The European Commission’s adaptation strategy: 10 key points

The EU’s proposal for a climate change adaptation strategy states that adaptation is just as important as emissions reductions. Sweco’s CSO Mattias Goldmann summarizes the strategy in ten points and lists what you need to keep track of.

The European Commission has proposed a strategy for climate change adaptation. Others have placed great emphasis on assessing how good or powerful the strategy is, for example, the EEB has a detailed and critical review. Here I supplement the strategy with a more results-focused review in ten points – how can we best use the strategy in our work?

  1. Priority

What’s most important about the strategy is that it exists; climate change adaptation is now a clear priority, in parity with emission reductions. This is in line with how the Paris Agreement emphasizes adaptation and mitigation as equal, and how, for example, the Green Climate Fund emphasizes that both parts of climate work must be involved. Expect that adaptation will henceforth have more room in EU strategies and decisions.

2. Vision

By 2050, the EU must not only be climate-neutral but also fully resilient and adapted to inevitable climate change. The vision is part of the proposed climate law and will be integrated into other parts of the European Green Deal initiatives such as the biodiversity strategy, the renovation wave, the circular economy and the action plans for zero emissions, as well as the strategies for sustainable mobility, agriculture and forestry. Include an adaptation dimension when assessing where the EU’s strategies relevant to you are going.

3. Synergies

How climate change adaptation takes place is decisive for the effect it has on the other sustainability goals. The Commission emphasizes the link between nature-based solutions, synergies with biodiversity, restoration of natural areas and sustainable water use. Ensure that the work on climate change adaptation is in line with other sustainability goals, or that a minimum level does not cause significant damage from these perspectives.

4. Finances

Climate change adaptation now plays a clear role in the economic recovery, and will be included in the 37% of restart plans reserved for sustainability. In addition to this, no part of the budget should worsen climate change, whether in terms of emission reduction or adaptation – this is not new, but the fact that the Commission emphasizes it is an important signal for continued budgetary work both for the EU as a whole and for the Member States.

The European Investment Bank’s sustainability strategy must also be in line with the strategy, as must the support the EU provides to developing countries, where the water issue is particularly highlighted. Look forward to significant climate change adaptations in continued budget processes.

5. Guidelines

With the strategy, the EU starts developing a common response on how climate change adaptation should be designed, and in addition to the joint work, will clarify guidelines for national adaptation. Expect common tools and templates for climate change adaptation, with a focus on areas where the benefits of cooperation are clearest – such as seas, lakes and watercourses shared by several countries.

6. Mechanisms

The Commission will develop emissions reduction certificates to make it clear that work on climate change adaptation and nature-based solutions also contribute to the EU’s climate goals. It can then also serve as a model for the Paris Agreement’s financial mechanism, which in contrast to the CDM should clearly also capture climate change adaptation. Prepare for European and global mechanisms with both reduction and adaptation in focus.

7. Dissemination of knowledge

The strategy emphasizes the lack of knowledge about climate change adaptation. Existing knowledge will be better disseminated, including through the EU’s Risk Data Hub and a newly established observatory for climate and health under the ADEPT program, which in addition to the current mandate will also prevent negative health effects of climate change. Use the opportunities available with a focus on spreading knowledge about climate change adaptation.

8. Role models

The EU Horizon is commissioned to test solutions for integrated climate resilience, with a focus on civic participation. 200 communities will develop solutions for transformative climate change adaptation, with 100 demonstrators of deep resilience. In the same way, 12 standards for infrastructure have been updated so that climate change adaptation is included, and more are to be expected. Keep an eye on the financing and collaboration opportunities the strategy provides.

9. No target

The strategy emphasizes that it is now time to move from understanding to action but lacks both legally binding and measurable targets as well as a concrete timetable. The strategy emphasizes that the majority of implementation is at Member State level. Expect demands that countries will need to report that the policies pursued lead to developed resilience from a climate change adaptation perspective.

10. To be sharpened

In the European Parliament’s environment committee’s negotiations with the Commission, they will pursue binding and quantifiable objectives for Member States’ adaptation work, and a clearer link to already adopted strategies such as Biodiversity and the Water Framework Directive (WFD). As this is not (like the taxonomy) a delegated act, the Commission must take the Parliament into account. Keep track of the continued treatment and expect the final strategy to be more concrete in parts where the Commission’s proposal is vague.

Mattias Goldmann
Chief Sustainability Officer Sweco

The EU Commission’s strategy is to be found at        

Read also the Urban Insight Report: Planning for Climate Adaptation