Garden in side WUR building

Image credits: WUR

Buildings can be vulnerable to climate change. In the future there may be an increase in the risk of collapse, declining state and significant loss of value as a result of more storms, snow or subsidence damage, water encroachment, deteriorating indoor climate and reduced building lifetime. The European Commission aims to increase the climate resilience of infrastructure, including buildings. New and existing buildings need to be assessed for resilience to current risks and future climate changes and planned or upgraded accordingly.

 Besides impacting the structural features of a building, climate change can influence the conditions under which people live, work and interact indoors.. In particular, buildings’ users need to use heating and cooling systems to cope with thermal discomfort brought about by temperature extremes. EU Policies covering this aspect are outlined in the Climate-ADAPT Health page The Directive on Energy Performance of Buildings and the Energy Efficiency Directive provide guidance on this regard.

Policy framework

The European Commission is revising infrastructure development standards. The aim is to take better into account the impacts of climate change in building investment decisions. On the request of the European Commission, European Standardization Organizations as CEN and CENELEC are fostering the integration of climate change adaptation in standardization of the construction/building sector since 2014, in particular through the CEN-CENELEC.

Within the regulations on Environmental Assessment Guidance Directives, climate change is one of the aspects considered for infrastructure, including buildings. The Environmental Assessment of individual plans, public infrastructure plans or programs ensures that all environmental implications of a project are considered before decisions on infrastructure are made. The project should be assessed on its impact on climate change and their vulnerability to climate change. Practical Guidance for Integrating Climate Change and Biodiversity into Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) Procedures was published by the European Commission in 2013. The Strategic Environmental Assessment is undergoing a revision.

Urban areas are at the core of the Europe 2020 strategy. The EU Urban Agenda process coordinates the various European urban initiatives. Among them, several are relevant for supporting urban adaptation including buildings - in particular Mayors Adapt, part of the Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy. The Climate-ADAPT Urban webpage is specifically dedicated to urban adaptation.

Furthermore, green infrastructure measures promoted by the European Commission, are suitable to support resilience in urban areas and the built environment. Green infrastructure includes, among others, green corridors, green urban areas, trees in cities as well as green roofs and walls. Buildings can be protected by integrating green infrastructure in urban planning, as well as by using nature-based solutions in the built environment.

As a part of the climate action within the 2020 European Green Deal, the Renovation Wave Communication, launched in October 2020, aims at doubling renovation rates in the next ten years and making sure renovations lead to higher energy and resource efficiency. While lacking a specific coverage of adaptation issues, the Communication has implications on the adaptation options for buildings, as it points, among other things, to the need to review the standards for heating and cooling in buildings. Moreover, the envisaged priority areas of the initiative cover the buildings for most vulnerable people offer options to improve the readiness of society towards the effects of heatwaves.

The Adaptation Strategy includes a number of actions tackling the climate vulnerabilities of the built environment, while being mindful of the cross-cutting relevance of buildings within the European climate policy. For instance, the Renovation Wave is seen as one of the European Green Deal initiatives with which the Adaptation strategy is to be integrated.

The Strategy highlights the need to give priority to nature-based solutions such as urban green spaces and green roofs and walls, which can help reducing maladaptation (a practice that the Strategy recommends avoiding). In the case of buildings, for instance, nature-based solutions can provide a more sustainable alternative to the sole use of air conditioning to reduce excessive indoor heating.

The Strategy flags the need to improve the preparedness of buildings to withstand climate change impacts; at the same time, the Strategy is mindful of the role that buildings can play in large-scale adaptation, for instance by helping to reduce the urban heat island effect by means green roofs and walls, and of the need of provide more accurate predictions of  climate change stresses  on the built environment. At the building scale, investment policy decisions need to be underpinned with solid climate data  - including household-scale decisions on whether to renovate.  Other strategic priorities involving buildings relate to the role of insurance, for which the climate protection gap for infrastructures and in particular for the built environment needs to be closed; and to the water-energy nexus, whose vulnerabilities the building sector can help tackling. Within the Renovation Wave initiative in 2021, a revision of the 2016 Green Public Procurement criteria for office buildings, have been launched. The revision will also cover climate resilience criteria and it will be based on indicators developed in the new European framework for sustainable buildings (LEVEL(s)). The latter, also recently launched in 2020, aims at assessing the sustainability performance of buildings, throughout their full life cycle.  It draws on a range of indicators that cover health and thermal comfort, risk of extreme weather events, sustainable drainage and water consumption.


Improving the knowledge base

The IPCC special report on global warming of 1.5 °C has addressed climate change impacts and adaptation options in the building sector that can contribute to limiting warming to 1.5ºC.

The Eurostat Urban Audit provides indicator-based information on the adaptive capacity of cities including infrastructure and buildings. The Urban Adaptation Map Viewer provides indicators, e.g. soil sealing and green urban areas.

Within the European Commission’s Research and Innovation programme Horizon 2020 knowledge for adaptation to climate change in building infrastructure is one of the topics covered in the work programme. Relevant projects are, e.g., RESIN and EU-CIRCLE. The RESIN project will help cities to come up with robust adaptation strategies on their most critical infrastructure. EU-CIRCLE project will develop a Union-wide framework to support vital infrastructures to be prepared to natural hazards, including climate change. Starting in 2021 as Horizon 2020 comes to its end, its successor research program Horizon Europe will cover buildings within the Destination 4 “Efficient, sustainable and, inclusive energy use” of Cluster 5 “Climate Energy and Mobility”.    

Some research and Interreg projects focussing on green infrastructure in climate change, also covering the protection of the built environment, are for example the Ramses Project, Future Cities and Grabs. Many more projects on nature-based solutions in urban climate resilience are being set-up within the scope of H2020 and Interreg.

Further knowledge on urban adaptation is being provided on the Climate-ADAPT Urban  page.


Supporting investment and funding

The EU funding to support infrastructure resilience, including buildings, is mainly organised by the Cohesion Policy, more specifically, via the Regional funds.

Other types of EU funding adaptation in the infrastructure sector are grants from the European Investment Bank. The European Investment Bank actively promotes climate resilience in the financed projects.

The EU Solidarity Fund intervenes in case of emergencies, after damage has been incurred. Climate change related events may be financed as well.

Insurances aim to financially compensate damages of disasters, which are expected to increase in occurrence as a consequence of climate change. Insurance cover is a very important instrument of adaptation to climate change in the infrastructure sector, including buildings.

EU funding for adaptation is supported by the Multiannual Financial Framework 2021-2027 which ensures that climate adaptation actions have been integrated into all the major EU spending programmes. Further information can be found here.

Highlighted indicators

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