Reconciling Adaptation, Mitigation and Sustainable Development for Cities

The Earth's climate is changing. And with climate change, cities – and the people who live in cities - face increasing risks from flooding, heat waves and other extreme weather events. Adapting to this change could be decisive for the future of cities. But how to adapt? What are the costs? And how to rank options and measures to make urban infrastructure resilient?

The European research project RAMSES gives answers to these questions. Through understanding city characteristics and climate change impacts on the urban scale, the project assesses risks and vulnerabilities and quantifies the costs and benefits of respective adaptation options.

RAMSES delivers much needed quantified evidence of the impacts of climate change and the costs and benefits of a wide range of soft (e.g. land use planning) and hard (e.g. infrastructure alteration) adaptation measures. RAMSES engages with stakeholders and end-users from the outset to ensure the information is policy relevant and ultimately enables the design and implementation of adaptation strategies in the EU and beyond. RAMSES focuses on climate impacts and adaptation strategies pertinent to urban areas due to their high social and economic importance. Ultimately, RAMSES provides the evidence basis that leads to reduced adaptation costs as well as better understanding and acceptance of adaptation measures in cities.

These ambitious aims of RAMSES are achieved through the following specific objectives:

  • Development and application of methods and tools to assess climate impacts, vulnerability and risks in cities;
  • Methods to quantify the economic costs and benefits of climate change adaptation (via top-down/bottom-up approaches);
  • Assessment of the environmental, social and economic effects related to climate change, at sector level with particular attention to cities which are concentrations of high economic and social importance;
  • Consideration of human responses to adaptation and other drivers of change such as mitigation, demographic change and sustainable development issues - including the investigation of conflicts and synergies between mitigation and adaptation actions;
  • Integration of this knowledge base into decision making in adaptation policy as well as in all other policy and business areas potentially affected by climate change; and,
  • Provision of outputs that enlarge databases of socio-economic data related to climate change impacts, vulnerability and adaptation.

The RAMSES project aims to develop an advanced methodology for presenting urban impacts and estimates of adaptation costs and benefits using a ‘common currency’. In this way, stakeholders will be able to make direct comparisons across cities and sectors with a specific focus on the financial costs of adaptation. RAMSES will follow two complementary lines: a generalized approach will identify key urban infrastructure and characteristics and their relation to efficiency regarding adaptation and mitigation in agglomerations. This line will be complimented by a detailed, high resolution approach to simulate the effects of climate change for selected case studies. Both will form the basis of a new analysis of the institutional and political context to promote changes and finally the development of city specific transition strategies. Stakeholders within the selected case studies will be included in this process throughout the project duration.

The RAMSES approach will capture ‘top-down’ drivers of change, but also provide the ‘bottom-up’ local context for assessing climate risks and the costs and benefits of adaptation RAMSES will develop cost assessment strategies on the basis of an intermediate complexity systems modelling. This is being done  through the identification of typical categories and functions of urban systems rather than the analysis of each and every component. Climate impacts such as storms, heavy rains, drought, sea level rise or heat waves vary from one location to another. The same holds true for infrastructure and other assets that might be threatened by these impacts. These regional differences in climate and other drivers of change will be identified to establish the ‘top-down’ risks and drivers of change that different European cities, and their regions, may be exposed to. The analyses are complemented by a bottom-up approach, which utilises a well established multi-purpose city model. RAMSES aims to transfer this model category to other places and to show how large cost assessments may differ when comparing bottom-up and top-down approaches. Case Studies, like Antwerp, London, Bilbao or New York support the methodological development in terms of generalisation and standardization aspects.

It is expected that RAMSES provides standardised and transferable methods for damage and adaptation cost calculation at city level briefly explained in a video.

In a first step, different climatological threats need to be analysed in detail and with much broader coverage. For example, the actual and annual heat island effect in European countries was estimated for more than 100,000 villages/cities. Several model runs were performed for future heat burden. Coastal damages related to sea-level rise were calculated for more than 140 European coastal cities using the SEADAM model. Based this type of analyses, the future adaptation needs can be estimated and the development of suitable methods can be started. For example, the model simulation showed that heat burden in the future can be tenfold compared to today. An additional study demonstrated  that with a new approach we can estimate the threshold for heat related access mortality in urban areas for any arbitrary city. These standardised assessments are the basis for more sound cost estimates. Another example showed that the expected damage related to sea-level rise/storm surges increases with a larger pace than sea-level rise itself.

At the moment, the project is working on applicable methodologies which can estimate costs of adaptation in an adequate way. For the case study of Antwerp we showed that heat related averted losses in case of a consequently applied air conditioning can approach more than 600 million € between 2081-2100. A similar amount can be expected if one applies increased ventilation (approx. 500m €) while behavioural change accounts only for ~ 150m €. The SEADAM model is currently extended and will comprise a module which automatically defines adaptation needs for cities and calculates their costs. This means that the amortization point of investments can be calculated much easier. The frequent exchange with stakeholders showed that for most of them it seems to be difficult to handle advanced cost assessment tools. Therefore, it was decided that in the health sector a simple statistical Excel Sheet will be provided to support city stakeholders. In particular the close cooperation with decision makers also made clear that in a lot of cases only rough and vague ideas exist on how climate resilience can be achieved for a respective city. For this purpose the project is currently developing an audiovisual guidance tool to support decision makers and foster mutual learning between cities. This approach will be complemented by a transition model development based on results achieved in the case studies to support climate change related decision making.

Interim project results and other documentation like journal articles on specific topics such as the economics of health damage and adaptation to Climate change in Europe, are already available on the project website.

Potsdam-Institut für Klimafolgenforschung e.V.(PIK) DE
London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE)  UK
University of Newcastle upon Tyne (Tyndall Centre), (UNEW)  UK
Vlaamse Instelling voor Technologisch Onderzoek N.V. (VITO) BE
Fundación Tecnalia Research & Innovation (TECNALIA)  ES
Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) NO
T6 Ecosystems s.r.l. - T6 ECO IT
The Climate Centre sprl (TCC) BE
Climate Media Factory UG (CMF)  DE
Institut Veolia Environnement (IVE) FR
Universite de Versailles Saint-quentin-en-yvelines  (UVSG) FR
WHO Europe International
ICLEI Europe Europe



Start date



60 months 

Project Coordinator

Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research

Contact Point

Prof. Dr. Jürgen Kropp

Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research

Telegraphenberg A31, 14473 Potsdam, Germany

Send mail

Project website

Last update:25 Nov 2016

Document Actions