Urban adaptation to climate change in Europe


Courtesy of European Environment Agency (EEA)

Climate change — the risk to cities and Europe

Climate change is happening, projected to continue and poses serious challenges for cities. Extreme weather events resulting in hazards such as heatwaves, floods and droughts are expected to happen more frequently in many parts of Europe.

The impacts are stark: flooding can damage or wash away homes, businesses and infrastructure. Jobs and vital services will be lost. Heatwaves can compromise public health, reduce productivity and constrain the functionality of infrastructure. Water scarcity will place cities in competition for water with a wide variety of other sectors, including agriculture, energy generation and tourism.

Cities drive Europe's economy and generate substantial wealth. If important economic hubs such as London, Paris or Rotterdam experience climate related problems Europe's economy and quality of life will be under threat.

Urbanisation, population ageing and other socio-economic trends interact with climate change

Climate change is strongly intertwined with other socio-economic changes. Demographic trends such as on-going urbanisation and competing demand for water from the public and sectors such as industry and agriculture leads to regional water scarcity. An ageing population increases the share of people vulnerable to heatwaves. Urbanisation also reduces the area available for natural flood management or increases the number of homes and businesses actually in flood-prone areas. These socio-economic changes increase the vulnerability of people, property and ecosystems under current climate conditions as long as no adaptation measures are taken. Climate change is projected to exacerbate these problems.

Cities face specific climate change challenges …

Three quarters of the population of Europe live in urban areas and this is where climate change will be most apparent in everyday life.

While urban areas will generally experience the same exposures to climate change as surrounding regions, the urban setting can alter this as well as any potential local impacts. The replacement of natural vegetation with artificial surfaces and buildings creates unique microclimates altering temperature, moisture, wind direction and rainfall patterns. Differences in urban design and management make cities vulnerable in different ways, even those situated in the same geographic region. Excessive amounts of rain water cannot drain into the ground where a high share of the city's area is imperviously sealed and thus generate or worsen floods. A high amount of artificial surfaces stores heat and cause raised temperatures in cities compared to the surrounding region.

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