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5.4 Multilevel coordination and supportive governance framework

Climate change affects all levels of governmental, administrative and territorial organisation, ranging from the EU and national level to sub-national, regional and local/city levels. All levels thus have to plan and take anticipatory action on climate adaptation within their respective sphere of authority. Adaptation thus is a typical multi-level governance task. Implementing adaptation across levels of governance in a coherent and effective way requires adequate mechanisms and arrangements for multilevel coordination and cooperation. The national level has a central role in aligning its adaptation policies with EU and transnational levels and in supporting adaptation processes at lower-ranking levels, encompassing all steps of the adaptation cycle. Vertical governance to promote adaptation at lower-ranking levels entails providing a clear strategic and legal framework, funding and financing mechanisms, and a facilitating, enabling and empowering framework, including provision of information and other non-monetary forms of support.

Higher-level support for adaptation activities at lower levels gains in importance the more the national adaptation policy process progresses toward the implementation stage. This is because climate change impacts hit most directly at more local scales, and it is primarily the regional and local level where a large part of concrete adaptation measures need to be taken. At the same time, lower-level authorities are often severely restricted by limited resources and capacities (budget, staff, expertise, contacts to relevant actor networks, etc.) and thus need "help from above". Climate-ADAPT offers the Urban Adaptation Support Tool to guide cities, towns and other local authorities through the adaptation process and to help them fulfill the requirements under the Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy.

Higher (national or sub-national) levels can support adaptation policy making on lower levels through various mechanisms and efforts, including legal requirements, policy inputs, funding, capacity building and other non-monetary support measures. In doing so, it is possible to capitalise on facilitating factors:

Supportive governance framework and non-monetary support measures:

  • Top-down legal requirements: Legal obligations for authorities at lower levels to set up adaptation plans can be an important driver, but are up to now present only in a minority of European countries. Some national adaptation strategies require that municipalities develop their local level strategies, and legal obligations can also originate from sectoral policies, including such at EU level. It may also be an option to include adaptation explicitly in the statutory tasks of municipalities. In any case, top-down requirements need to go hand in hand with support for fulfilling this task, including provision of funding.
  • Policy inputs from higher levels: Even if most national adaptation strategies and action plans are soft policies without legally binding effects, they provide a knowledge base, reference frame and model for lower levels. They fulfill important functions in terms of awareness-raising, agenda-setting, communication, motivation and capacity building, and they give legitimation to policy makers that want to set up adaptation plans at their own levels. In a similar way, the EU Adaptation Strategy has emphasized the need for adaptation action at Member States level.
  • Knowledge generation and provision: An important role of higher-level adaptation bodies lies in generating a knowledge base for adaptation and providing usable knowledge resources and information products to adaptation actors at lower levels. Examples include climate scenarios, climate impact, vulnerability and risk assessments, and decision support tools (manuals, guidance, work aids, etc.). These resources should be prepared in customized, tailored and target group-oriented ways, be easy to understand and eye-catching, e.g. by using visualisation formats. Involving local or regional target group members in co-design of such information products benefits their usability.
  • Knowledge brokerage: Web-based adaptation portals, like Climate-ADAPT, transnational platforms and national adaptation portals, give broad access to adaptation knowledge in central, bundled, quality-assured and user-friendly ways. Especially for actors at regional and local levels, similar central information hubs could be established at sub-national or regional government level, catering tailored information to these specific target groups and offering additional personal counselling.
  • Advisory services: Personalised, face-to-face knowledge brokerage in interactive settings is more effective than top-down, unidirectional information provision alone. Some countries offer adaptation advisory services for municipalities, i.e. qualified personnel that counsels local adaptation activities during on-site visits.
  • Training programs for regional and local actors: Organising training courses and peer-to-peer learning formats on adaptation targeting local (e.g. municipal climate officers) and regional actors (e.g. regional managers) and – following the "train-the-trainers" principle - staff of transfer agencies (e.g., Climate Alliance, regional energy agencies) are key to building capacities.
  • Working with transfer agencies: If available, existing transfer agencies, intermediary organisations and multipliers should be involved to communicate adaptation in regions and municipalities, promote agenda setting, provide process support and deliver information and advice. Such organisations and networks, like the Climate Alliance or regional development agencies, are used to working with local actors on eye level and are increasingly integrating adaptation into their counselling activities.
  • Organising dialogue formats: Higher administrative levels have a role in organising regional events, conferences, exchange workshops, networking meetings and peer-to-peer learning formats on adaptation. These are comparatively low-cost capacity-building and communication measures that yet can have a high leverage potential. Similarly, multilevel dialogue formats should be organised to foster exchange and learning between adaptation actors on different levels.
  • Aligning with existing structures and processes: Existing and well-working structures and processes targeting, e.g., issues related to mitigation, sustainable development, disaster risk reduction or ecosystem services at local/regional level offer suitable entry points for adaptation.

Public funding and financing by higher levels:

  • EU-level funding for adaptation: Funding and financing for adaptation in Europe is available through a wide range of EU funding instruments, many of them offering also financial support to regions and local-level activities. Comprehensive overviews of funding mechanisms are available on Climate-ADAPT at the EU funding section, the EU Regional policy section, and the Urban Adaptation Support Tool. National governments should take a role in facilitating access of sub-national actors to these funding sources and providing national co-funding
  • Dedicated funding for implementation: It is clearly an asset if national adaptation plans include explicit budget allocations, or consistent funding resources for implementing adaptation actions across levels are available otherwise. However, in most countries, national adaptation coordinators do not have any substantial funding to distribute, but rather implementation has to be financed through ‘standard budgetary mechanisms’, including regular budgets of sector state policies.
  • Setting up public funding programs for adaptation: National public funding of adaptation is an evident success factor and strong trigger for the uptake of adaptation policies at lower-ranking levels. Above all, financial support helps to overcome limitations in capacity at regional and local government levels. Funding instruments to support adaptation across levels should thus be established, either through creating new incentives or by integrating adaptation into other existing programs, such as for mitigation, sustainable development, or disaster risk reduction. To be effective in reaching local authorities, funding bodies should take into some accessory prerequisites: clear and coherent structure of the funding landscape; avoidance of parallel or competing funding instruments; alignment of funding mechanisms on different levels (EU, national state, sub-national governments); long-term continuity and thematic stability of funding offers, allowing to support long-term adaptation processes and transformative change.
  • Low-threshold access to funding: Especially smaller municipalities are lacking the expertise and administrative capacity to access many funding opportunities. Funding programs by national or sub-national governments should thus lower their access threshold, ease administrative burdens, and offer guidance and counselling services to interested beneficiaries.
  • Directing funding at the most effective subjects: In principle, a broad spectrum of funding subjects is available to support lower-level adaptation, including among others: external expertise, vulnerability and risk analysis, preparation of adaptation concepts, adaptation processes, or planning of implementation. However, evidence suggests that it is most effective to provide financial support for coordination capacities (staff costs of local adaptation officers/regional adaptation mangers), organisation of inter-municipal or inter-regional networks, and capacity building (trainings) for local/regional actors. It is worth considering to finance the investment costs for implementing concrete adaptation measures on the ground, e.g. in the form of pilot adaptation projects, because realisation of measures with concrete, visible effects can be a motivating starting point for a durable and comprehensive adaptation process.
  • Combining funding with "soft coercion": It is recommended to couple the granting of public funding with binding requirements, which secure compliance with quality criteria of "good adaptation", favour anticipatory adaptation approaches and contribute to multilevel coordination of adaptation policies. Examples for such requirements include: obligatory climate impact, vulnerability or risk analysis; written adaptation plan; instalment of specific coordination functions (adaptation officer etc.); consideration of higher-level adaptation plans and obligatory contacts with their coordinators; public participation.
  • Model region or pilot adaptation programs: Programs funding structured adaptation activities in selected regions or municipalities have proven to be particularly successful in some countries. They promote frontrunners in adaptation and generate good practice examples and lighthouse projects to inspire other cities and regions. Facilitating traits of these type of programs are that they combine top-down provisions with bottom-up priority setting, foster peer-to-peer learning and regional networks, and allow room for experimenting with innovative solutions without fear of failure.