The EU Adaptation Strategy 2013

Essay, 2018
11 Pages, Grade: A


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Development of EU Adaptation Strategy

3. EU Adaptation Strategy 2013

4. Critical overview

5. Future adaptation requirements and conclusion

6. Bibliography

1. Introduction

Climate policy for the European Union (EU) was irrelevant until the 70s, it became a topic on the political agenda only in the 80s, and today its policy includes adaptation.

The European Union recognises that some of the impacts of climate change caused by past emissions are irreversible. The policy responses of climate change are adaptation and mitigation.

The main reason for a weak adaptation strategy in mid 80s and 90s was the reluctance of the Member States (MS) to give up power to the supranational institutions. But it was only when the IPCC report put emphasis on adaptation arguing that it should concern even industrialized countries and not only Developing countries (DC) that things started to change. (Remling, 2018) The EU has adopted in 2013 the Adaptation Strategy, which has been strengthened since the 5th National Communication. “The strategy aims at contributing to a more climate-resilient Europe, by encouraging and supporting actions by Member States, promoting adaptation in key vulnerable sectors at EU level, and ensuring better-informed decision-making.” (European Commission, 2013)

The aim of this paper is to critically assess EU’s current trends in adaptation actions, as well as future adaptation requirements. In order to reach this goal this paper will rely on two main documents: sixth EU’s National Communication to the UNFCCC and to the correspondent UNFCCC’s in-depth review.

The first part will give a brief overview of the EU adaptation strategy, its development and the main official documents, the second part is a more detailed analysis and criticism on the actions described in the current EU adaptation strategy. Before the conclusion, the main criticism will be highlighted and the future adaptation requirement outlined.

2. Development of EU Adaptation Strategy

Adaptation refers to adjustments in ecological, social, or economic systems in response to actual or expected climatic stimuli and their effects or impacts. It refers to variations in processes, practices, and structures to moderate possible damages or to profit from opportunities linked with climate change. (Smit & Pilifosova, 2004: 879) The grade of capacity to adapt depends from the socio-economic characteristics of the community, region or system. It is common to make confusion between adaptation and resilience: “Resilience is defined as the degree to which a system can absorb a disturbance and return to its pre-disturbance steady state, whereas adaptation refers to the ability to modify behaviour or respond to the disturbance” (Rutherford et al., 2016)

Scholars make a difference between spontaneous and planned adaptation, the first is adaptation by households and communities acting on their own, while the second is a deliberate policy decision. Adaptation is not necessarily reactive, in fact it can be proactive or anticipatory. (Smit and Pilifosova, 2004)

In Europe adaptation has been lately implemented in all levels of governance, programmes have been running in the coastal and water management, environmental protection and land organisation and even disaster risk management. In the fields of heat-related illness, vector borne diseases, health and extreme weather events some examples of adaptation strategies would be: to implement weather watch/warning systems, to plant trees in urban areas, to implement education campaign and implement vaccination programs, to construct strong seawall and fortify sanitation systems. (Smit and Pilifosova, 2004)

The future risk for adaptation according to IPCC in Europe are increased economic losses, flooding, urbanisation, increasing sea levels, coastal erosion and peak river discharges, restriction of water availability, people affected by extreme heat events. (IPCC, 2014)

Although the negative impacts of climate change are significant, scholars try to find a link between adaptation and opportunities. (Smit and Wandel, 2005)

With the Green Paper from 2007 the commission recognises that all MS are going to be affected by the negative impacts of climate change. Two years later the Commission adopted a White Paper, which presents the main five reasons why the EU has to take action and implement adaptation strategies.

3. EU Adaptation Strategy 2013

EU adaptation strategy initiated in 2013 is based on three aims, characterised by eight actions. The three objectives are: promoting action by MS, better informed decision-making and third key vulnerable sectors.

The content of this section of the paper is a critical analysis of each action. The first aim is to promote action by all the Member States of the EU (MS), the Commission pushes and supports each MS to implement a comprehensive adaptation strategy and action plans. According to data collected by Climated-Adapt the implementation of National Adaptation Plans (NAP) and National Adaptation Stratgey (NAS) are not implemented homogeneously among the MS. According to the data collection of the platform ADAPT, several MS had no strategy at all until 2016, like Greece, Latvia or Croatia. The diversities in the implementation of the recommended strategy are several, the consequence is that some MS are really progressing and implementing successfully their strategies with the support of the EU, while other countries are far behind.

Following this description of the first action this paper wants to clarify what exactly these strategies involve, here are mentioned two examples. The first is theHeatwave plan for England(2016), this is a plan at national level which aims to inform the population in time so to prevent cases of death like it happened back to 2003. (Climate-Adapt) The second example is a project implemented at city level, in the city of Barcelona, the projectBarcelona trees tempering the Mediterranean city climateof 2016, aims, as the title says, to mitigate the temperature by planting many trees in the city. (Climate-Adapt)

With the second action, the MS dispose of financial resources from the LIFE fund. The LIFE found has a budget of €864 million for the period 2014-2020 to split between mitigation and adaptation. (European Commission, 2018) It works through projects, which are awarded through annual calls. These projects include demonstration, best practice, pilot or governance and information. As mentioned in the Multi-annual Financial Framework 2014-2020 the EU agreed to ensure that at least 20% of its budget is climate-related expenditure. (European Commission, 2016) It is a very ambitious target; scholars like Raynern and Jordan are quite sceptical. The main criticism is that there is no clear overview about the funds available, since there are many other sources, like: European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development, European Agricultural Guarantee Fund, European Investment Bank, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, national programs. Critics suggest that the added value of EU expenditure should be clearly identified, either in the form of a catalytic contribution (LIFE), or through the importance of using major EU budget instruments to address shared EU policy priorities (CAP, cohesion).

The EU supports even cities through the Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy, this is addressed in the third action. The Covenant of Mayors for Climate & Energy was launched in 2015, the aim is to inform, mobilize and support cities. It integrates Mayors Adapt initiative (lauched in 2014). Signatories now pledge: to reduce GHG emissions by at least 40% by 2030, to adapt to the impacts of CC, to translate their political commitment into local results by developing local action plans and reporting on their implementation. This initiative has limitations, it is on voluntary basis, and it covers only 600 + EU cities,covering 5+ million inhabitants, from 25 different MS. The same urban adaptation initiative has been introduced at global level, this brings together two Global Climate Action Agenda initiatives: the Covenant of Mayors and the Compact of Mayors. Cities commit to go beyond their respective national targets and to develop an adaptation strategy, the cities involved amount to 7,445, representing 9.3% of the total global population.

The fourth and the fifth action aims at a better-informed decision-making. The Commission wants to adopt a knowledge gap strategy. The Commission identified four gaps:1. information on damage and adaptation costs and benefits;2.Regional and local-level analyses and risk assessments;3. Frameworks, models and tools to support decision-making and to assess how effective the various adaptation measures are;4.Means of monitoring and evaluating past adaption effort”.(European Commission, 2016)

The Commission itself proposes a strategy. These gaps have to be addressed through further cooperation with MS and stakeholders in filling the gap and identifying tools to tackle them. The strategy includes: the promotion of vulnerability assessments taking into account the cross-sectoral overview of natural and man-made risks; to support the Joint Research Centre in its work to estimate the implication of CC and to undertake a comprehensive review on what global CC will mean for the EU. (European Commission, 2018)

The fifth action gives birth to a very important tool. To achieve a better-informed decision-making, the EU has to perfectionate the European Climate Adaptation Platform (Climate-ADAPT). It offers detailed information about adaptation, it is the main database supposed to be used by everybody, researchers, policy-makers and by all the MS. Some critical voices doubtthat the platform could be the main tool for all types of users, because of barriers like the language. They suggest that the platform should collect EU-level information and encourage the establishment national platforms linked to the European one. (European Commission, 2017)

The sixth strategy is to push for climate-proofing action at EU level. This means to address the key vulnerable sectors, which are agriculture, fisheries and cohesion policy. The EU has provided guidance in order to include adaptation in these three sectors.

The seventh action aims to ensure more resilient infrastructure, the EU wants to identify standards for better inclusion of adaptation consideration.

The last action is to promote insurance and other financial products for resilient investment and business decisions and the funding can be used to invest in risk assessments and tools or to build up capacities for adaptation. The purpose is to expand the market penetration of natural disaster insurance and to release the latent potential of insurance pricing and other financial products for risk awareness prevention and mitigation and for long-term resilience in commercial choices. Insurers are supposed to improve their help to manage CC risks (See Green Paper on the insurance of natural and man-made disasters). (European Commission, 2016)

After this overview of the action the European Adaptation Strategy and its actions, the next step is to identify its weaknesses and challenges.

4. Critical overview

The main criticism made by the UNFCCC Report of the centralized in-depth review of
the fourth communication of the European Community Critic on adaptation is that there is little information about the implementation of national adaptation strategies. Climate-ADAPT could facilitate the progress of member States in their vulnerability assessments and adaptation measures. (UNFCC, 2015) The document also identifies a lack of an integrated understanding of the net effects across sectors, this may limit coherent and co-ordinated adaptation planning and responses. Nonetheless, the report noted the progress the EU has made on adaptation-related activities presented in the White Paper. Adaptation is considered an ongoing process.

Rembling makes an interesting study from a theoretical discursive point of view, the author wants to find out what we really understand under the term adaptation. What does the EU mean? He analyses the three most important official documents of the EU, (Green Paper, White paper and the Adaptation Strategy of 2013), which give the perfect overview about what the EU means exactly with adaptation over a longer period of time. (Remling, 2018) Rembling first analyses adaptation in terms of the social logic of economic rationality, this sees “investing in excellent science and promoting innovation’ an act of adaptation in itself, as it contributes to the ‘EU’s preparedness for current and future impacts of climate change’”. (Rembling, 2018: 484) From a political logic perspectives, the fact that adaptation has been immediately associated with other fields, like risk management or energy security, can be interpreted as a tactic to avoid new alternative positive visions. (Rembling, 2018) Moreover, there have been some changes during the years in the official documents of the EU, for example, the risks of maladaptation are not mentioned anymore. The importance of engaging with civil society and public participation reduced significantly. Rembling’s main argument is that EU adaptation policy has particular depoliticizing effects, this means that EU is masking possible alternative interpretations of the meaning of adaptation. Rembling concludes that as a consequence adaptation will never represent an element of new suggestions.

The authors Duncan J. Russel and others studied how adaptation was able to integrate in sectorial policies, like the maritime, their outcome is that adaptation is still at the early stages and has several barriers before integrating completely in other sectors. (Russel et al., 2018) But further research needs to be conducted.

Climate change is an intergovernmental issue, the EU has no exclusive power on it and the EU Adaptation Strategy is a recommendation. These factors lead to several problems in its implementation. From the information given by each Member State of the EU under the European mechanism for monitoring and reporting information relevant to climate change[1]it results that several countries did not give any information about a national adaptation strategy (Latvia, Croatia) or about action plans (Portugal, Italy, Ireland). (Climate-ADAPT)

Some countries like Romania and Bulgaria insist on national sovereignty, this leads to more intergovernmental decision making in the field. For the future and the present situation, the author Rayner suggests that the EU should provide flexibility to MS in this field and at the same time ensure that the goal for 2030 will be achieved. (Rayner and Jordan, 2016)

5. Future adaptation requirements and conclusion

Scholars identified several suggestions how to improve the strategy. The EU should push MS to develop a more climate-resilient Europe and it should cooperate with non-EU countries. Moreover, it is important that the EU ensures greater coherence between mitigation and adaptation objectives and actions and try to link climate change adaptation to disaster risk reduction across all levels of governance (global, European, national levels).

A technical suggestion is to make the language of guidelines more accessible and to include adaptation considerations as a requirement in project development (not only major projects). After a specific study about costal projects, the author identifies the need to bind together the work of all actors involved in an initiative at the very beginning, currently this approach is implying a collaboration only in the last stages of the projects, after reparatory actions, assessing risks and vulnerabilities, identifying adaptation options and assessing adaptation options. (Rutherford, 2016) In general, there is a continuous need for research and to include more monitoring and tracking of implementation of national strategies.

Concerning the civil society the EU should raise of awareness about the topic among citizens.

In conclusion, this paper has presented the main characteristics of the EU Adaptation Strategy introduced in 2013, its aims and actions. The sixth EU’s National Communication to the UNFCCC and to the correspondent UNFCCC’s in-depth review are documents which have been taken into account to outline this paper.

Lastly, the main challenge presented by several scholars is the lack of an integrated policy in the environmental field. The same critic can be applied to the European adaptation strategy, the EU is giving directives, supports the MS and mainly is there to guide them in this field, but not all MS are addressing this issue, or not so urgently as they should do. The result in an ineffective strategy, o generally a too weak one. Like the author Selin claims, the EU consumption is always increasing and needs to be addressed, it is common opinion that policy makers have to necessarily be more environment friendly. (Selin, 2015)

It is also important to consider that adaptation has an important potential, it could represent a win-win strategy, it can take advantage and opportunities from the impacts of climate change.

The first evaluation of this strategy will be concluded by the end of 2018. There has been even a public consultation on the topic until March the first of 2018.

Until then, it is considered fundamental to address the challenges of adaption and follow recommendation form experts and important institutions like UNFCC.


[1]According to the Regulation (EU) No 525/2013.

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The EU Adaptation Strategy 2013
University of Malta  (Institute for European Studies)
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adaptation, strategy
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Amelia Martha Matera (Author), 2018, The EU Adaptation Strategy 2013, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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