A new study from a European-wide group of researchers, including the Institute of Metodologies for Environmental Analysis of Italian National Research Council, reports the state of local planning for climate change by collecting and analysing information about local climate mitigation and adaptation plans across 885 urban areas of the EU-28
Cities are in the global race to cut greenhouse gas emissions as quickly as possible and simultaneously adapt to the threat, but also opportunity, of climate change. It is no easy task, but the first step is for cities to put plans in place to take action to support the Paris Agreement – to limit mean temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. In Europe cities account for 60-80% of carbon emissions, with approx. 74% of the population living in them.
If we mitigate climate change at the urban scale it is possible that we reduce local poll ution and increase efficiencies but also importantly will help to meet the carbon reduction targets. Yet adapting cities to climate change is equally important, for even if we were to cut emissions entirely we would still face the extreme effects of climate change for decades to come. Our study is the most comprehensive survey to date, investigating the availability and content of Local Climate Plans for 885 European cities from all 28 EU member states.
The study was led by the University of Twente and Newcastle University, collaborating with 30 researchers across Europe – including the Institute of Metodologies for Environmental Analysis of Italian National Research Council-, plus support from the European Environment Agency (EEA) and many European national governments. The inventory provides a big picture of where EU cities stand in terms of mitigating and adapting to climate change. The good news is that 66% of EU cities have a mitigation or adaptation plan in place. The top countries for cities with mitigation plans were Poland 97%, Germany 81%, Ireland 80%, Finland 78% and Sweden 77%. For adaptation Finland led the way with 78% of cities having a plan.
Countries that make Local Climate Plans (LCPs) compulsory are a minority in the EU. Only Denmark, France, Slovakia and the UK make it law for cities to develop LCPs, often connected with guidance on how to develop the content of the plans. In these countries cities are nearly twice as likely to have a mitigation plan and five times as likely to have an adaptation plan. Also throughout the EU it is mainly large cities that have LCPs. Other countries in and outside of the EU should take these numbers seriously and follow suit.
There are shortcomings worth noting. 33% of EU cities (288 cities) do not have any stand-alone climate plan whatsoever, such as Athens (Greece), Salzburg (Austria), and Palma de Mallorca (Spain). All cities in Bulgaria and Hungary had no stand-alone climate plan. Only 16% (144 cities) have joint-up mitigation and adaptation plans, for example cities like Brussels (Belgium), Helsinki (Finland), Bonn (Germany), London (UK) and Lyon (France). However this data needs to be handled with care as we found that almost all these plans (87.0%) were done by cities in France and the UK, and the UK leads the way with 79 cities having such joint-up plans.
Some cities in the Netherlands and the UK have climate actions mainstreamed in their planning activities, often aiming for broader environmental goals, such as resilience and sustainability. These cities are forward looking and have their climate activities covered in sustainability and resilience plans. They do not have stand-alone climate change mitigation or adaptation plans, per se. This is for example the case for Rotterdam and Gouda in the Netherlands. A similar development can be observed in the UK—climate issues are often integrated into broader development goals and then addressed in the Core Strategy, Master/Development plan and Sustainability plan. Examples are Norwich, Swansea, Plymouth and Doncaster.
Motivations for mitigation are generally straightforward as they look at ways to increase efficiencies, transfer to clean energy, improve heating/insulation and transport and by doing so are likely to result in economic gain or health benefits to the municipality and the public. For example, the more low-emission vehicles on the road the less carbon and indeed air pollution the city has to deal with. Or look at Poland where almost all cities have mitigation plans but the vast majority do not have adaptation plans.
For climate adaptation it may not be as straightforward or result in immediate financial benefits because how to adapt is unique to the municipality concerned and it requires vast investment to build for example flood defences. And if the worst case scenario does happen, the city is hit by extreme weather but nobody really damaged the city can only claim that damages have likely been avoided.
Each individual city in the EU will face its own challenges in adapting to climate change. There is no one size fits all approach to climate adaptation, but there are specific plans and measures that cities can take to prepare for these specific events. For example sustainable drainage and green infrastructure are options to help urban areas to adapt to heat waves, extreme precipitation and droughts alike.
In order to demonstrate their level of preparedness, cities need to improve their infrastructure systems for managing water at the surface and below ground, both during periods of excess as well as limited water. Even implementing more green features in city centres or strategic locations could make a difference to climate adaptation, and this makes networking to share knowledge and best practice essential for cities to create and improve upon LCPs.
Another prospect for cities is to integrate infrastructure, including energy, transport, water and food, allowing them to combine their resource networks and by that make them more resilient to climate change. Through digital urban sensing it is possible to monitor and measure the performance of local plans to eliminate emissions in multiple areas of cities, and stay on top of extreme weather. The city of Newcastle in the UK is doing this via the Urban Observatory at Newcastle University, which provides one of the largest open source digital urban sensing networks in the world.
The immense benefits for cities that networking provides cannot be overstated. There is simply too much at stake for the world’s cities to go their separate ways when it comes to climate change, and for the EU it is no different. We have found that international climate networks make a difference to countries and cities in developing and implementing climate plans as 333 EU cities are signatories of the Covenant of Mayors encouraging cities to engage in climate planning and action.
Our study shows that cities are taking climate change threats seriously and whilst EU member states are taking important steps to reduce emissions and adapt their cities to a changing climate there is clearly more work to be done. It is a near certainty that if cities do not plan and act now to address climate change they could find themselves in a far more precarious position in the near and long-term future. National governments have to play a leading in this: providing legal and regulatory frameworks and guidance. Our study has demonstrated that this is one of the most effective ways to make sure that cities and its populations are prepared for the threats and opportunities that climate change will bring.
For further information:
Monica Salvia (Imaa-Cnr), email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Filomena Pietrapertosa (Imaa-Cnr), email: email@example.com; Oliver Heidrich (Newcastle University); Diana Reckien (Twente University)
Based on Reckien et al (2018) 'How are cities planning to respond to climate change? Assessment of local climate plans from 885 cities in the EU-28' Journal of Cleaner Production, Volume 191, pages 207-219.
Cnr press office