EU Member States should act as one against climate change

A European report compares National Adaptation Strategies (NASs) across Europe. It highlights the need for countries to work together and share knowledge and provides insight for future policy.

The EU’s Climate Change Adaptation White paper suggests that adaptation measures need to be implemented at both national and regional levels.

This new report provides information on the variety, success and knowledge gaps in NASs, as well as suggestions for future developments. It reviews NASs in fourteen European countries, selected on the basis of the accessibility of information. Six themes were identified to structure the analysis:

* The motivations behind establishing NASs. This includes factors, such as EU policies, experiences of extreme weather and awareness of the economic costs of inaction. NASs vary in their emphasis on different motivations. For example, water availability is prioritised in southern European countries, whereas flood risk is more important in central and northern Europe.

* Science-policy interactions. Scientific information was crucial in the development of all NASs, but there were differences in how science was integrated into policy. This ranged from a specific bridging organisation in the UK, to a joint committee of scientists and politicians in Germany. There was little coordination between national and European research programmes.

* Communicating adaptation. Although the need to communicate NASs was widely acknowledged, only a few countries have implemented concrete plans. Initial steps have mainly been in the form of web-based systems. Communication for adaption needs to be distinct from communication for mitigation.

* Multi-level governance. In many countries, local and regional initiatives would benefit from being integrated and harmonised at a national level. In addition, few NASs address the potential role of emerging EU policy or global activity.

* Integrating adaptation into sectoral polices. This is a key challenge for NASs. Currently most NASs focus on awareness and vision, which indicates that implementation programmes will be needed in the future. Most countries involve, or plan to involve stakeholders, in different phases.

* Monitoring and enforcement. Few NASs consider the later stages of the policy cycle, i.e. evaluation.

From the analysis of these six themes, the report provides some tentative strengths and weaknesses of NASs. Three countries appear to have made the greatest progress. Finland was the first to adopt a NAS and initiate a targeted research programme, the UK helped spearhead activities in Europe to assess vulnerability and the Netherlands has integrated adaptation policy related to water safety into spatial planning.

There are also some common weaknesses. For example, a high degree of regional autonomy, such as in the UK and Spain, makes it difficult to assign cross-sectoral responsibilities. It is important for countries to learn from each other’s experiences. The EU can play a key role in knowledge transfer as well as developing transnational research collaboration.

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