We are well on track implementing adaptation in our municipality, aren‘t we?

Some years ago, the German government introduced a funding scheme for municipalities enabling them to employ a climate change mitigation manager. The scheme became increasingly popular. However, there had not been a similar funding programme for climate change adaptation managers yet. Nevertheless, one can observe that an increasing number of municipalities report that they are actively implementing adaptation measures as well. Sounds good. Are we on the safe side?

Over the last weeks and month, I talked with a couple of smaller municipalities that are not so much in the spotlight that told me about their activities to adapt to climate change. I think that is a great development. After having had a closer look into their plans and measures, I started however wondering if the municipalities are indeed well on track. Creating more green spaces, green roofs and walls can be an excellent way to deal with climate change impacts. In addition, such measures have many other benefits and are nice to look at. Still, will these single measures be sufficient to cope with the upcoming impacts? Are they of the right dimension, at the right place and of appropriate design? Do they need to be complemented by other measures? Do they already make the municipality resilient and safe?


It looks like building the first floor before the basement!?

What I rarely found in the plans is information on their vulnerability to climate change. Do they know the specific challenges of climate change they will have to face in couple of years or decades? Of course, they have heard about the risks posed by rising temperatures, heatwaves, increased risks for extreme precipitation events, floods, water scarcity situation etc., but they usually do not have a clear idea on how these will hit specifically their different groups of citizens, houses, indispensable infrastructure and services. As climate change impacts are altered by local conditions, such as high soil sealing, low-lying areas or a high share of elderly and lonely people, the impacts differ from place to place and would require specific responses.  I miss the foundation of local climate adaptation action – a systematic vulnerability assessment showing the specific risks and hotspots! First then, one can really plan and chose the most effective measures, isn’t it?

Where is this situation rooted in? There are probably several factors involved. On the positive side, awareness and the feeling of an obligation to act has increased. These municipalities act already well on climate change mitigation. Adaptation is simply added to their integrated climate concept and the task is handed over to the climate (mitigation) manager. Again, that is positive; the problem consists rather in the way the task is approached. In the plans, I can usually see a detailed analysis of greenhouse gas sources and systematically derived measures to target these sources, but I cannot find a proper analysis for the climate change impacts to tackle with adaptation measures.  Climate (mitigation) managers are usually trained on technology, energy efficiency, maybe mobility to reduce greenhouse gases, but adaptation to climate impacts requires different knowledge and skills, such as on natural processes, geography, water management, urban design and planning, health, social science and their interactions. Are municipalities fully aware of the need for different approaches?

As much as I like to integrate climate change mitigation and adaptation, I think we nevertheless need to get better aware of the specific needs required for an effective adaptation action and to build the respective capacity. Can the climate mitigation manager alone deliver it? Seeing the profile of most, I have my doubts. Why not acting in tandem with an adaptation manager? I think it is time to consider adaptation action at the same level and professionalism as climate change mitigation!


What do you think?