The Garden City of Stains, France
Image credits: Europa Nostra, flickr 2003 - CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

In Europe, more than 74% of the population live in urban areas and this is projected to increase to over 83% by 2050 (UN 2018). European cities and their residents need to adapt and be resilient to changes in their environment, weather conditions and extreme events such as heatwaves, water scarcity, heavy rainfalls with stormwater run-off, flooding, and sea level rise caused by climate change. Long-lasting climate changes and extreme events can increase economic losses, damage buildings, decrease public health, quality of life and the provision of essential services such as transport, water, energy, housing, health care, social services in urban areas.

The vulnerability of cities to climate change differs for many reasons, including geographical location and physical characteristics. A prevalence of built-up areas and lack of green space leads to higher temperatures in urban areas (the so-called urban heat island effect), while a large proportion of impervious surfaces reduces natural drainage, leading to more severe urban floods during heavy rains. Urban zoning and land-use planning aimed at tackling climate change impacts - for example, developing city-wide green infrastructure or nature-based solutions – does not only lead to increased resilience of the urban area, but is likely to also have numerous co-benefits, such as improved air quality, healthier living environments, noise control, improved biodiversity and enhanced overall quality of life for citizens. Citizens are also key players in developing climate adaptation strategies in cities. Empowering citizens and working together with local communities are crucial to lower existing social inequalities when implementing climate-resilience actions.


Policy framework

The new EU Adaptation Strategy (2021) promotes policy-making, new investments and urban planning that are climate-informed and future-proofed. It also highlights the need to avoid “climate-blind” decisions by recording, collecting and sharing data on climate-related risks and losses among different sectors, including cities.

The EU Biodiversity Strategy 2030 ‘Bringing nature back into our lives’ highlights that the promotion of healthy ecosystems, green infrastructure and nature-based solutions should be systematically integrated into urban planning, including in public spaces, infrastructure, and the design of buildings and their surroundings. The European Commission calls on European cities of at least 20,000 inhabitants to develop ambitious Urban Greening Plans by the end of 2021. The Commission will support Member States and local and regional authorities through technical guidance and help to mobilise funding and capacity building.

To facilitate this work, the EU Urban Greening Platform will be launched, under a new ‘Green City Accord’ with cities and mayors closely collaborating with European Covenant of Mayors. The Urban Greening Plans will have a central role in choosing the European Green Capital 2023 and European Green Leaf 2022.

The EU Covenant of Mayors for Climate & Energy gathers local and regional authorities voluntarily committed to achieving and exceeding the EU climate and energy targets. They offer the technical and methodological support to local and regional authorities for planning and implementing climate adaptation strategies.

Beyond EU policy, the UN, national and regional governments provide a supportive framework for urban adaptation. Furthermore, there are various city networks and associations active in Europe that provide capacity building and support on urban adaptation. The Urban Adaptation Map Viewer provides an overview of European cities participating in various adaptation initiatives.


Improving the knowledge base

The European Commission is putting much effort into improving the knowledge base through systemic data collections and sharing. All data from EU scientific lighthouses such as Copernicus or Data Network (EMODnet) are freely and openly available to all users worldwide.

The European Environment Agency’s report Urban adaptation in Europe (2020) provides an up to date evidence base on adaptation planning and actions in Europe in the local context. Another recent report of the European Environment Agency – ‘Financing urban adaptation to climate change’ addresses the challenge of financing adaptation actions.

The interactive Urban Adaptation Map Viewer on Climate-ADAPT presents data on current and projected climate hazards affecting European cities and on cities’ vulnerability and adaptive capacity. It combines data from various sources. It allows cities to explore their own and their peers’ climate risks, as well as the adaptation initiatives European cities take part in.

The Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S) aims to provide key indicators on climate change drivers to support European adaptation and mitigation policies, is developing tailored climate data services for urban areas.

The European Commission launched a website The Smart Cities Marketplace in 2020. The aim of webpages is to bring cities, industries, SMEs, investors, researchers and other smart city actors together to share their project ideas and explore collaboration possibilities.

Engaging and empowering citizens EU has launched The Climate Pact webpage offering open possibility to people, communities and organisations to participate in climate action across Europe.

The website of Intelligent Cities Challenge (ICC) share information about the European Commission initiative that supports 136 cities in using cutting-edge technologies to lead the intelligent, green and socially responsible recovery.

The Urban Adaptation Support Tool, helps local adaptation practitioners plan and implement their adaptation actions by following the entire adaptation cycle, from obtaining political support, through assessing risks and vulnerabilities, designing a strategy and action plan, financing actions and monitoring and evaluating their outcomes.

Several research and innovation funding programmes have been put in place by the European Commission to further develop the urban adaptation knowledge. Knowledge sharing events for cities are organized to share experiences and learn from each other such as the European Urban Resilience Forum.


Supporting funding and investment

The EU research and innovation framework programme (2021-2027) Horizon Europe includes five key missions. These include ‘Climate-neutral & smart cities’ with specific Targets by 2030: to support, promote and showcase 100 European cities in their systemic transformation towards climate neutrality by 2030 and turn these cities into innovation hubs for all cities, benefiting quality of life and sustainability in Europe.

The European Commission coordinates research and investments on urban climate-resilience among Member States and finances urban-specific climate change research through co-programmed, co-funded and institutionalized calls under the Horizon Europe programme. Climate-KIC, one of nine Knowledge and Innovation Communities under the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT), aims to develop promising climate innovations and bring them to market. It features both adaptation and sustainable urban development among its themes. The European Innovation Council (EIC) is a novel funding instruments under Horizon Europe supporting innovations and connecting regional and national innovation actors. Furthermore, the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC) as well as ESPON 2020 and COST – EU-funded integrated inter-disciplinary and transboundary cooperation-based research programmes - have been addressing urban resilience and adaptation.

The European Green Deal provides an action plan that outlines the investments needed and financing tools available for achieving climate neutrality in 2050 in Europe. The EU will also provide financial support and technical assistance to help those that are most affected by the move towards the green economy.

Climate change adaptation is one of the priorities of the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and the fund foresees a minimum of 5% resource allocation to sustainable urban development. It also finances INTERREG cooperation programmes of cross-border, transnational and interregional cooperation that address urban adaptation in their calls. One of these programmes is URBACT which finances and enables EU cities to work together and develop integrated solutions to any urban challenge they face including climate change and adaptation. Furthermore, adaptation-related urban innovation is supported by the EU Urban Innovative Actions initiative.

The European Investment Bank (EIB) considers adaptation within financing for integrated, sustainable urban renewal via its JESSICA programme. The Natural Capital Financing Facility can be applied to finance nature-based adaptation measures and the Private Finance for Energy Efficiency instrument enables local banks in EU Member States to issue loans for energy efficiency measures.

The Covenant of Mayors’ Interactive Funding Guide gathers information on various funding initiatives open to cities that are managed by the European Commission, the Member States and key financial institutions such as the European Investment Bank.

Highlighted indicators

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