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Adaptation option

Integration of climate change adaptation in land use planning

Integrated land use planning is a spatial-based strategy to allocate land for different uses, balancing economic, social and environmental values at national or sub-national levels. It is the process of supporting decision makers and land users in selecting the best combination of land uses to ultimately meet multiple needs for people, while safeguarding natural resources and ecosystem services. Land use planning is a well consolidated approach and key instrument in mitigating competing interests in land among groups, communities and distinct users as well as between traditional rights’ holders and state authorities or private companies. Integrated land use planning commonly addresses issues such as population growth, increasing competing uses on limited resources by diverse actors, land degradation and unsustainable urban development. Climate change represents an additional challenge to land use planning that cumulates with other non-climate related ones. Integrated land use planning that fully recognizes climate change can help in preventing climate impacts due to flooding, drought, water scarcity and heat stress, as well as reducing the exposure of valuable assets to risks related to such hazards. Strategic land use planning can also be useful to prevent and reduce impacts of other natural disasters that are both climate and non-climate related. For example, land-use planning is useful in case of snow avalanches, as for instance in Switzerland and Austria where zoning is used to restrict new building in areas prone to avalanches.

In other words, through land use planning, local and regional governments can increase their resilience to major climate changes and ensure that communities are equipped with built-in mechanisms to face and mitigate such changes. Integrated land use planning that fully recognizes and addresses the impacts of climate change, requires a more strategic and long-term approach compared to traditional spatial planning. To properly include climate change in land use planning, vulnerability mapping of current and future climate conditions should be included in the knowledge base of the planning process. Once the most vulnerable zones are identified, alternative uses and spatially-based adaptation options for those areas can be identified, discussed with stakeholders and agreed upon with support from experts (e.g. from biodiversity, forestry and agricultural sectors). 

Planning tools can be used to reduce climate risks in different ways including: (i) limiting development in hazard-prone areas; (ii) ensuring that the built environment can withstand a range of natural disasters; (iii) helping to preserve natural ecosystems protecting communities against hazards (for example, dunes that buffer coastal storm effects), (iv) promoting nature-based measures to adaptation, and (iv) educating stakeholders and decision makers about risks and opportunities and fostering dialogue about adaptation. Measures to avoid exposure of valuable elements to climate risks generally involve zoning, building codes (such as minimum floor heights and water proofing measures) and land use permits. Integrated land use plans can also act on land cover more widely, e.g. planning for afforestation and reforestation, conservation and restoration of ecosystems (e.g. wetlands and rivers) and rural or urban water retention areas. Integrated land use planning should give strategic directions that prioritize, whenever possible, the adoption of green, no-regret and nature-based solutions. In this case, a wide number of co-benefits for the environment and the society can be derived, including for example recreational opportunities, liveability and wellbeing especially in urban systems, biodiversity enhancement and ecosystem service provision.  


Additional Details
Reference information

Adaptation Details

IPCC categories

Institutional: Government policies and programmes, Institutional: Law and regulations

Stakeholder participation

Land use planning involves different administrative authorities acting at local, sub-national or national level; all of them having different competences and responsibilities. The national level usually approaches issues from a “macro-perspective”, considering the development of the entire country; sub-national levels promote “meso-perspectives”, with a focus on regional issues; and municipal levels have “micro-perspectives”, focusing mainly on the development of the communities within their municipality (GIZ, 2011). When it comes to adaptation planning these levels have to be brought in line, move in a common direction. This might be challenging because of possible conflicting visions and interests 

Moreover, successful planning requires contributions from a large range of actors and sectors such as agriculture, forestry, housing, transportation, energy, environment and very often individuals. As past experience shows conventional (top-down) planning approaches have had very little success due to a lack of dialogue and coordination - participation has been identified as a key factor for successful land use planning. It covers communication and cooperation between all actors involved. Stakeholder participation should ensure that all participants can formulate their interests and objectives in a dialogue, during conception, planning and implementation stages of the land use planning process. This form of planning emphasizes the joint learning by and with the local or regional population/stakeholders. Full stakeholder engagement is essential to define a future vision, set priorities in terms of climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction, avoid/minimise conflicts among sectors and enable synergies. 

Success and Limiting Factors

EU policies and subsidies strongly influence land-use changes at the regional scale. Strong policy support is necessary in the planning phase and is a key driver for the implementation of the planned measures. Proper stakeholder engagement is essential to ensure a transparent and shared planning process leading to commonly agreed spatial measures. However, personal interests of land owners can act as a limiting factor if they do not agree on the land use changes proposed. In addition, harmonisation of the land use plan with pre-existing planning instruments and sector policies can be challenging. Contrasting visions and objectives among different instruments must be avoided to ensure a smooth plan implementation. 

Lack of robust data, uncertainties in climate projections, effective collaboration and information sharing between different involved actors represent common limiting factors to planning.  

A land use plan is not a purpose in itself, but an instrument for achieving useful and sustainable land use. No land use planning should therefore get started without a thorough consideration and discussion of the available financial means and sources for its implementation. Without this security, even a well-established plan will soon run into financial bottlenecks, and it will not be possible to implement the measures foreseen in the plan. So the key issue is to link planning with budgeting – or even better budgeting with planning. 

Another aspect of the success of land use planning depends on the capacities of all actors, particularly of the lead agency responsible and those institutions and groups taking over the responsibilities for implementing the plan. The establishment of those capacities is often more complicated than expected. Decentralized land use planning structures often exist across Europe and the responsibilities are spread across different hierarchies. The capacity of those structures may differ greatly between different institutions, countries and regions. Lack of institutional coordination, underqualified staff, frequent staff changes, imbalances between assignments accepted and available capacities, and an orientation towards execution rather than planning are often limiting factors to land use planning.  


Costs and Benefits

Land use planning measures reduce damage costs by excluding some activities from risk areas or providing conditions under which particular development can be allowed in these areas. The Zuidplaspolder (the Netherlands) has been used for a large-scale urban development project: climate proofing of the area by spatial planning resulted in having a better cost/benefit ratio than single adaptation measures (e.g. flood-proof housing and adjusted infrastructure) (Bruin, 2013). Other studies (e.g., Tröltsch, et al., 2012) indicate that a cost benefit assessment is difficult to be carried out, also due to the high uncertainty of climate projections. A further aspect to be considered is that the benefit-cost ratio of a spatially-based adaption measure can depend on different perspectives, for example leading to benefits for a given community, but possibly reducing the value of certain individual properties. In Austria for example red zones (high risk zones) which are defined in “hazard zone plans” established at municipal level to counteract the effects of landslides and flooding, have been redesigned in some cases in order to cope with new risks due to climate change (e.g. Neustift im Stubaital). This makes the building of houses in these areas more difficult or even impossible, resulting in a loss of property value. 

Land use planning is affected by the implementation of a wide range of EU policies and directives, including the Common Agricultural Policy, Birds and Habitats Directives, the Water Framework Directive (WFD), the Floods Directive, the Integrated Coastal Zone Management policy, etc. On the other hand, planned measures are also expected to directly or indirectly contribute to the objectives of these policies and directives.  

For example, through the preparation of spatial plans, development control, and the application of planning techniques and approaches, spatial planning can contribute to the successful implementation of the WFD's 'basic measures' and can consequently help to encourage the sustainable management and protection of freshwater resources. Another example is the achievement of Natura 2000 objectives in combination with developments goals through spatial planning (Simeonova et al 2017). This holds a great potential for effectively reducing biodiversity loss and for ensuring compliance of different sectoral developments to nature legislation. 

Implementation Time

The time needed to prepare a land use plan is variable, depending on national regulations, the typology of the specific plan considered and its spatial scale. Time also depends on the participatory process that has been set up and on the possible conflicts arising among different authorities and stakeholders involved. Plan implementation is also variable and typically requires from 5 to 10 years, with periodical successive revisions and updates. 

Life Time

Adaptation through land-use planning that fully integrates climate change requires a long-term vision and long term objectives. Periodical revision of land use plans should be considered (every five to ten years), following a flexible and adaptive approach to spatial planning, to allow the incorporation of knowledge progress and actions revision based on the monitoring of the measures progressively implemented. The lifetime of a land use plan is largely related to the lifetime of the planned measures, spanning from two or three decades to more than 100 years, for example for complex interventions aimed at coastal protection or profound changes in land-use allocation.

Reference information


Zucaro, Z., Morosini, R (2018). Sustainable land use and climate adaptation: a review of European local plans 

FAO, (2017). Land resource planning for sustainable land management 

Bruin, K., Goosen, H.,van Ierland, E.C., Groeneveld, R., (2014). Costs and benefits of adapting spatial planning to climate change: lessons learned from a large-scale urban development project in the Netherlands. Regional Environmental Change volume 14, pages1009–1020 

Richardson, G.R.A., Otero, J. (2012). Land use planning tools for local adaptation to climate change. Ottawa, Ont.: Government of Canada, 38 p 

GIZ (2011). Land use planning. Concept, tools and applications  

Published in Climate-ADAPT Jun 07 2016   -   Last Modified in Climate-ADAPT May 17 2024

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