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). Climate change is likely to influence almost all components of cities and towns – their environment, economy and society.  This raises new, complex challenges for urban planning and management. Climate change impacts on the hubs of Europe's economic activity, social life, culture and innovation have repercussions far beyond their municipal borders. As an urban-specific action of the EU Adaptation Strategy, the Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy aims to foster local level activities on adaptation in Europe. The impacts of climate change that are experienced by cities and towns in Europe differ based on their geographical location and their specific vulnerabilities. However, all cities are affected by the changing climate, which impacts many aspects of urban living, quality of life and the provision of essential services such as transport, water, energy, housing, health care, social services etc.

Poor urban design can aggravate the impacts of climate change. For example, 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). The large proportion of impervious surfaces also reduces natural drainage, leading to more severe urban floods during heavy rains. Urban design aimed at tackling climate change impacts - for example, through boosting green infrastructure – 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.


Policy framework

Although the European Commission has no direct responsibility at the local level, it has policies in place to support European cities and towns.

Through Mayors Adapt, an initiative proceeding from the EU Adaptation Strategy’s Priority Action 3: Promoting adaptation action by cities, the European Commission engages urban municipalities in taking action to adapt to climate change. In 2015, Mayors Adapt merged with the Covenant of Mayors to form the Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy that now covers both adaptation and mitigation actions. Nearly 9000 cities and towns across the EU have joined the initiative. The EU-funded Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy joined forces with the international Compact of Mayors and became the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy in 2016. It is an international alliance of cities and local governments with a shared long-term vision of promoting and supporting voluntary action to combat climate change and transition to a low emission, resilient society. The share of population covered by the Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy signatories is one of the indicators measuring the progress towards Sustainable Development Goals in Europe in relation to SDG13: Climate Action.

The Urban Agenda for the EU calls for a better coordination between the numerous EU policies relevant to urban areas. Adaptation to climate change is one of the priority themes addressed under this framework. The Partnership on Climate Adaptation under the Urban Agenda for the EU, consists of cities, countries and EU-level institutions. An Action Plan has been devised under the partnership aiming at better regulation, better funding and better knowledge of adaptation to climate change in urban areas. The Plan came into force in January 2019, after a period of public consultation and revisions,  and covers the period until June 2020.

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 IPCC special report on global warming of 1.5 °C addressed climate change impacts in urban areas and adaptation options to reduce the risks associated with global warming of 1.5 and 2°C above pre-industrial levels.

Several research and innovation funding programmes have been put in place by the European Commission to further develop the urban adaptation knowledge. The 2018-2020 EU research programme Horizon2020 includes themes such as “Enhanced climate resilience in Europe and beyond” that explicitly covers cities. In addition, “Innovative solutions for inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable cities” is a cross-cutting theme of the research programme. Horizon 2020 facilitates development of tailored tools, such as climate services, and approaches for understanding and implementing adaptation action at all levels, including the cities. The earlier Framework Programmes have already supported numerous research projects that have produced results highly relevant for urban adaptation.

The Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S), which 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.

Joint Programming Initiative Urban Europe coordinates urban resilience research among Member States and finances urban-specific climate change research through joint calls. Climate-KIC, one of six Knowledge and Innovation Communities set up by the European Institute of Innovation and Technology, aims to develop promising climate innovations and bring them to market. It features both adaptation and sustainable urban development among its themes. Furthermore, the European Commission 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 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, following the previous EEA reports on urban adaptation in 2012 and 2016. Another recent report of the European Environment Agency – ‘Financing urban adaptation to climate change’ addresses the challenge of financing adaptation actions. The Climate-ADAPT Database includes numerous other publications on urban adaptation.

The web-based Urban Adaptation Support Tool, developed within the framework of the Covenant of Mayors initiative, 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. The tool also provides access to knowledge resources specifically targeted to local adaptation practitioners. Furthermore, signatory cities of the Covenant of Mayors enjoy opportunities for peer-to-peer learning through a dedicated online platform, capacity-building events and a twinning programme. Most recently a series of webinars on adaptation was organised to showcase city experiences and provide learning opportunities. The Covenant of Mayors also provides cities with a wealth of case studies of tried and tested examples.

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, such as Copernicus Urban Atlas, Joint Research Centre databases, Eurostat City Statistics (formerly Urban Audit), EEA climate impacts indicators and EU-funded research projects. It also allows cities to explore their own and their peers’ climate risks, as well as the adaptation initiatives European cities take part in.

The European Commission, European organisations and city networks organise and support knowledge sharing events for cities to share experiences and learn from each other, including the Urban Resilience Forum (previously named Open European Day)  and Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy events.


Supporting funding and investment

LIFE programme 2014-2020 Action Grants support adaptation-related local-level activities: developing policy and management approaches, improving knowledge base, mainstreaming adaptation and developing adaptation strategies, as well as the demonstration and implementation of adaptation measures.

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. Two further EIB and European Commission instruments indirectly support adaptation: 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 EEA 2017 report Financing urban adaptation to climate change is a reference source on the available EU funding and financing that demonstrates practical, implemented examples. 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. The guide also includes information about support services and innovative financing schemes.

Highlighted indicators

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