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Urban adaptation in Europe: what works?

Implementing climate action in European cities

The European Environmental Agency (EEA) report «Urban adaptation in Europe» highlights the urgent need to adapt European cities to climate change and provides an overview of actions they are taking. The report provides a rich source of information to support climate adaptation policies across Europe, from EU to municipal level.

EEA (2024) Urban adaptation in Europe: what works?
Image: EEA

Average temperatures across Europe are rising faster than the global average, and Europe's cities are feeling the impacts of climate change more regularly and more severely. With the summer of 2023 breaking temperature records, the case for investing in societal resilience to climate change has never been clearer.

As European cities increasingly feel the impacts of climate change, such as heatwaves and floods, there is a clear case for investing in urban societal resilience, the EEA report states. Cities have an essential role in the implementation of adaptation actions, which need to take into account local conditions and specific vulnerabilities.

European cities are adapting to climate change through a wide range of effective actions, including urban planning and building codes, economic incentives and insurance, early-warning systems and information campaigns. Emerging areas of opportunity for adaptation include promoting urban agriculture, creating more liveable public spaces and protecting cultural heritage.

They are also increasingly implementing nature-based solutions, which are included in 91% of local adaptation plans analysed in the report. Nature-based solutions are effective for cooling and water retention in cities, and they also provide many other benefits, such as space for recreation and reducing pollution. However, due to the magnitude of expected climate impacts, it may still be necessary to combine nature-based approaches with other types of actions, including physical infrastructure, the EEA report notes.

The EEA report highlights several enabling conditions for successful adaptation. These include sustained political commitment that is often linked to adequate long-term funding, good governance and engagement of local citizens, learning from other cities and knowledge-based decision making.

The report highlights that adaptation is required across all sectors and at all governance levels, and that actions will need to both address current climate impacts and protect against greater, future risks. The EEA report also stresses that if actions taken at the local level are to be properly upscaled, much more tangible targets are needed to measure progress. Currently, only 2% of indicators used for monitoring in local adaptation plans are linked to a specific adaptation target.

In March, the EEA published the first ever European climate risk assessment, showing that Europe’s current policies and adaptation actions are not keeping pace with the rapidly growing climate risks. According to the report, densely-populated, urban areas are at particular risk from heatwaves and extreme precipitation.