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
Why sustainable water management needs a systemic solution

Ensuring that fresh water is available, in a sustainable...

Why sustainable water management needs a systemic solution
In The News
Integrating nature with technology to strengthen climate adaptation

The European Commission released the new EU Climate Adaptation...

Integrating nature with technology to strengthen climate adaptation
In The News
EIT Climate-KIC is a key player in helping Europe adapt to climate change

EIT Climate-KIC welcomes the new EU strategy on adaptation...

EIT Climate-KIC is a key player in helping Europe adapt to climate change
In The News
Edinburgh: building climate resilient infrastructure and communities

A labyrinth of cobblestone streets, dimly lit and presided...

Edinburgh: building climate resilient infrastructure and communities
In The News
Residents of Kessel-Lo, Belgium, are invited to shape the future of their neig...

EIT Climate-KIC is working with the city of Leuven...

Residents of Kessel-Lo, Belgium, are invited to shape the future of their neighbourhood
In The News
Improved urban parks increase communities’ climate resilience

Start Park, a project led by citizens from Florence,...

Improved urban parks increase communities’ climate resilience
In The News
New accelerator programme geared towards systemic change secures key partners

Following its Open Call, the New Accelerator programme has...

New accelerator programme geared towards systemic change secures key partners
In The News
New videogame builds climate awareness among players

Change Game, a videogame financed by EIT Climate-KIC and...

New videogame builds climate awareness among players
In The News
Organic and homemade food brought to the dining rooms of large corporations

Carlota Mateos and Juan Vila, co-founders of PlenEat have...

Organic and homemade food brought to the dining rooms of large corporations
In The News
Climeworks added to Microsoft’s climate portfolio

EIT Climate-KIC supported Climeworks, a carbon capture technology, is...

Climeworks added to Microsoft’s climate portfolio
In The News
Circular Slovenia named in 100 Climate Policy Breakthroughs

The peer-to-peer learning platform for governments, Apolitical, included EIT...

Circular Slovenia named in 100 Climate Policy Breakthroughs
In The News
New tool uses satellite imagery to accelerate sustainable agriculture

Supported by EIT Climate-KIC and developed by its partner...

New tool uses satellite imagery to accelerate sustainable agriculture
In The News
EIT Climate-KIC at the Climate Adaptation Summit 2021

EIT Climate-KIC will be taking part in the Climate...

EIT Climate-KIC at the Climate Adaptation Summit 2021
In The News
Green Invest from Stuttgart and Start Park from Florence win Climathon Awards ...

A total of 140 teams of citizen finalists applied...

Green Invest from Stuttgart and Start Park from Florence win Climathon Awards 2020
In The News
Biden’s Opportunity for Reinventing Climate Innovation

Joe Biden will be sworn in today as 46th...

Biden’s Opportunity for Reinventing Climate Innovation
In The News
EIT Climate-KIC’s Open Accelerator: collaboration, not competition

It is no secret that to tackle climate change...

EIT Climate-KIC’s Open Accelerator: collaboration, not competition
In The News
New platform inspires sustainable Nordic wood construction

This week marks the launch of NoMuWood.com, an EIT...

New platform inspires sustainable Nordic wood construction
In The News
European Union launches Pact to support citizen-led climate action

On Wednesday 16 December, the European Commission is launching...

European Union launches Pact to support citizen-led climate action
In The News
“An avalanche of hope and energy”: The power of Paris

Our Climate Champions 2020: Melissa Capcha. Five years on...

“An avalanche of hope and energy”: The power of Paris
In The News
“Let’s find ways to take action within our abilities”

Our Climate Champions 2020: Gopal Kumar Mohoto. Five years...

“Let’s find ways to take action within our abilities”
In The News
“Climate change is outpacing us, there is no time for excuses”

Our Climate Champions 2020: Cristina Aleixendri Muñoz. Five years...

“Climate change is outpacing us, there is no time for excuses”
In The News
COP26 gives Scotland “a platform to showcase… what’s possible”

Our Climate Champions 2020: Kit England. Five years on...

COP26 gives Scotland “a platform to showcase… what’s possible”
In The News
COP26 might be postponed but “climate action cannot wait”

Our Climate Champions 2020: Melani Furlan. Five years on...

COP26 might be postponed but “climate action cannot wait”
In The News
A climate service for flood risk mapping in urban areas

The SaferPlaces project, supported by EIT Climate-KIC, has created...

A climate service for flood risk mapping in urban areas
In The News
Raising climate awareness through art in the Glasgow City Region

The Glasgow City Region uses arts as a means...

Raising climate awareness through art in the Glasgow City Region
In The News
Helping Europe achieve a circular economy transition

EIT Climate-KIC, EIT RawMaterials, EIT Digital, EIT Food, EIT...

Helping Europe achieve a circular economy transition
In The News
EIT Climate-KIC and EASME host WCEF event on circular economy

The World Circular Economy Forum brings together business leaders,...

EIT Climate-KIC and EASME host WCEF event on circular economy
In The News
Citizens across globe eager to contribute to a post-COVID recovery

Over 4,500 citizens from around the world will join...

Citizens across globe eager to contribute to a post-COVID recovery
In The News
Transformative climate action and COP26: Join our webinar

Are you working to deliver transformative change for a...

Transformative climate action and COP26: Join our webinar
In The News
Madrid, Amsterdam and Milan: Three cities putting citizen participation at the...

The Extinction Rebellion or Fridays for Future global actions...

Madrid, Amsterdam and Milan: Three cities putting citizen participation at the heart of climate action