Adapting to climate change in Europe: Building a systemic and urgent vision

In the last few months, the school strikers for climate and activist movements such as Extinction Rebellion have catalysed public concern and media attention around the urgent challenge of climate change. This urgency is long overdue, and it represents welcome support for more progressive and radical action on climate change at all levels of policy and practice.

Narratives of adaptation and resilience have not so far been at the centre of these movements. The focus has largely been on mitigating climate change and preventing further escalation of risks and tipping points – understandably so given the growing public alarm at the consequences for people and planet. But there is a need for simultaneous change in the urgency and priority given to climate change adaptation.

Scientists and practitioners are gathering for the European Climate Change Adaptation conference (ECCA) in Lisbon on 28–31 May to share progress on adaptation across Europe. Member States, cities and regions are also appreciating the need to act and are developing adaptation plans and ‘declaring climate emergencies’ in ever greater numbers. But there remains a gap between the focus of the efforts and improvements – in specific areas of research, practice and policy – and the scale and nature of the challenge. Even with only limited further warming from now, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Special Report on 1.5°C shows us the potential for widespread disruption from climate impacts.

Drawing on our experience on these issues in the global South and innovation experiments in Europe, we argue the response to this challenge needs to be much more than a technical offer with single point  or sectoral solutions. It needs to be joined up and systemic, and it needs to include a political offer of transformation at the centre.

Firstly, addressing climate risks and promoting resilience can come with significant co-benefits – for business creation and innovation, economic growth and job security, a healthy and life-enhancing environment for communities – and an opportunity for community renewal and a positively refreshed state-society relationships. To achieve this, researchers and policymakers need to go beyond considering climate change adaptation as being only a lack of climate information, or focusing only on discrete policies or sectors, or treating mitigation and adaptation as separate components. We need to situate these specific inputs – which are very much needed – within a systemic approach to adaptation, and one rooted in the day-to-day socio-economic concerns of European citizens.

 An example from India shows how a labour guarantee scheme can be developed to build climate resilience and environmental public goods, integrating climate risks into a social instrument. Thinking about this in the European context would require us to open up how we think about the jobs agenda and lead research on the development of capacities and social welfare schemes.  When advocates of the ‘Green New Deal’ in the US or Europe talk about providing a jobs guarantee where people could be paid to work on creating carbon and biodiversity-rich landscapes, it is helpful to be aware that similar ideas have already been tested (with considerable success) in practice.

There are lots of exciting local initiatives on adaptation in urban and rural areas across Europe. Our experience shows local adaptation action needs to connect across scales to tackle risks, with the principle of subsidiarity.  This requires explicit consideration of how local action can be supported by actions at the regional and national scale to manage risk and change incentives. This needs better coordination and systemic analysis at each level, building shared objectives and accountability around who has the authority to act in each (interconnected) scale, with what implications.

Secondly, we need to combine the technical dimensions of resilience and adaptation with a compelling narrative based in public and political engagement, and the adaptation research community has an important role to play here.

Recent examples in Spain with the just transition deal for coal mining communities and the traction gained by the concept of the Green New Deal in the US show how this politics of transformation can gain momentum. At the same time, the protests of the ‘gilet jaunes’ in France, show the importance of approaches keeping socio-economic issues at the heart of the agenda. Recent months have also shown how high-ambition groups in Europe and beyond can quickly change the narrative and create the space for transformative action where it strikes a chord.

To take the steps needed for adaptation across Europe, we will need to make resilience and adaptation a core part of these urgency narratives. This will build the case for fast action on options that are aligned with the current policy direction as well as those that require a change in approach. For example, there are also limits to adaptation. Some communities will need support in redeploying to new sectors. This needs to be managed as part of an inclusive approach to resilience with support for communities living on the edge of climate impacts or living with the impacts of climate mitigation policies. All of this will require public commitment and buy-in to urgently adapt to the climate challenge.

The progress on research, tools and specific policy areas in the adaptation research community are all important parts of a societal response, but in themselves they are not sufficient. We need to make to make huge efforts to link our individual progress to look at whole systems, spillovers and the potential for maladaptation and perverse incentives in the gaps and overlaps of our work. Researchers can play a crucial role in transforming and catalysing ambition around adaptation in Europe if we all place the need for transformative public narratives and systemic approaches at the heart of our thinking and research.

For further insights and to participate in the discussion about systemic approaches to climate change adaptation, join EIT Climate-KIC at ECCA 2019 in Lisbon on 28 – 31 May. 

Find out more

 
Location
Portugal
Related Focus Area
Urban Transitions
Articles you may be interested in
In The News
EIT Climate-KIC to work with Google on Impact Challenge

EIT Climate-KIC is delighted to announce that it will...

EIT Climate-KIC to work with Google on Impact Challenge
In Detail
EIT Climate-KIC’s case studies on innovative land use set the stage fo...

EIT Climate-KIC launches ‘Innovations in land use,’ a collection of case studies demonstrating the organisation’s innovation-led, systemic approach that’s poised to help Europe deliver...

EIT Climate-KIC’s case studies on innovative land use set the stage for transforming whole systems
In The News
What role can finance play in the green recovery? EIT Climate-KIC and UNEP Fin...

EIT Climate-KIC, in partnership with the UNEP Finance Initiative,...

What role can finance play in the green recovery? EIT Climate-KIC and UNEP Finance Initiative ask leading thinkers to weigh in
In The News
EIT Climate-KIC supports European green recovery with €4 million for start-u...

EIT Climate-KIC is investing €4 million in nine climate...

EIT Climate-KIC supports European green recovery with €4 million for start-ups affected by COVID-19
Opinion
How public servants can engage unlikely allies to deliver climate policies
Juan Azcarate Deputy director of Energy and Climate Change, Madrid City Council
How public servants can engage unlikely allies to deliver climate policies
In The News
The City Finance Lab calls on urban leaders to help build back better

Organised by sustainability expert South Pole, the competition for...

The City Finance Lab calls on urban leaders to help build back better
In The News
EIT Climate-KIC supported cities – Leuven, Milan, Valencia and Vienna no...

Twelve cities are in the final stage of the...

EIT Climate-KIC supported cities – Leuven, Milan, Valencia and Vienna nominated as European Capital of Innovation 2020
Opinion
Going beyond investments in single-point solutions, an Opinion by Kirsten Dunlop
Kirsten Dunlop CEO, EIT Climate-KIC
Going beyond investments in single-point solutions, an Opinion by Kirsten Dunlop
In The News
The climate emergency demands bold policy innovations – can cities d...

While the challenges of climate change and a global...

The climate emergency demands bold policy innovations – can cities deliver? 
In The News
EIT Climate-KIC joins circular economy side event at UN High Level Political F...

“Bold leaders are needed to drive a collaborative approach...

EIT Climate-KIC joins circular economy side event at UN High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development
In The News
EIT Climate-KIC and Silesian Metropolis join forces to transform Europe’s la...

EIT Climate-KIC and the Metropolitan Association of Upper Silesia...

EIT Climate-KIC and Silesian Metropolis join forces to transform Europe’s largest coal region in the face of the climate crisis
In The News
Anders Wijkman represents EIT Climate-KIC at the International Society for the...

Speaking online at the inaugural Conference of IS4CE—the International...

Anders Wijkman represents EIT Climate-KIC at the International Society for the Circular Economy Conference
In The News
EIT Climate-KIC receives €8.4 million for innovation projects that stimulate...

Eleven climate innovation projects across Europe tackling COVID-19 related...

EIT Climate-KIC receives €8.4 million for innovation projects that stimulate job creation and support a post COVID-19 green recovery
In The News
CEO Kirsten Dunlop represents EIT Climate-KIC at Climate Policy Forum

On 25 June, EIT Climate-KIC attended the Climate Policy...

CEO Kirsten Dunlop represents EIT Climate-KIC at Climate Policy Forum
In Detail
A net zero future offers significant opportunities for the European economy,...

EIT Climate-KIC’s views on the EU 2030 Climate Target Plan.  The recent announcements from the European Commission on the EU Recovery Plan from the...

A net zero future offers significant opportunities for the European economy, society and citizens
In The News
EIT Climate-KIC supported LOOP-Ports project wins prestigious sustainability a...

The LOOP-Ports project, led by the Fundación Valenciaport  and funded by EIT Climate-KIC,...

EIT Climate-KIC supported LOOP-Ports project wins prestigious sustainability award
In The News
EIT Climate KIC joins roundtable as Republic of Korea moves Green Deal forward

On 24 June, EIT Climate-KIC attended the 7th Green...

EIT Climate KIC joins roundtable as Republic of Korea moves Green Deal forward
In our community
Water scarcity in Southern Europe: Manufacturing expert insights
Water scarcity in Southern Europe: Manufacturing expert insights
Opinion
A scientist’s opinion: Interview with Cliona Howie Del Rio about systems thinking
A scientist’s opinion: Interview with Cliona Howie Del Rio about systems thinking
In Detail
Citizen activation is essential for Europe to meet its climate ambition

EIT Climate-KIC provides ideas for action under the European Climate Pact. The debate on how to achieve ambitious climate targets is often dominated by...

Citizen activation is essential for Europe to meet its climate ambition
In The News
EIT Climate-KIC shines at the GLF Bonn Digital Conference, the year’s la...

EIT Climate-KIC’s Director of Sustainable Land Use and member...

EIT Climate-KIC shines at the GLF Bonn Digital Conference, the year’s largest global digital conference on the environment
In The News
EIT Climate-KIC supported Climeworks raises over €67 million to expand its c...

Climeworks, the world leader in capturing CO2 from air,...

EIT Climate-KIC supported Climeworks raises over €67 million to expand its carbon dioxide removal capacities
In The News
EIT Climate-KIC supported Zeleros raises €7 million for the development of h...

EIT Climate-KIC supported Zeleros Hyperloop has completed a financing...

EIT Climate-KIC supported Zeleros raises €7 million for the development of hyperloop in Europe
In our community
A just transformation for Rugeley, as the power station comes down
A just transformation for Rugeley, as the power station comes down
In Detail
Challenging paradigms as the gateway to innovation: New IIPP report for EIT ...

EIT Climate-KIC partner the UCL Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose (IIPP), which works on changing how public value is imagined, practiced and evaluated...

Challenging paradigms as the gateway to innovation: New IIPP report for EIT Climate-KIC’s Landscapes as Carbon Sinks Deep Demonstration
In our community
Water scarcity in Southern Europe: Raw materials expert insights
Water scarcity in Southern Europe: Raw materials expert insights
In Detail
Challenge-led system mapping: A knowledge management approach

The challenge-led system mapping approach responds to the need to improve the practitioner’s capacity to move towards system change by providing mechanisms by which...

Challenge-led system mapping: A knowledge management approach
In The News
EIT Climate-KIC is restructuring to deliver systems transformation for climate...

EIT Climate-KIC is restructuring to provide “systems transformation as...

EIT Climate-KIC is restructuring to deliver systems transformation for climate change
In our community
Water scarcity in Southern Europe: Food expert insights
Water scarcity in Southern Europe: Food expert insights
In The News
EIT Climate-KIC and partners reassess our values in the ‘new normal’

EIT Climate-KIC, together with Edgeryders, ETH Zurich and IOTA,...

EIT Climate-KIC and partners reassess our values in the ‘new normal’