Is urban adaptation just for big and affluent cities?


Or is there a way for towns and rural municipalities too?


It was, when I attended a conference on climate change adaptation in Hessen, one of the German Federal States, that  learned about inspiring activities and progress here at my current place of living. Even specific funding for implementing of adaptation action is available. While strolling around in the sun at lunch break, I came to chat with a colleague from a tiny municipality. She told me that it sounds all very well - the activities presented and the availability of funding. But how can you benefit from these when you are small, do not know how to start, where to get the necessary data and knowledge for to start even developing a funding application? How can they, left with no adaptation capacities but with regular flooding problems, get on?



I have heard similar stories earlier in different countries across Europe. There are these shining and truly encouraging examples of great adaptation effort and achievements. Some cities, like Copenhagen, even use adaptation to transform their whole city to become greener and more attractive and the same time. However, the majority of Europe’s municipalities has not yet started action. Some hundred cities have participated in European adaptation-related activities, while almost 7000 have already engaged in mitigation action says the EEA report Urban adaptation to climate change 2016. For sure, the number will have increased over the last year, but I would not expect a much different picture. In particular the smaller ones are the ones having most problems to analyse their situation and start action properly. Furthermore, considering that almost two thirds of the European population lives in towns, suburbs and rural municipalities, Europe needs a better focus on activating these to become climate-resilient.  

Smaller municipalities face different governance challenges


… than bigger ones and need different approaches. In the normal case, the person who should deal with adaptation is also responsible for several other working areas, like environment, urban planning, water management etc. This provides them close links and better ground for integration of adaptation efforts with other working areas, but it also means that this person has only very limited capacities to perform adaptation. Should each municipality stock up to have its own adaptation manager and team or is that out of proportion for smaller ones? Could there be another way?


When some time ago, we developed the EEA report, analysed and zoomed in into the maps showing cities engaged in adaptation action, we discovered a few clusters. Was it a mistake? The clusters included tiny municipalities that I never had heard of. One cluster is in the Province of Barcelona and we were wondering, if there is specific regional activity that leads to this picture. We found the contact, asked and indeed, the regional government – the Diputació de Barcelona - is very active in enabling its municipalities to adapt to and to mitigate climate change. It takes some of the work load from the municipalities that would be similar for all of them and performs them itself instead. Such are collecting and displaying the relevant data that is similar to all, to make information from the national and European level fit for the local situation, select and adapt appropriate tools, find funding sources and support application for them etc. This work meant more efforts from the regional authority than usual, but overall it is done much more efficiently across the province and reliefs the single municipalities. The result is strongly encouraging! (see page 57 of the EEA report)


Similar results we can see from cities acting in the frame of UNISDR’s Making Cities Resilient campaign in the Italian province of Potenza or some regions in Austria that follow similar approaches as the maps show.


Unleashing the potential of regional governments


Seeing that the regional level can be so effective in enabling many more municipalities than usual and including the small ones, this could be a break through to make countries and Europe really climate-resilient. Compared to this potential, I can  however see only very little attention to support other regions to follow that model. Most support and funding programmes go to the national level or the local level. If to a region, the activity focusses normally on the challenges that need a regional solution by considering the urban-rural linkages, such as river flooding. That is a very important approach too, however, the complementary approach that bundles action and enables each single tiny municipality to adapt is not really followed yet.


What is your experience? What could unleash that potential? Do we need simply more awareness for that potential? New funding strategies? Or an exchange fora of regions how want to enable? ...