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
Related Goal
Goal 9: Reboot regional economies
Articles you may be interested in
In The News
Brill Power’s new innovation radically increases battery life and storag...

Brill Power, supported by EIT Climate-KIC, has launched the...

Brill Power’s new innovation radically increases battery life and storage capacity
In The News
EIT Climate-KIC CEO Dr. Kirsten Dunlop gives TEDx Talk

EIT Climate-KIC CEO Dr. Kirsten Dunlop delivered a talk,...

EIT Climate-KIC CEO Dr. Kirsten Dunlop gives TEDx Talk
In The News
Putting theory into practice: EIT Climate-KIC Pioneer innovating the Greek mar...

To tackle complex climate challenges, we need a broader...

Putting theory into practice: EIT Climate-KIC Pioneer innovating the Greek maritime sector
In The News
EIT launches call for proposals to boost innovation in Higher Education Instit...

Unlocking the potential of higher education institutions for innovation...

EIT launches call for proposals to boost innovation in Higher Education Institutions
In The News
Dolomites forging climate resilience

The Italian Dolomites, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, are...

Dolomites forging climate resilience
In The News
People-powered resilience: Andalusia announces new climate action plan

The region’s climate action plan has been announced, with...

People-powered resilience: Andalusia announces new climate action plan
In The News
Built by Nature: new initiative to accelerate the transition to sustainable co...

The built environment accounts for close to 40 per...

Built by Nature: new initiative to accelerate the transition to sustainable construction in cities
In The News
The State of California and EIT Climate-KIC advance partnership for climate in...

Glasgow, 8 November – The California Governor’s Office of...

The State of California and EIT Climate-KIC advance partnership for climate innovation
In The News
COP26: UN Climate Change and EIT Climate-KIC partner to establish new Global I...

A new digital Global Innovation Hub has been launched at...

COP26: UN Climate Change and EIT Climate-KIC partner to establish new Global Innovation Hub
In The News
ClimateLaunchpad announces 2021 competition winners

EIT Climate-KIC’s ClimateLaunchpad – the world’s largest green business...

ClimateLaunchpad announces 2021 competition winners
In The News
EIT Cross-KIC New European Bauhaus launches Ideation – Deadline Extended

EIT Climate-KIC has launched a call for ideas on...

EIT Cross-KIC New European Bauhaus launches Ideation – Deadline Extended
In The News
Call for proposals: Scaling the New European Bauhaus Ventures

The European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT) has...

Call for proposals: Scaling the New European Bauhaus Ventures
In The News
Glasgow City Region in the race to resilience

Glasgow, which is hosting this year’s UN Climate Change...

Glasgow City Region in the race to resilience
In The News
Gipuzkoa’s quest for sustainability

Gipuzkoa, the smallest Spanish province located in the Basque...

Gipuzkoa’s quest for sustainability
In The News
EIT Climate-KIC to host week-long celebration of climate innovators

The EIT Climate-KIC Week of Action will celebrate, recognise...

EIT Climate-KIC to host week-long celebration of climate innovators
In The News
EIT Climate-KIC launches new series of circular economy courses

As companies and practitioners around the world are looking...

EIT Climate-KIC launches new series of circular economy courses
In The News
NetZeroCities: the new project leading European cities’ transition to net-ze...

Starting in October 2021, the new project NetZeroCities will...

NetZeroCities: the new project leading European cities’ transition to net-zero emissions by 2030
In The News
In the face of complex challenges, Europe stronger together, says EU President...

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen outlined her...

In the face of complex challenges, Europe stronger together, says EU President von der Leyen
In The News
New IPCC report reveals urgent need for climate innovation

The IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report has launched. The report...

New IPCC report reveals urgent need for climate innovation
In The News
Moving beyond ‘brown coal’ in Europe’s rural regions

Together with Partners, EIT Climate-KIC is leading a process...

Moving beyond ‘brown coal’ in Europe’s rural regions
In The News
EU’s “Fit for 55” to spur policy innovation for climate action

The European Commission has released its “Fit for 55”...

EU’s “Fit for 55” to spur policy innovation for climate action
In The News
Munich Re and ERGO invest in EIT Climate-KIC carbon removal programme

Major German corporate group sets the ambition to accelerate...

Munich Re and ERGO invest in EIT Climate-KIC carbon removal programme
In The News
23 pilot projects selected by EIT to unlock higher education’s innovation po...

The European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT) has...

23 pilot projects selected by EIT to unlock higher education’s innovation potential in Europe
In The News
Investing in start-ups scales the offering of climate adaptation solutions in ...

A partnership between EIT Climate-KIC and CDC Group, the...

Investing in start-ups scales the offering of climate adaptation solutions in African and South Asian countries
In The News
Irish Aid extends support for innovation and development from the ground up

The Government of Ireland’s development assistance programme, Irish Aid,...

Irish Aid extends support for innovation and development from the ground up
In The News
EIT Climate-KIC showcases climate innovation at R&I Days

EIT Climate-KIC participated in the European Commission’s Research and...

EIT Climate-KIC showcases climate innovation at R&I Days
In The News
Branch Magazine wins Ars Electronica Award for Digital Humanity

Branch Magazine, a collaboration between EIT Climate-KIC, Mozilla Foundation...

Branch Magazine wins Ars Electronica Award for Digital Humanity
In The News
Cross-KIC project to boost circular economy in Western Balkans

The circular economy concept is of crucial importance to...

Cross-KIC project to boost circular economy in Western Balkans
In The News
Exploring new horizons with Pioneers into Practice

Enrolment is now open for placement hosts and participants...

Exploring new horizons with Pioneers into Practice
In The News
Circular bioeconomy start-up receives €2 million from European Innovation Co...

EIT Climate-KIC supported Lixea (formerly Chrysalix Technologies) has received...

Circular bioeconomy start-up receives €2 million from European Innovation Council Fund