The practice of climate adaptation in a challenging environment

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“In five years from now, there will be at least 100 European regions with a transformative climate adaptation plan, and ready to implement a number of actions to build resilience in their communities. That would be a fantastic catalyser for change,” says Fernando Diaz Lopez, lead of Pathways2Resilience, a programme funded by Horizon Europe under the EU Mission on Adaptation to Climate Change to support European regions and communities in building resilience to climate change impacts.

When it comes to climate adaptation, a lot can be done at the regional level. From developing adaptation plans that identify potential risks (including the cost of inactivity) and impact of climate change on their natural and built environment, to increasing the number of green spaces in urban areas to absorb carbon dioxide and reduce the concentration of pollutants in the air, to supporting sustainable agriculture practices that are also restoring soils’ health, to protecting natural habitats to enhance the capacity of ecosystems to adapt and increase biodiversity, to promoting awareness campaigns and develop educational materials for the public, and so on. These actions are already happening locally. But many vulnerable regions around Europe lack the knowledge, awareness, agency or funding to tackle climate adaptation in a systemic, transformative way.

Pathways2Resilience: creating a step-by-step guide on regional climate adaptation pathways

The European Commission has mandated a consortium of organisations led by EIT Climate-KIC to work with 100 regions so that they can develop a transformative climate adaptation strategy, complete with concrete innovation projects and funding opportunities to carry it out in practice. The Pathways2Resilience project will launch two competitive sets of calls for proposal between now and 2025, and will distribute €21 million of funding to the selected regions. The programme will also provide a number of interconnected services that will support the 100 beneficiaries, plus fifty additional regions who can participate with their own funding.

During the five years of the project, the team behind Pathways2Resilience will create a self-assessment tool that will help regions understand at what stage of their climate resilience journey they are. The programme will also organise innovation practice groups and a climate finance and business model lab that will equip the 100 beneficiary regions with data, models and governance knowledge, as well as accessing financing mechanisms and opportunities.

The team will also conduct a series of workshops and best practice webinars, and support the regions in understanding how to finance a series of interconnected interventions that answer their specific adaptation needs. Finally, the programme will gather this wealth of knowledge into an interactive, step-by-step toolbox that will support regions in implementing innovation in practice.

We’ve seen in a previous article why it’s crucial and urgent for regions and communities in Europe to build climate resilience. But there are some obstacles to overcome to ensure the Pathways2Resilience project achieves its aim of reaching as many European regions as possible, including those facing high vulnerability.

The main challenges of building regional climate resilience

“The main challenges are that the political landscape can always shift, and there might be tensions between what a research and innovation project can deliver and the reality of regions and communities on the ground,” says Diaz Lopez.

When it comes to the political landscape, we’ve seen before how international events, such as the war in Ukraine, can affect national climate policies, and therefore the funding that is dedicated to achieving ambitious climate targets. “Climate adaptation is seen as an important political topic, but other issues, such as the country’s security, jobs, migration, are often considered more urgent, and if there are hard choices to make in terms of budget cuts, sustainability and environment are the usual target. Those are areas where the volatility of political will could lead to deprioritising climate adaptation plans,” explains Diaz Lopez.

Another challenge is that there is sometimes a mismatch between what is needed at the local level, and what the national rules allow. “There are national ambitions to meet a certain percentage of renewable and solar energy, but the local development plans are often not adapted,” says Diaz Lopez. He adds: “On the other hand, policymakers at the local level have a very different sense of urgency than those at the national level, as they know more about the impacts that climate change can cause on their infrastructure. But most climate adaptation measures require a high level of authority to implement changes. Although there is progress in the adoption of national climate laws in Europe, there are only a few regional governments  that can pass the laws that allow for climate adaptation plans within a local parliament.”

Finally, the disadvantage of such research and innovation projects is that the time to implementation might seem too long for regional decision-makers, who might feel the pressure to produce faster results. Diaz Lopez explains: “Research projects are not designed for short-term results. On the other hand, they also represent the ideal opportunity for regions with less advanced plans to experiment radical change without risks, as they would benefit from funding and access to the expertise they need. This is really about laying those foundations.”

Finally, there is a huge opportunity for political will to collaborate, says Diaz Lopez. “Earlier this year, over 300 regional actors gathered for the launch of the Community of Practice of the EU Mission on Adaptation to Climate Change. Over 300 regions to date have signed the EU Mission Adaptation Charter (representing 40 per cent of the EU’s population) and more than 600 key actors attended the second Mission Adaptation forum in June. These are local policymakers that are ready, willing and eager to start working together on climate adaptation.”

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