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Towards ‘just resilience’: leaving no one behind when adapting to climate change


Despite efforts to adapt to climate change in Europe, the most vulnerable groups in society are still the most affected. Projected climate change, an ageing society and persisting socio-economic inequalities mean that differences in vulnerability and exposure to climate change are likely to continue. In addition, adaptation responses may worsen existing inequalities or even create new ones. This briefing 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.

Key messages of the briefing: 

  • Climate change affects all Europeans, but the level of impact differs across society. Those most affected tend to be those already at a disadvantage, because of their age, health or socio-economic status.
  • The unprecedented rise in temperatures since the 1990s, the ageing European population, urbanisation and disease prevalence have led to the increasing exposure of vulnerable populations to heat. Moreover, nearly half of city hospitals and schools are in areas with strong urban heat island effects, thus exposing their vulnerable users to high temperatures.
  • In some European countries, the areas at higher risk of floods tend to have higher proportions of disadvantaged people than areas at lower risk of floods. In addition, approximately 10% of schools and 11% of hospitals across Europe are located in potential flood-prone areas.
  • The climate adaptation measures in place do not benefit everyone in society to the same extent. For example, the most vulnerable groups tend to have lower access to green space and are least able to pay for flood insurance or flood-proofing measures.
  • Without consideration of equity in adaptation, the existing inequalities may be reinforced, or new inequalities may arise.
  • Although EU and national climate policies draw attention to vulnerable groups and emphasise the need for equitable adaptation solutions, the practical implementation of such solutions remains scarce.
  • Ensuring that no one is left behind requires a focus on equity at all stages of adaptation planning, implementation and monitoring, and the meaningful engagement of vulnerable groups.
  • Appropriate guidance for decision-makers and the sharing of effective examples of equitable adaptation measures are needed urgently to achieve just resilience in the future.

Reference information

European Environment Agency

Published in Climate-ADAPT Jul 01 2022   -   Last Modified in Climate-ADAPT Dec 12 2023

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