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5.3 Mainstreaming: Integrating adaptation into instruments and sector policies

The uptake and implementation of adaptation goals and measures in sector policies and their instruments is essential because climate change affects virtually all sectors of administration and socio-economic activities, and national or sub-national adaptation action plans are thus usually multi-sectorial, cross-cutting policy documents. As a result, adaptation cannot be performed in isolation from existing policies (e.g. legislation, funding systems), instruments (e.g. legislation, strategies, plans, programs, projects, finance, education), management structures (e.g. networks) and processes (e.g. in decision making) of other sectors, but has to be implemented to a large part through sectoral lines of action. Implementing adaptation thus requires the integration of adaptation policies into sectors. An important part of this mainstreaming of adaptation is the integration into sectoral policy instruments. The main means of achieving policy integration is horizontal governance, which entails mechanisms, institutions and processes for coordination, collaboration and networking.

Mainstreaming essentially means integrating adaptation into all levels of sectoral policy-making, from policy agendas, legislations, strategies, instruments (such as programs and plans) to budgets, projects and daily working routines. A main goal is to achieve coherence of public policies, i.e. the alignment and harmonisation of different sectoral policies with climate adaptation goals in order to minimize conflicts, avoid trade-offs, and foster mutual synergies towards achieving common overarching adaptation outcomes.

In principle, a broad portfolio of existing instruments is available that can be used to implement adaptation strategies and action plans across sectors and levels, making them a main means of achieving mainstreaming and vertical implementation. Integration of adaptation into policy instruments entails screening and reviewing relevant existing instruments, identifying entry points for adaptation, and incorporating adaptation goals and concerns. If modifications of instruments already in place should not be sufficient, new instruments to implement adaptation have to be developed and established. An ample mix of policy instruments balancing ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ stimuli is likely to be most effective in putting the broad range of adaptation measures typically laid down in adaptation action plans into practice.

Possible instruments may cover the following spectrum:

  • Legal instruments (laws, regulations, decrees, ‘soft law’ such as standards)
  • Economic instruments (funding, taxes, fees, public procurement, grants, loans, market-based)
  • Informational instruments (studies, databases, information campaigns, advise, trainings, guidance and work aids, events, websites)
  • Partnership instruments (Public Private Partnership Agreements, voluntary agreements, collaborative projects)
  • Hybrid strategic/planning instruments (plans, strategies, programs, planning instruments)

An example for regulatory mainstreaming is the setup of sectoral adaptation plans, which may be driven by legal requirements or promoted by a general strategic framework for mainstreaming. Mandatory obligations for setting up sectoral adaptation plans or for integrating adaptation into existing sector policy documents, as they are in place in some European countries, are certainly a push factor for adaptation policy integration. However, alone they are not sufficient to ensure effective implementation in practice, but should be combined with "soft" forms of horizontal governance. These may include giving sector representatives adequate leeway for co-developing their respective adaptation measures, thus allowing them to develop ownership for implementation, or developing adaptation solutions that are attractive and custom-fit to sectors and deliver benefits in their own self-interest.

Mainstreaming of climate adaptation at the level of EU policies is an important driver of adaptation policy integration at national level. Examples include EU policies for water management (Water Framework Directive), flood risk management (Floods Directive), disaster risk reduction (Civil Protection Mechanism), urban planning (Urban Agenda for the EU, Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy), and green infrastructure (Strategy on Green Infrastructure) as well as cross-sectoral policies like Environmental Impact Assessment and insurance policy. Moreover, Interreg programmes in transnational cooperation regions, macro-regional strategies and international conventions support mainstreaming of adaptation in European countries and regions on programmatic and project level. Climate-ADAPT provides information on various EU policies in which mainstreaming climate change adaptation is ongoing or explored.