forum.

Supporting investment and funding

The EU research and innovation framework programme (2021-2027) Horizon Europe includes five key missions wich aim to tackle big challenges in health, climate and the environment. The  EU Misson on Adaptation to Climate change addresses adaptation at local levels, including in cities. The mission on Climate-neutral & smart cities aims to support, promote and showcase 100 European cities in their systemic transformation towards climate neutrality by 2030, and turn these cities into innovation hubs for all cities, benefiting quality of life and sustainability in Europe.

Regions and local authorities in countries associated with Horizon Europe or in countries negotiating association to Horizon Europe can be involved in the Mission actions. Companies may also be eligible to participate, for instance as innovators providing innovative solutions or climate services. Funding opportunities may be found on the Funding and Tenders Portal, in particular under the Horizon Europe Work Programme 2023-2024

The European Green Deal provides an action plan that outlines the investments needed and financing tools available for achieving climate neutrality in 2050 in Europe. The EU will also provide financial support and technical assistance to help those that are most affected by the move towards the green economy.

The European Commission coordinates research and investments on urban climate-resilience among Member States and finances urban-specific climate change research through co-programmed, co-funded and institutionalized calls under the Horizon Europe programme. Climate-KIC aims to develop promising climate innovations and bring them to market. It features both adaptation and sustainable urban development among its themes. The European Innovation Council under Horizon Europe supports innovations and connecting regional and national innovation actors. Furthermore, the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre as well as ESPON 2020 and COST programmes have been addressing urban resilience and adaptation.

The European Regional Development Fund foresees a minimum of 5% resource allocation to sustainable urban development. It also finances INTERREG cooperation programmes of cross-border, transnational and interregional cooperation that address urban adaptation in their calls.

The European Investment Bank considers adaptation within financing for integrated, sustainable urban renewal via its JESSICA programme. The Natural Capital Financing Facility can be applied to finance nature-based adaptation measures and the Private Finance for Energy Efficiency instrument enables local banks in EU Member States to issue loans for energy efficiency measures.

The Covenant of Mayors Interactive Funding Guide gathers information on various funding initiatives open to cities that are managed by the European Commission, the Member States and key financial institutions such as the European Investment Bank.

A comprehensive overview can be found on the EU funding of adaptation measures page.

Supporting the implementation of adaptation

The EU Covenant of Mayors for Climate & Energy (CoM) gathers local and regional authorities voluntarily committed to achieving and exceeding the EU climate and energy targets. They offer the technical and methodological support to local and regional authorities for planning and implementing climate adaptation strategies. Nearly 9000 cities and towns across the EU have joined the initiative.

The Urban Adaptation Support Tool, as part of the CoMs knowledge base, helps local adaptation practitioners plan and implement their adaptation actions by supporting the entire adaptation cycle, from obtaining political support, through assessing risks and vulnerabilities, designing a strategy and action plan, financing actions and monitoring and evaluating their outcomes.

Urban zoning and land-use planning are essential measures to improve climate change impacts - for example, developing city-wide green infrastructure or nature-based solutions. The EU supports sustainable land use planning. To assist cities in developing their green infrastructure strategies further, the EEA has developed a number of GI indicators with interactive map.

Urban Innovative Actions is an Initiative of the European Union that provides urban areas throughout Europe with resources to test new and unproven solutions to address urban challenges. URBACT programme supports EU cities to work together and develop integrated solutions to any urban challenge they face including climate change and adaptation. C40 Climate Change Risk Assessment Guidance help cities conducting a climate change risk assessment. ICLEI's European Resilience Management Guideline offer support, e.g. technical staff working on climate adaptation and urban resilience implementation. Partnership on Climate Adaptation as a part of Urban Agenda for the EU finds the best way to translate the needs of cities into concrete action.

Furthermore, the important role of Ecosystem-based adaptation to enhance local resilience is recognised in city networks concerning the European municipalities, e.g. the Making cities resilient campaign (UNDRR), the Resilient Cities annual conferences (Local Governments for Sustainability, ICLEI), and the Resilient Cities Network.

Learn more about how cities can adapt to climate change to become future-proof, climate-resilient cities, visit the Cities and Towns section

For guidance on the development, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of cities climate change adaptation strategies and plans, visit the Urban Adaptation Support Tool

To view the current and future climate hazards facing European cities, and their vulnerabilities and adaptive capacities, visit the Urban Adaptation Map Viewer

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