Land's End, Sennen, United Kingdom
Image credits: Annie Spratt on Unsplash, 2016

Climate change affects the energy sector in multiple ways, ranging from changes in seasonal and annual heating and cooling demands; to risks and opportunities on energy production and supply conditions. Risks include modifications in power plant efficiency rates, problems with cooling water and damage to energy infrastructures caused by extreme weather phenomena. Furthermore, energy infrastructure can be more exposed to damages by changing climate conditions.

The new EU Adaptation Strategy highlights that climate change impacts across borders and continents  matters for the functioning of international energy markets and energy supplies to the EU. In particular, port infrastructure disruption matters for the transportation of energy fuels, climate-change-induced conflicts matter for energy security, and the changes in the polar regions induced by climate change matter in terms of new supply routes and permafrost thawing that may threaten fossil fuel extraction sites and pipelines in the Artic.

Policy Framework

The European Commission in general aims to increase the climate resilience of infrastructure including energy by providing strategical frameworks such as the Framework Strategy for a Resilient Energy Union with a Forward-Looking Climate Change Policy (2015). This document, among other things, guide the assessment of new and existing technical infrastructure, including energy infrastructure, in view of their resilience to current and future climate risks and the respective adaptation measures.

The New 2021-2027 Cohesion Policy does not have a specific item on climate-resilient infrastructures as it its predecessor. However, there is an enhanced focus on climate policy, and on greener, more efficient and sustainable energy. Indeed, the energy sector is not only prone to important climate-related vulnerabilities: it is key for the EU climate action, primarily because of its role in mitigation as one of the main sources of anthropogenic GHG emissions. Given this dual role, mainstreaming adaption in this sector appears of paramount relevance and this is duly taken into account in the new EU Adaptation Strategy.

Overall strategic directions and priorities of the European Commission for the energy sector were outlined in the 2030 Framework for climate and energy, the Energy Security Strategy and the Energy Union.  In recent years, sustainability and decarbonization concerns gained relevance within the EU energy strategy. In November 2018, the new long term EU GHG reduction strategy A Clean Planet for All was launched, with the goal of steering the EU economy and society towards a CO2 emissions-free future for 2050. The strategy consists of eight alternative pathways towards this end. The strategy envisages investing into realistic solutions, empowering citizens and aligning action in policy, finance, and research.  The 2019 European Green Deal has set carbon neutrality as the primary strategic objective for the EU, (to be pursued, among the other things, by decarbonizing the energy sector and boosting energy efficiency in buildings) and the 2021 European Climate Law, aimed at making it a legally binding target, is under approval). Such a substantial decarbonization effort, and the resulting realignment of energy policies with the Green Deal, is likely to have important consequences on the adaptation options of the sector.

The Commission is supporting climate-proofing of infrastructures in the EU, including those related to energy. On the request of the European Commission, European Standardization Organizations as CEN and CENELEC are fostering the integration of climate change adaptation in energy infrastructure standardization since 2014, in particular through the CEN-CENELEC Coordination Group ‘Adaptation to Climate Change’ (ACC-CG).

Within the Environmental Assessment Directives, climate change is one of the aspects considered for infrastructure resilience since 2014. 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 Practical Guidance for Integrating Climate Change and Biodiversity into Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) Procedures were published by the European Commission in 2013. Furthermore, considerations of climate change impacts were factored into the 2015 guidelines and methodologies of the Transeuropean Network Energy (TEN-E). In December 2020, the European Commission adopted a proposal to revise the 2013 guidelines. The European cohesion (or regional) policy, which provides funds to the Member States to develop new infrastructure projects, such as for instance power grids, encourages the assessment of climate resilience of these projects.   

The New EU Adaptation Strategy does not have a specific section on the energy sector but includes several recommendations which are, directly or indirectly, relevant for this sector. Direct mentions include:

  • the relevance of droughts and hence, of inclusion of adaptation in water management for the operation of hydropower and thermal powerplants;
  • the integration of the adaptation strategy with the monitoring procedures required by the Governance of the Energy Union and Climate Action);
  • the inclusion of water efficiency considerations within the regulations for energy labelling and energy generation.

General provisions of the strategy, relevant for the energy sector, are for instance those related to fostering smarter adaptation by increasing our knowledge of complex and cascading vulnerabilities and impacts, such as the ones likely to occur in a complex and multi-layered system as the energy system. Similarly, the need for climate-proofing new investments applies to all energy infrastructures, including both energy production and energy transport and distribution.

The energy sector is indirectly relevant for other actions and ideas included in the Strategy. It must be taken into account when dealing with the integration with other ‘European Green Deal’ initiatives, notably the ‘Renovation Wave’ which deals extensively with energy use in the built environment, the ‘Circular Economy and Zero Pollution Action Plans’, and the Smart and Sustainable Mobility strategy, due to the role played by energy in manufacturing and transport.


Improving the knowledge base

Relevant information on the impacts of climate change on the energy sector at global level has been provided by the International Energy Agency (IEA), in particular about the climate resilience of the electricity sector. Incremental risks of climate change on energy systems for global temperature increase of 1.5ºC and 2ºC have been assessed in the IPCC special report on global warming of 1.5 °C. The Copernicus Climate Change Service has launched an operation service for the energy sector to use in their management decisions.

The Joint Research Center (JRC) has carried modelling studies to assess the impact of climate change on the energy sector.

The EEA published in 2019  the report Adaptation challenges and opportunities for the European energy system, which analyses the needs for climate change adaptation and climate resilience in Europe’s energy system now and in the future.

Within the EU Seventh Framework Programme for Research and Technology Development (FP7), several research projects that cover the resilience of the energy sector were funded. These include the ToPDAd (Tool-supported Policy Development for Regional Adaptation) project, which provides among others information on impact and vulnerability assessments as well as adaptation strategies for the energy sector, and EUPORIAS, which provides knowledge on future variability of climate to achieve cost-effective solutions for the future operation of the energy grid.

Adaptation to climate change has been a focus of the Horizon 2020 EU funding programme for research and innovation, for instance the resilience of critical infrastructure like smart grids. While the European Program on Critical Infrastructure Protection also includes natural hazards, climate change is not yet part of that program, although ensuring “a higher level of understanding of the risks/threats that critical infrastructures face now and might come to face in the future” is a priority of the program that covers all future threats, thus , in principle, also those stemming from climate change. Methodologies have been developed in order to consider how to use policies on existing infrastructure in Europe in a way that supports the infrastructure resilience. The Horizon 2020 programme funded projects that covered adaptation in the energy sector like RESIN and EU-CIRCLE project. The RESIN project assisted cities in the development robust adaptation strategies on their most critical infrastructure. The EU-Circle project developed a Union-wide framework to support vital infrastructures to be prepared to natural hazards, including climate change.

Other relevant EU funded activities are the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT) Knowledge and Innovation Communities KIC Innoenergy and the Climate-KIC.


Supporting investment and funding

EU funding for adaptation is supported by the Multiannual Financial Framework 2021-2027, which ensures that climate adaptation including energy related adaptation actions have been integrated into all the major EU spending programmes: LIFE programme; European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD) and the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF). Further information can be found here.

Highlighted indicators

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