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. A key policy used to support the resilience of buildings is the Cohesion Policy (also referred to as Regional Policy). In addition, the European Commission's EU strategy on adaptation to climate change includes a Staff Working Document that provide guidance in adapting the EU´s infrastructure.

Moreover, buildings also need to cope with temperature extremes, guidance is given under Directive 2018/844 amending Directive 2010/31/EU on the energy performance of buildings and Directive 2012/27/EU on energy efficiency.

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.

Within the regulations on Environmental Assessment Guidance (Directive 2001/42/EC and Directive 85/337/EEC), climate change is one of the aspects for infrastructure, including buildings. 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 Policy portal lists numerous European urban initiatives, and the EU Urban Agenda process attempts to better coordinate these. Among them, several are relevant for supporting urban adaptation including buildings, in particular Mayors Adapt that is now part of the  Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy. The Climate-ADAPT Urban webpage is specifically dedicated to urban adaptation.

Furthermore, green infrastructure policies 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 to use nature based solutions in 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 out, 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.


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. The JRC has furthermore developed a framework to assess resilience of critical infrastructures in technological and in economic terms.

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.

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 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. Among other activities the European Commission developed a Green Paper on the prevention and insurance of disasters in 2013 in order to appropriately support the development of insurance for climate change related damages.  The Commission completed a study in 2017 on the insurance of weather and climate related disaster risk. The study has increased the knowledge of insurance as a tool in adaptation and disaster risk reduction, by mapping the national insurance markets in 12 Member States.

EU funding for adaptation is supported by the Multiannual Financial Framework 2014-2020, which ensures that climate adaptation actions have been integrated into all the major EU spending programmes. Further information can be found here.

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