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| Roadmap to a White Paper on adaptation to climate change

Climate change is happening; it is a fact that can no longer be ignored. Europe needs to take measures to address global warming and try to prevent possibly catastrophic changes to the climate. The EU is taking steps to lessen Europe’s impact on the changing climate and reduce its ecological footprint. Step one in this process was the adoption of a Green Paper on adaptation to climate change. With input from the public, the EU hopes to draft a White Paper and have a concrete policy for climate change adaptation as soon as possible.

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Step one: Green Paper

On 29 June 2007, the European Commission took the first step in addressing climate change adaptation issues. The adoption of the Green Paper “Adapting to climate change in Europe – options for EU action” builds on the findings of the European Climate Change Programme. The Green Paper outlines the risks climate change poses to Europe and makes recommendations for how adaptation should take place at the European, national and local levels.

The European Commission fully recognises the need to adapt to climate change. All efforts to combat climate change will continue, but Europe needs to adjust to the changes that are already happening. Using potable water more efficiently, updating building codes to better withstand extreme weather, raising dyke levels and developing drought-resistant crops are all examples of actions the EU needs to take to adapt to changes that are already occurring due to climate change.

Reason for concern

The average global temperature has increased by 0.76°C since 1850. Current predications indicate that temperatures could rise another 1.8–4°C. This increase has already had a considerable impact on many physical and biological systems worldwide. Access to safe drinking water is becoming more and more limited. Biodiversity is at risk with 20–30% of plant and animal species likely to become endangered if temperatures continue to rise.

The risk of famine is increasing and the number of people at risk could become as high as several hundred million. Rising sea levels threaten the Nile, Ganges and Mekong deltas and could displace over 1 million people in each delta by 2050. Many small-island states have already been affected by increased sea levels. Human and animal health is also at risk.  Extreme weather events could lead to a substantial rise in infectious diseases.

Many of these risks are most strongly felt in the developing world where famine and natural disasters occur more frequently. However, this does not mean that Europe is safe. Its natural environment, society and economy will all be affected by climate change. Water scarcity will only increase in Southern Europe and coastal zones will continue to be at risk of rising sea levels. In addition, the energy sector will face great strain as there will be a higher demand for air conditioning and extreme weather could threaten energy infrastructure.

Adapting now

Putting into practice adaptation measures could save the EU and its Member States billions of euros. The sooner action is taken to adapt Europe to climate change, the better. Human lives can be saved, property damage can be reduced and ecosystems can be protected.  Action needs to be taken at all levels with help from all sectors.

At national level, disaster and crisis management needs to be improved. Rapid-response capabilities need to be boosted and disaster-prevention programmes need to be put into place. Adaptation strategies should be developed and shared to reduce costs across Member States. Particular attention needs to be given to the social elements of adaptation strategies as often the poorest parts of society are at the greatest risk.

At regional level, minimum standards need to be set and enforced. As regional and local authorities are the most knowledgeable about the local natural and human conditions, these authorities have a large role to play in adaptation.

As adaptation affects all of Europe, EU action will help ensure that adaptation policies cover all sectors involved and help in cross-boundary areas, such as river basins. The EU will further help to coordinate adaptation strategies and prevent overlaps.


Four-pronged approach

The Green Paper outlines four areas for adaptation action. Pillar one is early action in the EU: this involves integrating adaptation when implementing and modifying existing legislation. This can be done in a variety of policy areas such as agriculture, rural development, industry and services, energy, transport, health, water, fisheries and ecosystems. The EU is active in all of these areas and needs to consider adaptation when creating new legislation. In addition, adaptation should be integrated into Community funding programmes and the EU should develop new policy responses.

The second pillar is about integrating adaptation into external EU actions. When dealing with external partners, the EU needs to promote adaptation and make it part of its relationship with all third countries. Furthermore, adaptation policies could be shared between partners, with trade agreements used to promote green technologies and investment.

The third pillar aims to reduce uncertainty by expanding the knowledge base through integrated climate research. Research is key for effective adaptation as practical adaptation actions and measures must be based on sound, scientific, technical and socio-economic information. The increasing importance of research on adaptation to climate change has been recognised by the Commission in funding a number of projects related to this issue in previous Research Framework Programmes. In the Seventh Framework Programme, research on adaptation to climate change will play a bigger role and the EU will need to further promote research that can help develop a truly effective climate policy.

The fourth pillar is about involving European society, business and the public sector in the preparation of coordinated and comprehensive adaptation strategies. Adaptation could cause significant changes in many different sectors; as such dialogue is needed between affected parties, civil society and the EU, through which all parties could address their concerns and the most effective adaptation policy be created.

Step two: public debate

On 3 July 2007 the public debate on adaptation was launched. All interested parties came together to discuss the Green Paper, expressing concerns and suggesting changes and improvements. At end-July 2007, a web-based public consultation was initiated through which anyone could submit their opinions on the Green Paper. This was open until November 2007. Furthermore, in autumn 2007, four regional workshops were held in Finland, Portugal, the UK and Hungary. These workshops explained the adaptation strategy and the impact it would have on the different regions of Europe.

On 16 May 2008 a stakeholder conference was held in preparation of a White Paper on adaptation to climate change. Stakeholders discussed the results of the consultation period as well as preparations for the impact assessment and White Paper.

It is hoped that step three of this process – the drafting and adopting of a White Paper - can be completed by autumn 2008.



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  • Contacts in DG Research
    Directorate Environment
    (including climate change)
    Tel +32 2 29 68 958/90606.